Taking the gas (and coal) out of heat

Emissions rise from a smokestack at the PKN Orlen oil refinery in Plock, Poland, on July 17, 2020. Foto: Bloomberg photo by Bartek Sadowski

When we think of global energy consumption, I imagine most of us think of two things. The first is power plants, be they fossil fuel-fired thermal plants, or zero-emissions wind and solar, or nuclear. The second is transportation, ranging from tiny personal scooters to container ships with an engine that could power a small city. These two sectors account for more than half of all energy consumption, with transport alone using up a third.

There is another sector though that is nearly as big but commands a tiny fraction of the public attention or research attention as the rapidly changing transport sector: heat. Global industrial heat production accounts for 29% of all energy consumed by end users like homes, industries, and agriculture. However much I examine this data (all the time), I still am struck by it: almost one-third of human energy consumption goes to making things hot, on an industrial scale...

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