Coal was the dominant source of commercial energy from the start of industrialisation in Europe in the late 18th century until the middle of the 20th century. Coal was slowly replaced by oil and then by natural gas in many applications. Coal has retained its dominant position in two sectors, the generation of electricity and the manufacture of cement and steel, where is it used as a source of energy and a reducing agent. Coal today accounts for over 29% of the world’s primary energy supply and consumption, not including renewable sources. Coal is also the energy source with the largest potential reserves.
Global primary energy demand has risen just under two and a quarter times in the 44 years since 1965, from 3,813 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to 11,164 Mtoe in 2009. With the exception of nuclear power, in its infancy in 1965 and with demand rising over a hundred fold since then, the greatest increase has been for gas, demand for which has grown by a factor of 4.5 during his period, from 594 Mtoe to 2,653 Mtoe.
Like oil, the growth of coal production has been interrupted several times. Production increased fairly steadily from 1965 to 1990. It then dipped in the early nineties and again at the end of the decade in 1999 and 2000 and has been steadily increasing since.
Coal demand has escalated driven by extraordinary growth in China, to a lesser extent by growth in India and by continued strong demand in the USA. Over the past four decades, coal demand showed overall growth from 1965 to 1980, with some annual fluctuations. During the last 20 years it has dipped three times. There was a small downturn in the early 1980s. It fell again in the early
1990s and sharply at the end of the 1990s, with a decline of 9.2% between 1997 and 1999. But since then global demand has escalated.