The Fuel for Development

Humanity’s energy consumption per capita has increased 120-fold since hunter-gatherer societies. 35 Energy use has not only increased as humanity has progressed, but has also become more complex because humans initially used energy only for the needs of their own body, and later for keeping animals. Today, Google’s energy consumption alone (2.26 million kWh) accounts for 0.013% of the world’s energy consumption, which corresponds to the total energy consumption of 200,000 households. A single Google search, of which there are approximately 2 million every second and more than 100 billion on average per month (2015),36 uses 0.0003 kWh of energy and leads to the emission of 0.2 g of CO2 into the atmosphere.37

Energy use has become extremely diverse, however, the types and number of available energy sources have remained limited. Early on, only biomass was used, typically in the form of food or wood. Later, renewables (wind and solar energy), fossil fuels and nuclear energy were added to the energy mix. Over 80% of energy use continues to be fueled by the limited amount of biomass that has accumulated during earlier historical eras. This is only a minute decrease compared to the ratios prevailing in 1973, while energy used has doubled.38

This energy mix varies on a wide scale from one country to the next, depending on the available energy sources as determined by geographic or geological attributes, and the prevalence of sustainable energy management considerations. Iceland’s geological attributes allow it to obtain 78% of its energy from geothermal energy and the rest from hydropower.39,40 Meanwhile, Denmark already used wind power to cover 39.1% of its electricity needs in 2014.41

Meanwhile, coal remains the unrivaled leader among the biggest consumers. In the US, 33% of electricity is generated in coal-fired power plants,42 and China alone uses half of the world’s coal to generate its heat and electricity (Figure 16).43

Figure 16 Our Earth’s Ecological Footprint in 2015