No Cooling Seen in Fossil Fuel Demand

It’s not quite a crude-sized glut, but there’s certainly no shortage of important annual reports on trends and forecasts in the global energy markets.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook, and OPEC’s World Oil Outlook all provide important insights into the energy sector. Each report has its strengths and weaknesses, with some focused on a particular form of energy.

But arguably the most important and comprehensive global projections are published in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO). Last week the IEA published the World Energy Outlook 2016, a 667-page report that dives deeply into recent developments across the energy sector and projects trends to 2040 under a variety of scenarios.   

The IEA was established by the leading developed-world oil-consuming nations in 1974 in response to the shock of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Its mission is to improve the reliability of energy supply to its 29 member countries through collective responses to market disruptions. To further that goal, the IEA also provides authoritative research and analysis such as the WEO.

A big focus of this year’s report was the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was adopted last December and went into effect this month. The report discusses the policy alternatives for meeting the so-called “450 Scenario,” consistent with a 50% chance of limiting the global increase in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by limiting the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide.

The report acknowledges that meeting this goal will be “very tough,” primarily because it projects a 30% rise in global energy demand by 2040 and an increase in consumption for all modern fuels. (These comments have drawn fire from environmental groups insistent that we nevertheless have no choice but to meet that goal.) Acknowledging that fossil fuel demand has dropped in developed countries, the IEA notes that the decline has been more than offset by consumption gains in developing countries — which are expected to continue.

Growing oil demand is projected to reach nearly 120 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2040 with current policies in place. Even in the New Policies Scenario, in which even tighter fuel standards cut into oil demand and encourage fuel switching (to biofuels, electricity and natural gas), oil demand is still forecast to top 103 million bpd by 2040.

In that scenario electric vehicle (EV) sales rise by around 50% per year to about 10 million by 2020 and 30 million by 2025. By 2040, the global stock of EVs in this scenario is projected to exceed 150 million, with two-thirds of that fleet plug-in hybrids. But this would still amount to only about 8% of the global passenger light-duty vehicle fleet in 2040, displacing just 0.3 million bpd of oil demand in 2025 and 1.3 million bpd in 2040.

This reflects what I have argued many times about the limited impact of EVs over the coming decades. I also believe they will continue to grow rapidly, but alongside rather than at the expense of oil demand.

The IEA report also warns about the potential for a near-term oil price shock as investment falls short of what is needed to keep up with growing demand. If new project approvals remain low for a third year in a row in 2017, it will be hard to meet the expected demand in the early 2020s without setting off a new boom/bust cycle, according to the agency. In other words, because of a three- to six-year lag time in the oil industry between the investment decision and the resulting production, underinvestment today could lead to an oil price shock around 2021.

In addition to the oil markets, the report also covers renewables (60% of all capacity additions to 2040), coal, natural gas (consumption rising by 50% by 2040) and nuclear power (essential to meeting the 450 Scenario). Given the importance of the IEA’s projections (and their impact on the decisions of energy companies), in this week’s subscriber-only Energy Strategist I will provide a more in-depth analysis of the IEA’s projections, and discuss what scenarios are likely and which ones amount merely to wishful thinking.

(Follow Robert Rapier on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.)


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