Electrifying the World

As the world's developing economies continue to grow, their energy consumption is rising as well. This is due in large part to increasing demand for electricity, which is the fastest-growing form of energy use. However, amid widespread concerns over global warming, clean energy sources have become ever more important. We wonder: Which fuel is the world's fastest-growing source of energy?

A. Natural gas
B. Nuclear power
C. Hydroelectric power
D. Coal

A. Natural gas is not correct.

Worldwide, the use of natural gas increased by 2.4% per year from 2000 to 2006. The fuel provides 20% of the world's electricity.

Electricity accounts for 40% of the world's total energy consumption, with demand for electricity predicted to grow by 3.2% annually from 2006 to 2015. If current trends continue, total world energy demand is expected to grow by 45% by 2030 — with 97% of this projected increase occurring in developing economies.

B. Nuclear power is not correct.

Nuclear energy use increased by only 1.3% per year from 2000 to 2006 — the slowest growth of any fuel source. It provides 15% of the world's electricity.

However, nuclear power provides 79% of electricity in France, 47% in Sweden and Ukraine and 37% in South Korea. It accounts for just 19% of electricity in the United States — even though the country is the world's largest producer, with a 29% share of the world total.

C. Hydroelectric power is not correct.

The use of hydroelectric power worldwide grew at an annual rate of 2.5% from 2000 to 2006. It currently provides 16% of the world's electricity — down from 21% in the early 1970s.

In comparison, the use of biomass grew by 2.1%. Other forms of renewable energy — such as geothermal, wind and solar — increased at a slightly higher rate, 3.1%. However, altogether these sources supply only 2.3% of the world's electricity.

D. Coal is correct.

Global coal use, mainly for power production in developing countries, grew by 4.9% per year between 2000 and 2006 (according to the International Energy Agency). This is faster than the rate of growth for any other fossil fuel — and for any form of renewable energy.

Overall, coal provides about 40% of the world's electricity, a share that has actually increased slightly over the last three decades — despite the negative environmental consequences. China is by far the world's largest coal producer, accounting for nearly half of the world's supply.

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