Global carbon dioxide emissions will increase 43 percent by 2035 if major nations remain tied to existing energy policies and do not act to curb global warming, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
EIA, in its 2010 long-term global energy analysis, predicts oil prices will hover around $133 a barrel in 2035 and energy use will increase 49 percent between 2007 and 2035. Most of that new energy consumption will be out of China, India and other developing countries as they churn out steel, build more power plants and drive more cars.
The EIA report paints a bleak picture but contains an array of caveats. "A significant degree of uncertainty surrounds any long-term projection of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions," say the latest projections, released yesterday.
Energy policies could shift. China uses a breathtaking amount of coal, but billions of dollars spent on renewable energy today could dampen the impact. Economic forecasts could be off-base, as they often are, and an EIA assumption that most forms of renewable energy have limited potential could be flat wrong. And the big one would be oil prices breaching $200 a barrel. What happens then?
But if the world of 2035 looks a lot like today's world, economic growth, in the absence of climate policies, will mean rising greenhouse gas emissions tied to global warming.
"Assuming no new climate policies," EIA says, "worldwide increases in output per capita and relatively moderate population growth overwhelm projected improvements in energy intensity and carbon intensity."
Transportation: 'a tougher nut to crack'
Cutting emissions from power plants could happen ahead of other parts of the economy. "That's the sector where you have existing, demonstrated technologies that are much less carbon-intensive," said Howard Gruenspecht, EIA's deputy administrator. "Transportation seems like a tougher nut to crack."
But, as it has in the past, EIA holds to a skeptical outlook for clean energy technologies, other than hydroelectric and wind power. "Except for those two sources," says EIA, "most new renewable generation technologies are not economically competitive with fossil fuels over the projection period, outside a limited number of niche markets."
From oil price spikes to U.S. natural gas supply to their less-than-enthusiastic projections for renewable energy development, EIA analysts come under fire nearly every time they put out their best guesses.
"Most models say the future will be like the recent past. But in energy, that's often not the case," said Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant Energy secretary. "When it isn't the case, they fail catastrophically."
The agency has underestimated wind power, Romm said, and has a built-in bias against solar power and other technologies that appear to be developing rapidly and signing up electric utilities. "The EIA often models the impact of climate change, but it's not good at dealing with innovation," he said.
By 2035, EIA expects energy consumption to increase 84 percent in nations that sit outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Those "non-OECD countries" are dominated by the likes of China, India, Russia and parts of the Middle East. Developed countries that are part of the OECD include the major countries of North America and Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
OECD countries will account for just a 14 percent increase in energy consumption through 2035, EIA says.
Escalating energy demands from developing nations
Under EIA's scenario, business activity in OECD countries expands 0.9 percent annually. "Slow expansion of gross domestic product and low or declining population growth in many OECD nations contribute to slower anticipated rates of increase in commercial energy demand," says the report. The impact of companies' boosting their energy efficiency will also moderate energy consumption.
In the developing world, it's about population growth. The need for health care, education and social services will lead to the need for energy. As those economies get bigger, EIA says, compounding demand in the service sector also will boost the need for energy.
"The energy needed to fuel growth in commercial buildings will be substantial," says the report, "with total delivered commercial energy use among the non-OECD nations projected to grow by 2.7 percent per year from 2007 to 2035."
No less important to the prospect for greenhouse gas emissions is petroleum's future.
EIA lumps oil under a category called liquid fuels, which also includes ethanol, biodiesel and other petroleum-related products. Liquid fuels' share of the world energy market is expected to fall from 35 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2035. Consumption remains flat in the buildings sector, increases modestly in the industrial sector and declines in the electric power sector because of rising oil prices.
Biofuels and fuel from oil sands grow
A lot of people are buying cars in China. Oil prices might be on the rise, but EIA projects a 1.3 percent yearly increase in liquid fuel consumption, a 45 percent increase through 2035.
Unconventional petroleum, which often requires heavy energy use to produce, is expected to increase to nearly 13 million barrels a day in 2035 and account for 12 percent of total world supply. "Oil sands from Canada and biofuels, largely from Brazil and the United States, are the largest components of future unconventional production," says the report, "providing a combined 70 percent of the increment in total unconventional supply over the projection period."
Global natural gas consumption increases 44 percent under EIA assumptions. Industrial demand for gas plummeted in 2008 and 2009 as the economic recession ate into that sector. The broader world economy, however, is expected to rebound, and Asia uses far more natural gas for heavy industry than does the slower-growth U.S. economy. The power sector's share of the world's total natural gas consumption increases from 33 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2035.
Natural gas markets will be well supplied and prices relatively low, EIA projects, and gas will continue to be a focus for oil and gas producers in the Middle East, Africa and Russia.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500