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How Energy Prices Performed in 2021

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energy prices in 2021

How Energy Prices Performed in 2021

A year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world started to reopen and generate insatiable energy demand. Supply shortages and the clean energy transition further fueled the rise of all energy commodities.

Even in a year where markets and commodities performed strongly, energy prices stood out. The energy component of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) rose by 59% in 2021, returning more than double any other component in the index.

Let’s take a look at how energy commodities performed in 2021, as tracked by Trading Economics and TradingView.

How Much Did Energy Prices Climb in 2021?

After dipping into negative prices in April of 2020, WTI crude oil had a strong bounce back.

Many of crude oil’s derivative products also increased in price by double digits, resulting in higher gas prices at the pump. The U.S. average retail price for gasoline increased by 45.8% to close at $3.28/gal, while wholesale prices of RBOB gasoline also climbed by 57.8%.

Asset2021 Returns
TTF Gas290.6%
UK Gas215.9%
Ethanol101.7%
Coal93.1%
Lumber59.4%
RBOB Gasoline57.8%
WTI Crude Oil56.4%
Heating Oil53.1%
Brent Crude Oil50.7%
Natural Gas46.9%
Naphtha46.5%
Uranium U30840.3%
Propane33.6%
Methanol3.2%

Natural gas prices in Europe and the UK saw the biggest price increases in 2021, jumping more than 200%.

They were followed by ethanol, a biofuel that oil refiners are required to blend with their products. This requirement, along with the price rises in corn and sugar (ethanol’s primary raw materials around the world), made this hot commodity even more expensive.

Rising Natural Gas Prices Fuel Tension and Unrest

While the U.S. saw increases in its gasoline prices as well, these were mild compared to surges in Europe and elsewhere.

With close to 43% of Europe’s total gas imports coming from Russia, no additional supply was provided during the cold winter months. This was compounded as Germany’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has remained in limbo.

So far, 2022 has been a continuation of these trends. For example, liquified petroleum gas (LPG) prices have nearly doubled due to unrest in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan government’s decision to lift price controls on LPG (the primary fuel for Kazakh cars) saw prices surge and led to days of protests and Russian intervention.

Coal Stays Strong Despite the Clean Energy Transition

Despite 2021’s emphasis on the clean energy transition, coal prices nearly doubled as the world was unable to shake off its dependence on the fossil fuel.

Even pledges from the COP26 climate change conference, such as China’s to reduce coal consumption after 2025, are not yet having an impact on prices. That’s because the country is still planning to add up to 150 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity before then.

On the other hand, uranium couldn’t keep up with the price rises of fossil fuels. Although the energy metal had a breakout year as one of the recently renewed hopes for cleaner energy, the outlook for nuclear energy adoption and development is still mixed.

While China is expected to invest as much as $440B into new nuclear power plants over the next 10 years, Germany shut down half of its remaining plants in 2021.

After the surge of energy prices in 2021, nations will need to carefully manage their clean energy transitions to avoid further unsustainable price rises.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing the Rise of the U.S. as Top Crude Oil Producer

Over the last decade, the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top producer of crude oil.

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Line chart showing how the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top producer of crude oil.

Visualizing the Rise of the U.S. as Top Crude Oil Producer

Over the last decade, the United States has established itself as the world’s top producer of crude oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia.

This infographic illustrates the rise of the U.S. as the biggest oil producer, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. Takes Lead in 2018

Over the last three decades, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Russia have alternated as the top crude producers, but always by small margins.

During the 1990s, Saudi Arabia dominated crude production, taking advantage of its extensive oil reserves. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 42% of the country’s GDP, 87% of its budget revenues, and 90% of export earnings.

However, during the 2000s, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia in production during some years, following strategic investments in expanding its oil infrastructure. The majority of Russia’s oil goes to OECD Europe (60%), with around 20% going to China.

Crude Oil Production United StatesSaudi ArabiaRussia
199211.93%13.97%12.74%
199311.50%13.68%11.35%
199410.96%13.32%10.50%
199510.60%13.17%9.96%
199610.21%12.87%9.49%
19979.84%12.73%9.29%
19989.39%12.58%9.05%
19999.06%11.99%9.33%
20008.67%12.33%9.64%
20018.65%11.89%10.45%
20028.63%11.49%11.53%
20038.05%12.92%12.10%
20047.46%12.74%12.67%
20057.00%13.21%12.82%
20066.85%13.00%12.90%
20076.84%12.38%13.29%
20086.71%12.44%12.56%
20097.32%11.28%12.98%
20107.37%11.31%13.03%
20117.55%12.81%13.02%
20128.50%13.04%12.94%
20139.76%12.86%13.10%
201411.18%12.60%12.86%
201511.67%12.77%12.66%
201610.92%13.12%13.02%
201711.53%12.68%13.05%
201813.21%12.77%12.96%
201914.90%12.15%13.20%
202014.87%12.37%12.97%
202114.59%12.06%13.10%
202214.73%13.17%12.76%

Over the 2010s, the U.S. witnessed an increase in domestic production, much of it attributable to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the shale formations ranging from Texas to North Dakota. It became the world’s largest oil producer in 2018, outproducing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. accounted for 14.7% of crude oil production worldwide in 2022, compared to 13.1% for Saudi Arabia and 12.7% for Russia.

Despite leading petroleum production, the U.S. still trails seven countries in remaining proven reserves underground, with 55,251 million barrels.

Venezuela has the biggest reserves with 303,221 million barrels. Saudi Arabia, with 267,192 million barrels, occupies the second spot, while Russia is seventh with 80,000 million barrels.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Despite concerns about nuclear waste, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of all radioactive waste ever generated.

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Graphic cubes illustrating the global volume of nuclear waste and its disposal methods.

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Originally posted on the Decarbonization Channel. Subscribe to the free mailing list to be the first to receive decarbonization-related visualizations, with a focus on the U.S. power sector.

Nuclear power is among the safest and cleanest sources of electricity, making it a critical part of the clean energy transition.

However, nuclear waste, an inevitable byproduct, is often misunderstood.

In collaboration with the National Public Utilities Council, this graphic shows the volume of all existing nuclear waste, categorized by its level of hazardousness and disposal requirements, based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Storage and Disposal

Nuclear provides about 10% of global electricity generation.

Nuclear waste, produced as a result of this, can be divided into four different types:

  • Very low-level waste: Waste suitable for near-surface landfills, requiring lower containment and isolation.
  • Low-level waste: Waste needing robust containment for up to a few hundred years, suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities.
  • Intermediate-level waste: Waste that requires a greater degree of containment and isolation than that provided by near-surface disposal.
  • High-level waste: Waste is disposed of in deep, stable geological formations, typically several hundred meters below the surface.

Despite safety concerns, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of total radioactive waste reported to the IAEA.

Waste ClassDisposed (cubic meters)Stored (cubic meters)Total (cubic meters)
Very low-level waste758,802313,8821,072,684
Low-level waste1,825,558204,8582,030,416
Intermediate level waste671,097201,893872,990
High-level waste3,9605,3239,283

Stored and disposed radioactive waste reported to the IAEA under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. Data is from the last reporting year which varies by reporting country, 2019-2023.

The amount of waste produced by the nuclear power industry is small compared to other industrial activities.

While flammable liquids comprise 82% of the hazardous materials shipped annually in the U.S., radioactive waste accounts for only 0.01%.

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