Renewable sources of power for generating electricity make eminent sense despite the recent discoveries that climate change propagandists have exaggerated CO2 build-up or suppressed information that contradicted their claims. If electric/ battery-run cars are to have a future to replace the main source of atmospheric pollution in countries like the UK and the USA, it must be shown that mains electricity can increasingly be generated from non-polluting fuels. In this respect, hydroelectric power shines bright like geothermal for requiring only the financial investment in capturing natural forces and none of the incremental ‘carbon footprint’ for producing renewable fuels that nuclear, ethanol, wood and waste power plants do.
This paper examines the characteristics of global electricity demand and the contribution made by hydroelectric plants.
Findings from Historical Data
The first step is to show the volume and trends of global electricity demand. Following this, one tracks the share of emission-free or renewable fuels and finally zeroes in on hydroelectric power.
The source for the overall demand situation is the file, ‘6.2 World Total Net Electricity Consumption, 1980-2006’ from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (1). The procedure taken here was to
- draw a trend chart for the total electricity consumption; and,
- identify the regions and countries that rank high in electricity demand.
The first task requires merely charting one line of data in the spreadsheet. The second requires the intermediate step of sorting the countries by ending-year (2006) consumption, calculating percent share of total demand and computing growth rates against base year (1980).
Filled demand for electricity has trended steadily upward over the 27-year reference period, estimated at a whisker under 3 trillion kilowatt-hours as of 2006. In a little over a quarter-century, electricity consumption more than doubled (+123.4%). Chances are, based on the above trend, the triple pressures of population growth, industrialization and rising consumer expectations will push global consumption of electricity to expand at around a 3% annual rate into the foreseeable future.
The teeming billions and incipient industrial might of Asia ensure that the continent and Oceania together absorb no less than one-third of electricity generated all over the world (Table 1 below).
Table 1: Electricity Consumption by World Region.
|BY REGIONS||% Share|
|Asia & Oceania||33.59|
|Central & South America||4.89|
|*The former USSR|
Table 2: Share and Growth Rate of Electricity Demand, by Country.
|BY COUNTRIES||2006 (% share)||26-Year Growth Rate|
|Share of Top Ten||66.79|
|N.A. because data was reported for the USSR|
|and separately for East and West Germany in base year 1980.|
The United States is the single largest consumer of electricity as of 2006 (Table 2 above). This stands to reason because of the American propensity for electricity-driven convenience appliances, including air conditioning. Nonetheless, the more significant finding is the great advance in demand that characterised the industrialising powerhouses: South Korea (demand up eleven-fold), China, India and Brazil. It will also be noted that the UK ranked 7th in 1980 but has since fallen to 11th place owing to a labour force that could not keep up with those of the Asian and South American powerhouses.
Accessing other EIA compilations for consumption of electricity generated with the use of alternatives to fossil fuels – hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind, wood and waste – one finds on repeating the above steps that:
Having had an earlier start gave hydroelectric power plants nearly a one-fourth share of global electricity consumption in 1980 (Figure 2 above). Since then, hydroelectric power output expanded by an aggregate 74%, shrinking just twice (by 1% in 1989 and 2% in 2001), and even outpacing the growth in total electricity demand in 1983 (up a robust 5% over prior year), 1993 (+6%), 1995 (+5%), and 2004 (+6%).
For the most part, hydroelectric-provided electricity rose by just 1% to 2% each year, owing to a combination of the high investments required, lengthy construction time scales, increasingly-scarce water resources, the vagaries of rainfall, and delays caused by communities protesting the loss of their farmland or hunting grounds. Meantime, nuclear plants were being built at a furious space and electricity output from this source quadrupled with the result that hydroelectric share of total electricity consumed dropped to 18% (Figure 4 overleaf) while nuclear power closed the gap with a 16% share.
Much has changed in 26 years. Where North America and Europe led the world in installed hydroelectric capacity and power output in 1980 (Table 3 below), tremendous expansion in China, India, Brazil and Venezuela (Table 4) has pushed Asia/Oceania to the top of the rankings and Central/South America up a notch from fourth to third place.
U.S. Energy Information Administration. “World Electricity Data.” International Energy Annual 2006. Web.