World Energy Outlook 2016 sees transformation accelerating now through 2040

November 21, 2016 |

weo2016In the EU, the International Energy Agency said that “renewables and natural gas are the big winners in the race to meet energy demand growth until 2040” as the IEA launched the latest edition of the World Energy Outlook.

Global oil demand continues to grow until 2040, mostly because of the lack of easy alternatives to oil in road freight, aviation and petrochemicals, according to WEO-2016. However, oil demand from passenger cars declines even as the number of vehicles doubles in the next quarter century, thanks mainly to improvements in efficiency, but also biofuels and rising ownership of electric cars.

The World Energy Outlook provides multiple scenarios to map out how the energy system will look like by 2040. Its main case is the New Policies Scenario (NPS), which looks at the impact of existing government policies and commitments on energy demand, supplies, and investments. The Current Policies Scenario (CPS), which only includes policies that are firmly enacted, provides a benchmark. The 450 Scenario demonstrates a pathway to limit long-term global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In addition, this year WEO-2016 provides an analysis of what a 1.5°C limit might look like.

“We see clear winners for the next 25 years – natural gas but especially wind and solar – replacing the champion of the previous 25 years, coal,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “But there is no single story about the future of global energy: in practice, government policies will determine where we go from here.”

More volatility on the way

According to the IEA, “the transformation of the global energy mix described in WEO-2016 means that risks to energy security also evolve. Traditional concerns related to oil and gas supply remain – and are reinforced by record falls in investment levels. The report shows that another year of lower upstream oil investment in 2017 would create a significant risk of a shortfall in new conventional supply within a few years.”

“We are entering a period of greater oil price volatility,” said Dr. Birol. “If oil prices rise in the short term, then shale producers can react quite quickly to put more oil on the market, producing a see-saw movement. And if we continue to see subdued investments in new conventional oil projects, this could have profound consequences in the longer term.”

About Paris

The Paris Agreement, which entered into force on 4 November, is a major step forward in the fight against global warming. But meeting more ambitious climate goals will be extremely challenging and require a step change in the pace of decarbonization and efficiency. Implementing current international pledges will only slow down the projected rise in energy-related carbon emissions from an average of 650 million tonnes per year since 2000 to around 150 million tonnes per year in 2040.

While this is a significant achievement, it is far from enough to avoid the worst impact of climate change as it would only limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2.7°C by 2100. The path to 2°C is tough, but it can be achieved if policies to accelerate further low carbon technologies and energy efficiency are put in place across all sectors.

A detailed analysis of the pledges made for the Paris Agreement on climate change finds that the era of fossil fuels appears far from over and underscores the challenge of reaching more ambitious climate goals. Still, government policies, as well as cost reductions across the energy sector, enable a doubling of both renewables – subject of a special focus in this year’s Outlook – and of improvements in energy efficiency over the next 25 years. Natural gas continues to expand its role while the shares of coal and oil fall back.

700 million electric cars by 2040 please

It would require that carbon emissions peak in the next few years and that the global economy becomes carbon neutral by the end of the century. For example, in the WEO-2016 2°C scenario, the number of electric cars would need to exceed 700 million by 2040, and displace more than 6 million barrels a day of oil demand. Ambitions to further limit temperature gains, beyond 2°C, would require even bigger efforts.

“Renewables make very large strides in coming decades but their gains remain largely confined to electricity generation,” said Dr Birol. “The next frontier for the renewable story is to expand their use in the industrial, building and transportation sectors where enormous potential for growth exists.”

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