Report: Coal, natural gas remain key sources of energy

A new report says that while oil is still king, coal and natural gas remain key global energy sources, particularly as fuel for electricity generation.

The Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington that works on energy and environmental issues, reports that global consumption of coal increased 5.4 percent in 2011, to 3.72 billion tons of oil equivalent, while natural gas use grew 2.2 percent, to 2.91 billion tons of oil equivalent.

The bulk of coal use is for power generation, with smaller amounts being used in steelmaking, the report says. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest coal users, though China and India are becoming bigger consumers of coal, the report’s authors say, adding that China alone accounted for nearly half of all coal use in 2011. U.S.  demand dropped by about 5 percent in 2011 and continued to fall in 2012 due to the shale gas boom and the abundance of cheap natural gas, they said.

As for natural gas, the report says usage grew in all regions except the European Union, which experienced a 9.9 percent decline in natural gas consumption, due mainly to a struggling economy and high natural gas prices.

The report warns that demand for coal could stagnate with the introduction of new technologies in the power sector, or with the adoption of policies to reduce the environmental and health impacts of coal combustion. That could lead to a greater transition from coal to natural gas, the report says.