Global capacity of the 10 commercial energy sources

By Blaise Hope
Most commercial energy sources are not renewable, and records show that we might only have so little reserved

According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world's capacity to generate power from solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable sources will continue to rise in the following years. However, many still rely on conventional energy sources. Here is the complete list of global capacity for all commercial energy sources.

10: Biomass from plants

In 2018, World Bioenergy recorded 637 TWh of electricity was generated from biomass globally. 474 TWh of biopower was produced in electricity-only plants, accounting for approximately 75% of all biopower produced globally. Of all biopower generated, 66% came from solid biomass sources, followed by 19% from municipal and industrial waste. Biogas share was 14%.

Asia accounted for 38% of all biopower generated globally with 243 TWh of production in 2018, followed by Europe with a slight difference at 35%.

09: Hydropower

Hydropower is used to generate electricity. Hydroelectric consumption rose by 1% in 2021, led by China by 0.4 EJ and Russia by 0.2 EJ. IEA forecasted hydropower to increase year-on-year by 6% in 2021. 

However, weather conditions in key markets can have an adverse effect on wind and hydropower generation. For instance, severe drought in Brazil, the United States, China and Turkey have further limited global hydropower generation. However, with the Net-Zero pledge in mind, global hydropower capacity is set to increase by 17%, or 230 GW, between 2021 and 2030. 

08: Geothermal

Geothermal capacity saw a slight growth in 2020, which was by 1% or 163 MW, resulting in 14.1 GW global capacity. As of the period, the US has ‎the largest geothermal capacity with 2.6 GW, accounting for 18% of the world total, followed by Indonesia with 2.1 ‎GW, the Philippines with 1.9 GW, and Turkey with 1.6 GW.‎

Although geothermal power generation grew by 3.7% in 2020, the overall geothermal share of global power ‎generation remains very small, which is less than 1%.‎

07: Wind Energy

Wind capacity expanded by 111 GW in 2020 and ‎provided the largest contribution to the growth of renewables electricity generation with 1.5 EJ or 173 ‎TWh. The global capacity further expanded to 744 GW in 2021, with offshore wind is forecasted to have the fastest growth in the next five years among all renewables, with a 240% increase and reaching 1.5% of total generation by 2026.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates a 120 GW capacity by 2026, or 134 GW in case of acceleration.

06: Biofuels

Biofuels production fell 6% globally in 2020 as the world manufactured just approximately 113,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in contrast to the 6% average growth for the previous decade. At the global level, ethanol made up 59% of biofuels in 2019. It is also worth noting that the share of biodiesel has risen continually.

As an ‎increase in biodiesel emerged whereas ethanol production decreased in all major regions by 7 to 12% or 107,000 ‎barrels per day globally, Asia saw moderate growth to 4,000 barrels per day, but the US (64,000 barrels per day), Argentina (19,000 barrels per day) and Brazil (16,000 barrels per day) saw a decline.

With up to 83% ‎and 77% of biofuels respectively in 2020, biodiesel is the dominant fuel produced in Europe and the Asia Pacific, while ethanol is the main fuel in North America with 83% of ‎total usage and South and Central America with 72%.

05: Solar energy from the sun

In 2020, solar capacity rose by 127 GW, while solar electricity generation rose by a record-breaking 1.3 EJ or 148 TWh ‎‎which accounted for a 20% spike.

The share of solar in the power generation mix has also continually increased over the last decade. Solar now comprises 27% of renewable generation, despite having just 3.2% of total power ‎generation.‎

04: Nuclear energy

While nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source, the material used in nuclear power plants is not. The material most often used in nuclear power plants is uranium. Although uranium is found in rocks all over the world, nuclear power plants usually use a scarce type of uranium, U-235., and is a non-renewable resource.

According to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), identified uranium resources total 5.5 million metric tons, and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered—a roughly 230-year supply at today's consumption rate in total.

However, after the ‎Fukushima-related decline in 2011 and 2012, nuclear consumption fell by 4.1% on an input-equivalent basis, with the most decrease seen in France (-0.4 EJ) and the US (-0.2 EJ).‎

03: Coal

World coal consumption fell by 6.2 exajoules (EJ), or 4.2% (its fourth decline in six years) in 2020, with China and Malaysia as the most notable exceptions, increasing their consumption by 0.5 EJ and 0.2 EJ ‎respectively.‎ Despite the coal phase-out pledges, the ‎level of coal generation in 2020 was essentially unchanged from its level in 2015. However, it is also worth noting that the 2020 decrease offset the increases from the previous few years.

Global coal production was also down by 8.3 EJ (5.2%) despite production growth in China ‎‎(1.1 EJ) as it was outweighed by sharp declines in several countries, including the US (-3.6 EJ), Indonesia (-‎‎1.3 EJ) and Colombia (-1.0 EJ).‎

World coal reserves in 2020 were recorded at 1074 billion tonnes and are heavily concentrated in just a few countries, including the US (23%), Russia (15%), Australia (14%) and China (13%). The current global R/P ratio shows that coal reserves in 2020 ‎accounted for 139 years of current production, with the highest ratios owned by North America (484 years) and CIS (367 years).

02: Natural gas and hydrocarbon gas liquids

It was reported that there are 6,923 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves in the world as of 2017. Meanwhile, the ‎current global reserves-to-production ratio shows that gas reserves in 2020 accounted for 48.8 years of current ‎production, with the Middle East and CIS being the regions with the highest R/P ‎ratio of 110.4 years and 70.5 years respectively.

World's proven gas reserves decreased by 2.2 Tcm to 188.1 Tcm in 2020, with Russia (37 Tcm), Iran (32 Tcm) and Qatar (25 Tcm) being the countries with the largest reserves. Natural gas, however, sees a decrease in consumption and production.

Despite having far greater resilience than coal, gas consumption decreased by 2.3% or 81 ‎billion cubic metres, especially in North America and Europe, which saw a decrease in 2020 by 2.6% and 2.5% respectively. Notable exceptions ‎to this trend were China, where demand grew by 6.9% and Iran.‎ Gas production also fell in that same year by 123 bcm (-3.3%), with the largest drops seen in Russia (-41 bcm) and the US (-‎‎15 bcm).

On the other hand, Hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGLs), hydrocarbons that occur as gases at atmospheric pressure and as liquids under higher pressures, saw an increase. In 2020 alone, total HGLs use accounted for about 18% of US petroleum consumption.

01: Petroleum

According to Worldometer, oil reserves are usually equivalent to 46.6 times its annual consumption levels, and the world will exhaust its current reserves in about 47 years of oil left. However, the consumption trend only continues to increase.

IEA estimates that 99 million barrels per day of petroleum and liquid fuels were consumed globally in January 2022. This is an increase of 6.6 million barrels per day from the same month last year. The agency further forecasts that global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels will average 100.6 million barrels per day for 2022 and by 1.9 million barrels per day in 2023.


Featured Lists

Top 10: Businesses combatting litter & landfill

We look at the top 10 companies demonstrating their commitment to achieving zero waste to landfill and supporting the development of a circular economy

Top 10 podcasts to help you understand sustainability

Sustainability Magazine investigates the top 10 podcasts which will help you understand what you can do to be more sustainable

Top 10 Sustainability Influencers

We take a look at the most influential voices in sustainability today

Top 10: companies committed to reducing carbon footprint

Net Zero

Top 10: brands working hand-in-hand with sustainability


Top 10: Science-Based Targets initiative-driven companies

Net Zero