Taking a long view

17/12/2007 China is set to become the world’s largest energy consumer over the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Chinese and Indian growth will make a strong contribution to boosting demand by about 50 per cent up to 2030.

Text: Terje Sørenes, Photo: Øyvind Hagen, StatoilHydro

The IEA forecast a huge growth in energy demand, particularly in China, when it published its World Energy Outlook 2007 report in November.

Presenting scenarios for global energy demand and supply up to 2030, this document takes an in-depth look at trends in China and India – the two countries with the biggest demand growth today.

Its reference scenario suggests that Chinese energy consumption will grow by no less than 75 per cent up to 2030, making it the world’s largest user by 2012.

Economic expansion in China will make a big contribution to maintaining the growth in global energy demand at roughly 50 per cent up to 2030.

Meeting these needs will call for substantial quantities of additional energy, and the IEA believes that world supplies in 2030 will still rest on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

In this view, renewable sources will account for only 10 per cent of global consumption by that date. And the world will have enough oil to meet demand until then, the IEA believes.

But this will become an increasing challenge. Brazilian state oil company Petrobras, for instance, made a major oil discovery off the country in November.

Named Tupi, it is regarded as the world’s biggest strike since roughly 10.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) were found at Kashagan in Kazakhstan during 2000.

Recoverable oil and gas in Tupi are put at five-eight billion boe – enough on the face of it to meet one year’s estimated Chinese consumption as 2030 gets nearer.

However, it is difficult to decide on the basis of one well whether the Tupi resources are recoverable or in place. They compare with roughly 8.9 billion boe in Norway’s Ekofisk field.

A steadily growing share of oil production will come from members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), with non-Opec output rising only slightly up to 2030.

The bulk of that increase will come from unconventional resources – primarily Canada’s oil sands.

Even if substantial new conventional resources were produced outside Opec, it is uncertain whether they would be large enough to offset declining output from existing fields.

Not unexpectedly, the IEA predicts that this growth will yield a big rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the air, helping to boost climate change.

According to the reference scenario, energy-related carbon emissions will increase by 57 per cent up to 2030 – with 75 per cent deriving from the USA, China, Russia and India.

China is set to pass the USA as the world’s largest carbon emitter as early as this year, with India taking third place around 2015.

In terms of emissions per capita by 2030, however, the Chinese would only be releasing 40 per cent of the American total and 75 per cent of the OECD average.

The IEA uses World Energy Outlook as an appeal to the planet’s politicians. Drastic steps must be taken if greenhouse gases are to be stabilised and climate change controlled.

This is outlined in the report’s “alternative policy” scenario, which envisages sweeping energy efficiency improvements in industry, construction and the transport sector.

These gains rest on increased use of nuclear power and renewables in the electricity sector, and on extensive carbon capture and storage both in power generation and in industry.

The agency emphasises that a common global policy must be implemented both speedily and strongly to ensure that such stabilisation is achieved.

Economic growth and the development of prosperity call for energy. This Indian brickyard still relies on old-style manual labour, with the woman carrying up to 12 bricks at a time and working a 12-hour shift.

Economic growth and the development of prosperity call for energy. This Indian brickyard still relies on old-style manual labour, with the woman carrying up to 12 bricks at a time and working a 12-hour shift.

Updated: 14/12/2009