November 30, 2012
Emissions, Technology

Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?

York, Richard

A fundamental, generally implicit, assumption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and many energy analysts is that each unit of energy supplied by non-fossil-fuel sources takes the place of a unit of energy supplied by fossil-fuel sources. However, owing to the complexity of economic systems and human behaviour, it is often the case that changes aimed at reducing one type of resource consumption, either through improvements in efficiency of use or by developing substitutes, do not lead to the intended outcome when net effects are considered. Here, I show that the average pattern across most nations of the world over the past fifty years is one where each unit of total national energy use from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel energy use and, focusing specifically on electricity, each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These results challenge conventional thinking in that they indicate that suppressing the use of fossil fuel will require changes other than simply technical ones such as expanding non-fossil-fuel energy production.

Nature Climate Change 2, 441–443 (December 2012)
doi:10.1038/nclimate1451 [1]

Download supplemental tables. [2]

Also see:

Analysing fossil-fuel displacement

by Andrew K. Jorgenson

It is commonly assumed that fossil fuels can be replaced by alternative forms of energy. Now research challenges this assumption, and highlights the role of non-technological solutions to reduce fossil-fuel consumption.

Nature Climate Change 2, 398–399 (December 2012)
doi:10.1038/nclimate1552 [3]

Download original document: “Analysing fossil-fuel displacement [4]

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[1] doi:10.1038/nclimate1451:

[2] Download supplemental tables.:

[3] doi:10.1038/nclimate1552:

[4] Analysing fossil-fuel displacement: