Why did fossil fuels become so popular?
Note: In the "Comprehensive Energy Statistics, " the statistical method for numerical values was changed from fiscal 1990 onward.
Source: Based on Comprehensive Energy Statistics, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and Department of National Accounts, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
Reference: 2009 Annual Report on Energy
Ever since the Industrial Revolution took off in the 18th century, vast quantities of fossil fuels have been used to power the economy and deliver unprecedented affluence to huge numbers of people. As we all know, fossil fuels are organic matter made from the remains of flora and fauna subjected to immense pressure and heat deep within the Earth over millions of years. Petroleum, coal, and natural gas are major fossil fuels.
During the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels seemed to be the ideal energy source. Steam locomotives, the quintessential machines of the Industrial Revolution, used coal as a fuel source from early on to compensate for a lack of firewood and charcoal. Not only was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of coal available from easily exploited seams near the surface, but it could be used in its natural form. Japanese governments in the Meiji era (1868-1912), realizing that the use of coal was synonymous with industrialization, encouraged the development of coal mines.
Since the modest beginnings of the oil industry in the mid-19th century, petroleum has risen to global prominence. Initially, kerosene, used for lighting and heating, was the principal product derived from petroleum. However, the development of drilling technology for oil wells in mid-19th century America put the petroleum industry on a new footing, leading to mass-consumption of petroleum as a highly versatile fuel powering transportation in the form of automobiles, ships, airplanes and so on, applied to generate electricity, used for heating and to provide hot water supplies.
The usage of fossil fuels has been increasing in step with economic growth. Fossil fuels were prerequisites for the birth of a new industrial civilization that transformed our world.
Increasing consumption of primary energy
Fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas, natural energy, such as hydropower and solar power, and nuclear power are collectively referred to as primary energy. World consumption of primary energy greatly increased from 3.8 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in 1965 to 11.1 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in 2007.
However, this increase was far from being uniform throughout the world. Whereas members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) accounted for 69% of world energy consumption in 1965, the figure had decreased to 50% by 2007. This decrease was attributable to the slowing of the growth of energy consumption of developed countries because of low population growth, changes in the structure of industry, and progress in energy-saving technology.
On the other hand, developing countries (non-OECD members) have come to account for a greater proportion of global energy consumption. Energy consumption in China and other Asian countries is expected to continue increasing rapidly owing to high economic growth, rising populations and ongoing industrialization. Consumption is also increasing rapidly in certain countries in the Middle East.