Renewable energy is generally promoted as a key type of energy for the future.
But, fossil fuels still serve an important role in society, and are still heavily used across society.
Below, we outline why fossil fuels might still be used instead of renewable energy in some parts of the world, and across society in general.
Firstly, How Much Do We Still Use Fossil Fuels Across Society?
There might be two ways to express how much we still use fossil fuels – by looking at it’s use for energy, and also looking at it’s other uses.
– % Share That Fossil Fuels Make Up Of The Energy Mix’s Of Different Countries Globally
Some major countries across the world predominantly use fossil fuels in their energy mix.
– The % Of Everyday Things That Use Fossil Fuels Across Society
We’ve listed the % of everyday things that use fossil across society in this guide
Some reports indicate that we use fossil fuels in over 90% of everyday products and things
Why Do We Still Use Fossil Fuels In General?
We might generally still use fossil fuels for a whole range of reasons
Some of those reasons might include:
– It’s been a cheap/affordable energy source in the past to help countries build their economies and quality of life
Part of this might be because fossil fuels haven’t paid the upfront cost for the externalised environmental impact they’ve had
This might be changing somewhat now though in some countries where new power plants and cleaner technology might be making coal energy more costly
– It’s been profitable for investors, energy producers, and other groups and companies in the past
– There hasn’t been as much accountability, pressure or requirements imposed on companies involved with fossil fuels in the past
Now there’s more social dialogue and pressure, but also government controls and tools are being used – energy portfolios, ‘polluter pays’ and carbon taxes, fines, and so on
– Fossil fuel resources are far more abundant and accessible in some countries compared to others
In these countries, fossil fuels might be used in greater shares domestically
– The technology, infrastructure and systems for fossil fuel energy sources is well developed in some countries
– Fossil fuels have been subsidised, and their use incentivised heavily in the past in many countries
Consider this from cleantechnica.com:
‘… fossil fuels have received government subsidies for 100 or so years. These days, fossil fuel subsidies reportedly total approximately $5 trillion globally each year … Renewable energy also receives subsidies, but not to the same degree.”
reneweconomy.com.au also outlines the potential extent of subsidies for fossil fuel in Australia
Why Do We Still Use Fossil Fuels Instead Of Renewables In Some Cities & Countries?
In addition to the reasons outlined above, fossil fuels may have some uses, and provide some benefits that renewable energy might not
There may also be some challenges specifically in using more renewable energy in the future (as opposed to using existing fossil fuels in an energy mix)
The range of important uses for fossil fuels can be found in the linked guide we mentioned above when discussing ‘uses’
Some of the notable benefits that some fossil fuel energy sources might have over some renewable energy sources might be:
– Not being a variable/intermittent energy source like solar and wind can be
There’s can be a range of flow on effects to this, but, a few key effects might be that some fossil fuel energy sources are better at meeting base load and also peak energy demand within a power grid than some renewables (without additional support or provisions in the energy system)
This might especially be the case in highly populated areas, or areas where there is a high demand for energy.
Fossil fuels like natural gas (that can ramp up and down) might be able to be used today in an energy mix with renewables to help meet baseload and peak energy demand when renewables can’t by themselves.
– Fossil fuels generally have better power density than some renewable energy, along with some other potential performance benefits
We provide more detail on the ways that some fossil fuels may outperform some renewable energy sources in these guides:
Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels vs Nuclear: A Comparison
Which Energy Source Is ‘The Best’?
Potential Challenges & Issues With Using More Renewable Energy
We put together a separate guide outlining the potential challenges and issues with using more renewable energy in the future.
Renewable Energy May Generally Be Growing Globally
Despite our use of fossil fuels, renewable energy use is growing on a global level according to different metrics
The Use Of Some Fossil Fuel Energy Sources May Be Decreasing In Some Countries
For example, the US may be an example of a country that has decreased it’s use of coal in the last decade or more, and increased it’s use of other energy sources
But, this is not the trend in all major countries
China is an example of a major country that still uses a lot of coal
1. Various BMR articles