Night Sky Over Asia 1992-2010

As people are coming to understand, Asian economic growth over the past two decades—despite its great adoption of oil—essentially runs on electricity, most of which is supplied by the burning of coal. Here is the night sky over Asia twenty years ago, as captured in a still photograph from a film loop provided by NOAA’s national geophysical data center. (see: NOAA -Nightime Lights of China 1992-2010):

Asia Night Sky 1992

Recently, in the past three months, a consensus has begun to form that China’s use of coal may have just slipped past the fattest part of its growth curve. That may be true. But as you can seen on the 2010 photograph below, China is not the only “country” in Asia that has seen its demand for electricity advance strongly, since 1992:

Asia Night Sky 2010

It’s understandable for people to be encouraged by recent trends in global coal consumption, mostly in the United States. If China’s rate of coal consumption growth is also about to slow, that too is encouraging. The problem however, is that China would be slowing its rate of growth from a very, very high level of absolute demand. Further, as you gaze across other regions of southeast Asia in the above photos, global coal consumption is less about “country” and more about population. 1.2 billion people in the world are still unserved by electricity. A good portion of them live in India, for example, where you will notice the “advance of nighttime” lights has also been quite strong.

While there is certainly a possibility that Non-OECD countries will adopt more wind and solar—owing to the relative simplicity of those technologies—we need to be sober about current trends. The great trajectory of coal underway the past decade has a number of competitive advantages, especially the phenomenon known as path dependency. This is why I say the great news for clean energy, on a global scale, does eventually arrive. But, not until later in the century. Before then, the world unfortunately is transitioning even harder to fossil fuel energy, of the dirtiest kind.

  • Richard Elder

    Guess that depends upon how much economically viable coal there really is in “reserves”. I live in the Saudi Arabia of coal, AKA Wyoming. A few years ago all the lobbyists and a few of the general public got together for a high level conference in Jackson Hole entitled “Energy & the Future.” Keynote speakers included the Guv and also the president of the IPCC. The Gov repeated the old wives tale about our “200 year supply of coal”. Didn’t make him happy when I pointed out that his own energy secretary was on record saying that at current prices Wyoming’s coal production would last another 37 years.—–.

    Seems that we have difficulty with the concept that a seam of coal tilted at a 45 degree angle eventually requires a hell of a big hole to reach—.

  • Lime Lite

    This blog appears to be an alter to the myth of Global Warming – which, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t happened for at least 16 years, and up to 37 years depending on which data you’re looking at. So, on average, temperatures have risen a whole 0,003 degrees per decade! Wow, why, at that rate there’ll be a 0,03 degree rise (celcius) by the end of this century! You probably can’t even measure the change. So, yes, keep up the fearmongering – keep repeating the lies and keep saying the oceans are going to rise (a whole 1mm per year!) – keep going, and us deniers will keep telling the truth and publishing the inconvenient facts.

  • ralfyman