energy transition

Carbon Emissions: The Energy Deadlock of "Fossil Addiction"

According to the projections and scenarios of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017, without a significant contribution from improved energy efficiency, global energy needs will increase by a further 30% by 2040 (2/3 of which will be in Asia), which is equivalent to adding another China and India to current global demand. The demand for fossil oil would therefore continue to increase, even if at a steadily decreasing rate. The use of natural gas would increase by 45%, with industrial demand becoming the fastest growing sector. Even in the WEO's "sustainable development" scenario, natural gas consumption would increase by almost 20% until 2030. Explanations.
L’he 2017 edition of the World Energy Outlook report is set against a backdrop of profound changes in the world energy system, marked by four major developments:
- The rapid deployment and downward trend in the cost of clean technologies: in 2016, the growth of the photovoltaic solar park was greater than any other electricity production sector. Since 2010, the cost of new solar photovoltaic power plants has fallen by 70 %, the cost of wind power by 25 % and the cost of batteries by 40 %.
- The increasing electrification of energy: in 2016 at the global level, consumers' electricity bills will rival their spending on petroleum products.  
- The transition to a more service-oriented economy and a cleaner energy mix in China, the world's largest energy-consuming country.
- The resilience of U.S. shale oil and gas, confirming the country's status as the world's largest exporter of oil and gas, even at lower price levels.

These changes are taking place at a time when the traditional distinctions between energy-producing and energy-consuming countries are blurring and a new group of major emerging countries, led by India, is taking centre stage.


The pursuit of fossil addiction...

In such a context, the resilience of shale gas, oil and even coal exploitation in the United States will still account for 80% of the increase in global fossil energy supply until 2025, with the United States becoming once again the leading extractor and exporter of fossil energy in the coming decades. This significant increase in the production of US fossil resources and the faster shift to electric cars would keep oil prices between USD 50-70/barrel until 2040, which would not be enough to trigger a major turnaround in global oil consumption.
The different energy resources continue to add up strictly (source: Avenir Climatique) 

Moreover, it is accepted that the share of gas energy resource exploitation will increase in the coming decades, but the fight against methane emissions from this sector will be essential to support this development. Although these are not the only anthropogenic methane emissions, they will probably be the cheapest to control, as 40-50% of these emissions can even be controlled at no net cost due to the recovery of captured methane. In the "new policies" scenario discussed in lhe WEO 2017 reportThe implementation of such measures would have an impact on the reduction of the average global surface temperature rise in 2100 equivalent to the closure of all existing coal-fired power plants in China.

No overall reduction in carbon emissions by 2040 ...

As a consequence of all this, even in the scenario of these "new policies" and despite their recent "flattening", global energy-related carbon emissions would still increase slightly until 2040, far from the targets of the Paris Accord or other expert reports, which is not likely to slow down the occurrence and control the severe impacts associated with changes, if not climate change! 
Since the year 2000, coal-fired power generation capacity has increased by a further almost 900 gigawatts (GW) and its net development by 2040 will still be 400 GW, with many plants already under construction. In the absence of large-scale carbon capture and storage, its global consumption would at best stagnate, although in some countries such as India, its share in the energy mix would fall from three-quarters in 2016 to less than half in 2040.
In particular, the world car fleet will double to 2 billion cars by 2040, with carbon emissions from oil use in transport alone almost catching up with those from coal-fired power plants (which would be stable) with a concomitant 20% increase in emissions from industry. Certainly, if the production, but also the storage and distribution of electric energy are able to keep up, the world fleet of electric cars would approach 900 million cars, but already current energy efficiency policies only cover 80% of world car sales with only 50% of trucks being concerned. 
Combined with the impetus from other sectors, including the production of petrochemicals followed closely by truck, aviation and marine consumption, this would keep oil demand at 105 million barrels per day by 2040.

Some positive signs...

WEO 2017 nevertheless notes some "positive" signs: carbon emissions projected in 2040 in the "new policies" scenario would still be lower, but only by about 2%: 35.7 gigatonnes [Gt] compared to 36.3 Gt in 2016.
Compared to the last twenty-five years, the way the world is trying to meet its growing energy needs is radically influencing "new policy" scenarios, due to the growing share of natural gas, the rapid rise of renewables and energy efficiency. Two major changes in particular would concern :
1° on the one hand, China's transition to a more service-oriented economy and a much cleaner energy mix. As a result of the development and implementation of strong political will in this area, carbon emissions are expected to peak at 9.2 Gt (slightly above current levels) by 2030 before starting to decline. This proactive policy to increase energy efficiency would explain a large part of the sharp decline in growth observed in China, from an average of 8% per year between 2000 and 2012 to less than 2% per year since 2012 but, without new efficiency measures, China' s final consumption in 2040 would be 40% higher and by 2030 it would overtake the United States as the largest oil consumer, with net imports reaching 13 million barrels per day in 2040. This is a far cry from the "zero emissions" target ...
2° On the other hand, the rapid deployment and falling costs of clean energy technologies linked to the increasing electrification of energy which would represent 40% of the world's energy end uses by 2040.

The future share of renewable energies

The WEO 2017 report also underlines that while renewables, energy efficiency - especially in the residential sector - but also the integration of their interactions are the key means to advance the transition to a low-carbon economy and reduce pollutant emissions, a real alignment of policies and market conditions is essential to ensure tangible and cost-effective results commensurate with the challenges.
In combination with decentralized renewable energies, the provision of energy-efficient equipment would play a major role, including in the necessary extension of access to electricity, especially in rural communities and remote areas. The rapid deployment of solar photovoltaics, led by China and India, would enable solar energy to become the largest low-carbon energy source by 2040, reaching 40% of all renewable energy.
The magnitude of these future electricity needs and the challenge of decarbonising electricity explain, according to WEO 2017, why electricity security is booming at the political level and also why, for the first time in 2016, global investment in electricity surpassed that in oil and gas.

In conclusion ...

All this shows that, whatever the causes and constraints, the reality of addiction to fossil fuels will remain preponderant over the next 20 years. Everything (de)shows that the political ambitions and the means implemented adopted today, particularly in the framework of the Paris Agreement, will not make it possible to start reducing global carbon emissions by 2040.
A minimum of lucidity therefore requires an urgent paradigm shift. 500 years after Copernicus, don't we persist in seeing the sun 'rise' in the morning when it is the movement of the horizon that reveals it to us?
Jacques de Gerlache, (Eco)toxicologist, Director of      

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