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Forests & Energy

2. What are the trends and prospects of energy supply and demand?

  • 2.1 How is the use of renewable energy projected to evolve?
  • 2.2 How much is wood-based energy used worldwide?
  • 2.3 Which factors will determine future energy choices?

The vast majority of the world’s energy is generated from non-renewable sources, specifically oil, coal and gas. In 2004, just over 13% was derived from renewable sources, 10.6% of which come from bioenergy (including 3.2% of traditional biomass such as woodfuel, charcoal, dung etc.). Renewable sources of energy derived from the sun, the wind, the tides, the dams, and the Earth's internal heat only make up the remaining 2.7%.

In the coming years, the world’s population growth and economic development are expected to result in considerable increases in the demand for energy. From 2004 to 2030, energy market projections were made covering power and heat generation as well as transportation. These projections did not take into account traditional biomass such as fuelwood, charcoal, dung etc. which is not formally traded, but still largely used in developing countries for cooking and heating.

In 2004, on energy markets, the consumption of developing countries accounted for less than half of the world’s energy use. By 2010, however, developing regions are predicted to consume more energy than industrialized regions, and account for 58% of the world’s energy consumption by 2030. Per capita consumption figures are, nevertheless, likely to remain well below those in developed countries.

In the world, about half of the increase in global energy demand will be for power generation and one fifth for transportation.

Rapid economic growth in Asian countries, particularly China and India, will account for much of that increase. Indeed, Asian countries are projected to experience, by far, the world’s highest rates of growth in energy demand. By 2030, Asia will have more than doubled its current energy use. The increased demand for energy will likely be less noticeable in industrialized regions, where national economies are mature and population growth is relatively low.

Fossil fuels are predicted to meet most of the increased demand for energy over the next 20 years. However, in terms of percentage, the energy sources that are likely to show the greatest increases are gas and coal by 2030 (see Figure 3). Ultimately, policy will heavily influence the sources of energy that are tapped, and in what amounts, to satisfy the world’s needs. More...

2.1 How is the use of renewable energy projected to evolve?

About three-quarters of renewable energies are consumed in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America. In Africa, this is largely due to consumption of woodfuel for heating and cooking (traditional biomass). In Latin America, it is due to the high use of renewables in Brazil, where 45% of all energy consumed comes from renewable sources such as hydropower, wood or ethanol derived from sugar cane.

While fossil fuels will continue to provide most of the world’s energy in coming years, the use of renewable energy is expected to grow slightly faster than global energy consumption over the next decades (approximately 1.9% each year). In terms of percentage, the global share of marketed renewable energy (not including traditional biomass) is thus expected to grow by a mere 0.2% between 2004 and 2030, from 7.4% to 7.6% of total energy use.

The biggest growth in renewable energy production (other than traditional biomass) is expected to occur in North America, Asian developing countries and Central and South America. This predicted growth will result from increased energy demand in Asian countries, whereas in Central and South America it will result from a particular focus on renewable energy and existing economically competitive alternatives to fossil fuels.

The World Alternative Policy Scenario presented by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2006 showed how the global energy market would change if various policies were enacted to reduce carbon emissions and maintain the energy supply. The scenario predicts that the share of traditional biomass in the global energy consumption would decrease, while the overall share of renewable sources of energy would remain largely unchanged, with rapid increases in the small shares of geothermal, solar and wind power.

Table: Global Increase in renewable energy in World Alternative PolicyScenario

The recent long-term strategy of the European Union sets the following goals for 2020: increasing its proportion of renewable energy to 20% of total energy use, increasing its proportion of biofuels in transport to 10%, and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels. The success of this and other strategies will depend on fossil fuel prices and on the development of government programmes to support alternative energy. Countries that provided economic incentives for bioenergy consumption, such as Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States and Brazil, experienced increases in the proportion of bioenergy in total energy use between 2000 and 2005. However, in countries such as China and India, which are among the largest users of biofuels, the rapid economic growth led to an increase in energy consumption that outpaced the increase in biofuel use, in spite of rising fossil fuel prices.

Renewable energy sources are used for heat, power, and transportation. Over the next 25 years, they will continue to be used primarily for heating and cooking. However, the power sector, which accounted for about a quarter of the world’s renewable energy consumption in 2002, is expected to spearhead the global increase in the use of renewable energy. By 2030, the power sector will likely account for 38% of the world’s renewable energy consumption. The share of renewables in fuels used for transport is expected to rise from less than 1% to 3% over the next 25 years. More...

2.2 How much is wood-based energy used worldwide?

Since the discovery of fire, wood has been an important source of energy for cooking and heating. Today, wood-based energy is also used in developing countries for commercial activities such as fish drying, tobacco curing and brick baking, and in developed countries mainly as a source of power for the forest industry.

Recently, several countries have begun to explore wood-based systems of energy generation as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. New technologies have been developed to improve the efficiency and economic feasibility of energy generation from wood, particularly in heavily-forested countries.

The United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland are among the largest users of wood energy in their industries, relying predominantly on the by-products of wood processing, such as the black liquor generated from wood pulping. In addition, 65% of the world’s supply of roundwood –logs in their raw, natural state – is produced in industrialized countries. On the other hand, fuelwood – small pieces of wood used primarily for heating and cooking – is produced and consumed primarily by non-industrialized countries such as India, China and Brazil.

The use of fuelwood is increasing in all African regions, but only in Southern Africa is it used significantly in industrial applications. The production of fuelwood may be higher than reported, as the vast majority is traded informally and used in private homes.

Overall, the global consumption of woodfuel – a term that encompasses both fuelwood and charcoal – is increasing, largely reflecting an increasing consumption in African and South American countries due to population growth. Per capita woodfuel consumption, however, is decreasing in all regions of the world except in OECD Asian and Oceanic countries (i.e. Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand). This fall in consumption is the result of rising incomes, urbanization, declining availability of wood sources and increasing availability of alternative sources of energy that are preferred to woodfuel.

Recent data suggest that the number of people using biomass as their primary fuel for cooking will increase in the future, especially in Africa and Asia (except China).

However, accurate information on woodfuel consumption is difficult to obtain and care is required when interpreting data. More...

2.3 Which factors will determine future energy choices?

Future energy choices will depend on the price of fossil fuels and the availability of alternatives, as well as on the weight given to different, competing goals. For example, policies directed toward reducing climate change will focus on reducing carbon emissions through the use of clean sources of energy, while policies directed toward reducing energy dependence will promote the use of certain fuels because of supply location. More...

2.3.1 The price of oil increased more than six-fold between 1999 and mid-2008, when the price per barrel peaked well above the US$100 mark. Even though prices are expected to remain well below this peak for most of the next 20 years, uncertainty regarding the future supply may elevate prices prior to 2015. Higher oil prices will likely encourage the use of renewable energies, but may also prevent developing countries from investing in them by hindering their economic growth. Developing economies are therefore especially sensitive to changes in global energy supply and demand. More...

2.3.2 The energy sector alone is responsible for one fourth of the world’s greenhouse gases, about twice as much as the transport sector. Together, agriculture and deforestation account for about a third of all emissions. Given the considerable importance of deforestation in global greenhouse gas emissions, care is required to ensure that production of biofuels does not result in losses of terrestrial carbon through forest removal.

The use of fossil fuel represents the single largest human influence on climate, estimated to account for more than half (56%) of all greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the current focus on oil and transportation, coal is by far the most polluting fossil fuel and the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases. With large reserves widely dispersed around the world, coal is expected to provide an increasing share of the world’s energy in future years. China and India together are estimated to account for two-thirds of the increase in world coal demand. More...

2.3.3 The use of various types of renewable energy will also be greatly determined by the degree to which each country depends on fuel imports. Current efforts in Europe and North America to promote biofuels explain why these regions show smaller differences between imports and exports. More...


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