Forecasting the Energy scene to 2030 and beyond

I read a blog post recently from Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasting the energy scene to 2030 and beyond.  As we wrote in “No oil in the lamp”;

It is important to state that predicting the future can be a mug’s
game. It’s been said that history is a record of the unexpected. A
detailed prediction can become a hostage to fortune as events veer
off in an unexpected direction. In the area of peak oil, unfortunately
there have been many times when specific forecasts about the timing
and impacts of energy depletion have turned out to be just plain
wrong.”

The blog looked at a number of different areas of a number of energy forecasts and I will summarise them further with some comments of my own.

Carbon emissions

Worryingly almost all the forecasts saw carbon emissions rising.  The IEA (2012 World Energy Outlook) think that annual global emissions will increase from  the equivalent of 30.2bn tonnes of CO2 2010, to 37bn tonnes in 2035.  Exxon (didn’t think they believed in climate change?) in its “Outlook for Energy to 2040” sees a peak of 37 bn tonnes around the same time with a very modest fall by 2040.  BP is most pessimistic seeing no apparent fall by 2030.  The science tells us that emissions have to peak long before 2030, by 2020 in fact.  So this is worrying, however as this blog has said recently there are some grounds for hope with the USA cutting its emissions drastically and China’s growth rate in emissions falling back sharply.  Lets hope this forecast is wrong.

Energy intensity

All see energy intensity improvements.  Both Exxon and the IEA see energy growth being 1-1.2% a year and BP higher at 1.7% (which explains the higher emissions above).  All three forecasts are optimistic on this score since the rate of energy demand has been growing at 2.3% historically.  I would add this latter figure cannot continue indefinitely so something has to give.  There is no indication any of this takes account of EROEI which is declining for all conventional fuels.

Electricity production

The estimates of electricity production are interesting and not something I have come across before.  The range is from 34,000TWh (Bloomberg themselves) to 36,637TWh although the dates at which these will be reached vary from 2030-2040.  Last year global electricity production was 22504TWh (BP Statistical review of world energy), interestingly in the light of the previous paragraph this was up 1.8% on 2011.  No details in the blog are given as to what this very large increase in electricity demand is due to.  As we have outlined in our book the whole economy will have to be electrified.  All road and rail transport as well as heating.  This (depending on the practicality of some of it, such as electric cars) will in theory lead to a very high increase in demand.  A 50% global increase could be due to just more conventional demand such as mobile phone charging and air con units.  In fact calculating both a 1% and 1.8% increase year on year to 2040 gets roughly to the projected figures indicating little if any substitution by electricity for other fuels.  If substitution is added on top then this then electricity demand is going to be much higher.  Some estimates are given in “No oil in the lamp”.

Production

Where is this electricity to come from?  At the moment hydro has a head start over all other renewables being a mature technology.  But looking at non-hydro renewables the ranges reported are from 11-22% production of all electricity (again from 2030-40).  Solar is 2-5%.  These are up from 4% now for non-hydro renewables and nothing measurable for solar in 2010.

Conventional sources pan out as follows.  All the above see gas up and nuclear and coal down although the exact amounts vary.  But where is all this extra gas demand going to come from?  Gas reserves fell for the first time ever despite all the shale gas that is supposedly around.  Don’t expect cheaper gas which brings us neatly to…

Costs

All see costs of renewables falling although surprise surprise Exxon is most pessimistic on this.  Even they see PV costs falling a further 25% by 2040.  PV costs have risen a bit recently because of the China/EU/US trade war but there is no reason why the long term trend of a fall of a quarter in cost for a doubling in capacity should not continue.  Onshore wind follows a 7% reduction for the same capacity increase.  In practical terms this analysis seems to assume no increase in electricity prices.  It seems likely that electricity prices at least in Europe will increase enough make wind and solar cost competitive as their costs fall.  The costs that Exxon suggest for wind and PV 9 and 12 cents respectively look pretty good.  I reckon you can get PV installed at a cost of 6p/unit in the UK (complicated by low export tariff which lowers your return).  Exxon are clearly thinking about competition with conventional power, but for home systems this is irrelevant since what comes up the garden path is a lot more expensive to start with.

Finally this brings me to Bjorn Lomberg who I saw interviewed recently about climate change and has nothing to do with this Bloomberg blog.  Lomberg believes we need a a lot of extra research before we deploy wind and solar of which he thinks the current technology is both rubbish and too expensive.  His comments are illogical, especially in light of the above.   Firstly, Germany (which he criticised explicitly) as I have blogged about in the past gets very large amounts of its electricity from wind and solar.  This seems unlikely if the technology is rubbish.  Second, cost reductions are driven through largely not through R&D, but deployment as we have seen with both onshore wind and PV.  Lomberg’s comments look like his usual dressed up climate scepticism to me.

Neil

PS thanks to person who put another 5 star review for us on Amazon UK we have only just found it- don’t look very often -and hope you see this.

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