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Monday 25 September 2023
Energy transition’s most robust decade has just passed by, leaving only light marks on the world’s energy system. That’s to be expected, given the scale at which we’re trying to undertake the transformation. But the world will have to maximize far larger change over the next decade to really make a dent in emissions trajectories. As you compare the two states of the world in these charts, notice the remarkable stability of global energy share maintained by natural gas, hydro, and nuclear in the ten years from 2012 to 2022.
Where have the movements occurred? Coal mostly, and then oil. Coal, the energy source most vulnerable to wind and solar, lost a full three percentage points of share. And oil, which cedes ground more generally to the power system as the world electrifies, lost just a point and a half of percentage share. Renewables, mostly led by wind and solar, soared however nearly six percentage points of global energy share.
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The structural challenge that the world faces in decarbonization is that cleaning up powergrids only takes one step, but cleaning up transportation takes at least two steps, and other industrial processes require even longer, more circuitous routes to a solution. Wind and solar plug in to the existing grid. That’s pretty easy and explains their rapid growth, which is now intensifying. Transportation however requires not just that step, but electrification of vehicles. That’s partly why oil’s market share losses the past decade were only half those of coal: the world is moving rapidly to kill coal, but oil is just alot harder to displace.
The quiet tragedy here is the twenty year stagnation of global nuclear power. Had we embarked on building new nuclear at the same time wind and solar started their mighty ascent, roughly 2010-2012, then the market share of natural gas also would have fallen. The Gregor Letter has written extensively this year about this specific problem—how natural gas has stolen alot of opportunity from wind+solar as they all capitalize on coal’s demise. In short, if your plan to decarbonize electricity relies solely on wind, solar, and batteries, then your plan implies that natural gas will continue to thrive. | see: Bad Natty Emissions, and also Grunty Yank Tank and Pricey Things.
The Gregor Letter is a companion to TerraJoule Publishing, whose current release is Oil Fall. All paid subscribers automatically get a free copy on the day they subscribe. But if you want to buy it separately, the 2019 single title is newly packaged and now arrives with a final installment: the 2023 update, Electric Candyland. Just hit the picture below to be taken to the Gumroad storefront.