A major obstacle to cutting global CO2 emissions is growth in world energy demand. In this post I examine world energy growth projections from a number of different sources and compare them with the growth trends that will be necessary to meet emissions reductions goals. It goes without saying that there is an enormous gulf between the two. This leaves the world with a stark choice – cut fossil fuel consumption by 80% by 2050 or suffer the consequences of global warming, whatever they may be.
Energy and electricity consumption projections are published by a number of different sources and expressed in different units, but they all show more or less the same thing – continued growth concentrated in the developing countries, no large increase in renewables and no significant decrease in fossil fuel consumption.
First the US Energy Information Agency. Figure 1 shows EIA’s projections of energy consumption growth in the OECD and non-OECD countries through 2040. The annualized growth rate is 1.2% (note that all growth rates are expressed as annual percentages because the projections cover different time periods). Growth is projected to occur dominantly in the developing countries:
Figure 1: EIA energy consumption projection by OECD/non-OECD country.
Figure 2 shows EIA’s projections of electricity generation growth through 2040 by fuel type (annualized growth rate = 2.0%). The contribution from renewables increases from about 6% to slightly over 10%, but overall the generation mix is not substantially different to what it is now.
Figure 2: EIA electricity consumption projection by fuel type
Figure 3 shows EIA’s annual projections of energy consumption by fuel type. By 2040 renewables still provide less than 5% of the world’s energy demand. Oil, coal and gas continue to dominate.
Figure 3: EIA energy consumption projection by fuel type
Now to the International Energy Agency. Figure 4 shows IEA’s projections of world energy consumption through 2030. The energy mix remains dominated by fossil fuels, with renewables contributing less than 10%. Annualized growth is 1.5%, similar to the 1.2% estimated by EIA, with 83% of it attributable to growth in fossil fuel consumption, as the caption states:
Figure 4: IEA primary energy demand projection by fuel type
Figure 5 shows IEA’s estimates of electricity growth by region. It assumes a small increase in demand in the EU and the US but a large increase in Asia. Annualized growth is 2.7%.
Figure 5: IEA electricity consumption projection by region
Next comes BP. Figure 6 shows BP’s projections of energy consumption through 2035 (BP doesn’t give an electricity projection). It shows substantially the same picture as the EIA (Figure 1), with demand growth concentrated in the non-OECD countries. The annualized growth rate of 1.4% is also comparable to the EIA and IEA estimates:
Figure 6: BP energy consumption projection by country/region
And next we have ExxonMobil, which projects data through 2040. The Exxon data are interesting because they show estimates of energy savings from such things as LED lights. Exxon points out that “demand could have more than doubled without efficiency gains”. Nevertheless, its energy consumption projections look much like everyone else’s (Figure 7), with a major increase in demand in the non-OECD countries, a slight decrease in the OECD countries and an annualized growth rate of 1.4%.
Figure 7: ExxonMobil energy demand projection by country/region
Figure 8 shows Exxon’s electricity growth projections. They are again comparable to everyone else’s, with annualized growth rate of 2.2%.
Figure 8: ExxonMobil electricity demand projection by country/region
Finally we have the European Environmental Agency, which predicts energy consumption by fuel source through 2030 (Figure 9). Again there is no large increase in the contribution of renewables – coal in fact shows the largest increase. The annualized growth rate is 1.4%, comparable to previous estimates.
Figure 9: EEA primary energy projection by fuel type.
In summary, all of the above sources agree:
• That over the next few decades world energy consumption will grow at a rate of around 1.5%/year and that world electricity consumption will grow at a rate of between 2% and 3%/year.
• That almost all of the growth will occur in developing (non-OECD) nations, particularly China and India.
• That renewable energy will not expand fast enough to make a significant contribution to emissions reductions.
And none of the projections foresee any large expansion of nuclear generation.
CO2 Emissions Projections
What will be the impact of increased energy consumption on CO2 emissions? Here are two estimates. The first (Figure 10, EIA data) shows emissions staying flat in the OECD countries but increasing in the non-OECD countries through 2040. The combined annualized growth rate is 1.0%, slightly lower than the rate of growth in energy consumption:
Figure 10: EIA CO2 emissions projection by OECD/non-OECD countries
The second projects the quantities and percentages of fossil fuels in the generation mix with other generation sources ignored (Figure 11, again EIA data). The percentage of coal in the mix decreases, natural gas increases and oil stays the same, but the quantity of emissions from all three sources increases. (The annualized growth rate is 1.2%, but this number isn’t robust because other sources are not taken into account.)
Figure 11: EIA fossil fuel CO2 emissions projections by fossil fuel type
And where does this put us relative to the emissions reductions that the Paris Conference was aiming for? Figure 12 puts it in perspective (data from Nature ). Emissions have been tracking the red line and the projections through 2040 maybe fall slightly below it, but we need to be tracking below the yellow 2-2.4C line. Clearly we are nowhere close to the Paris target and have no realistic hope of getting there.
Figure 12: CO2 emissions growth and post-industrial warming projections for different IPCC emissions scenarios (data from Nature)
Figure 13 sums the situation up. It’s not, as one might assume, a “peak oil” plot; it’s based on a projection made by Gail Tverberg in a 2012 post at Our Finite World which shows what the world would have to do to cut its fossil fuel consumption by 80% by 2050, which is roughly what is needed to meet the 2C warming goal:
Figure 13: Gail Tverberg’s projections of energy consumption necessary to achieve an 80% cut in fossil fuel generation by 2050
Figure 14 shows the resulting per-capita energy use. As Gail Tverberg notes: “With the assumptions chosen, the world per capita energy consumption in 2050 is about equal to the world per capita energy consumption in 1905.”
Figure 14: Per-capita energy consumption from Figure 14 data
She goes on to say:
I applied regression analysis to create what I would consider a best-case estimate of future GDP if a decrease in energy supply of the magnitude shown were to take place. The reason I consider it a best-case scenario is because it assumes that the patterns we saw on the up-slope will continue on the down-slope. For example, it assumes that financial systems will continue to operate as today, international trade will continue as in the past, and that there will not be major problems with overthrown governments or interruptions to electrical power. It also assumes that we will continue to transition to a service economy, and that there will be continued growth in energy efficiency.
Based on the regression analysis:
• World economic growth would average a negative 0.59% per year between now and 2050, meaning that the world would be more or less in perpetual recession between now and 2050. Given past relationships, this would be especially the case for Europe and the United States.
• Per capita GDP would drop by 42% for the world between 2010 and 2050, on average. The decrease would likely be greater in higher income countries, such as the United States and Europe, because a more equitable sharing of resources between rich and poor nations would be needed, if the poor nations are to have enough of the basics.
Enough said, I think.