Humanity’s future, to say nothing of its prosperity, will depend on how the world tackles two central energy challenges: securing reliable supplies of affordable energy and switching to efficient low-carbon energy.
The Reference Scenario — in which no new policies are introduced — in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2008 sees annual global primary energy demand growing 1.6 percent on average up to 2030, from 11,730 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to just over 17,010 Mtoe — an increase of 45 percent in just over 20 years.
China and India account for just over half of this increase, with Middle Eastern countries contributing a further 11 percent to demand. Non-OECD countries account for 87 percent of the increase, so their share of world primary energy demand will rise from 51 percent to 62 percent.
Most oil production increases are expected to come from just a few countries — mainly in the Middle East, but also Canada with its vast oil-sands reserves, the Caspian region and Brazil. Gas production in the Middle East will triple, and more than double in Africa, where there are large low-cost reserves.
The trend by which consuming countries grow steadily more reliant on energy from a small number of producing countries threatens to exacerbate energy-security worries. This year’s supply stand-off between Russia and Ukraine made these worries crystal clear in Europe, where gas imports are set to rise to 86 percent of demand by 2030 from 57 percent in 2006.
Of course, increasing import dependence does not necessarily mean less energy security, any more than self-sufficiency guarantees uninterrupted supply. Yet greater short-term insecurity seems inevitable as geographical diversity of supply is reduced and reliance on vulnerable supply routes grows.
Longer-term energy-security risks are also set to grow. As a small group of countries increasingly accounts for the world’s remaining oil reserves, their market dominance may threaten the pace of investment. The greater the demand for oil and gas from these regions, the more likely these regions are to seek higher prices and to maintain them by deferring investment and limiting production.
Unfettered growth in energy demand will clearly have serious consequences for the climate as well. Under the Reference Scenario, which represents “business as usual,” the IEA points to continuing growth in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions; carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise 45 percent by 2030, with other greenhouse gases contributing to an eventual average temperature increase of up to 6ºC.
Three-quarters of the extra carbon dioxide will come from China, India and the Middle East, and as much as 97 percent from non-OECD countries as a whole — though non-OECD per capita emissions will still be far lower on average than in the OECD. Bucking the global trend, only the EU and Japan will see lower emissions in 2030 than today.
The energy sector has a relatively slow rate of capital replacement because of the long lifetimes of much of its infrastructure. More efficient technologies normally take many years to spread through the energy sector. As a result, both public and private sectors must accept the need for additional investments, as well as the potential costs of early capital retirement, in order to accelerate this process and deliver deep cuts in emissions.