The Global View

How to grow world energy 49% by 2035? Magic might help

The latest prediction for where the world is heading in terms of energy use doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture. But future reality is probably even less rosy than the outlook indicates, as it seems to be based on a few wildly optimistic assumptions.

The US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) “International Energy Outlook 2010” predicts that total world energy use will rise 49 per cent between 2007 and 2035, assuming no changes in today’s laws and policies (that’s a big assumption right there). That means that — besides all the other types of energy sources that will have to grow — liquid fuels production (both conventional crude oil and unconventional fuels like oil sands and biofuels) will need to increase from 86.1 million barrels per day in 2007 to a whopping 110.6 million barrels per day in 2035.

The EIA outlook predicts a good portion of that increased production will come from Saudi Arabia, which it says will increase its output from just over 10 million barrels per day in 2007 to around 15 million barrels per day by 2035.

Not bloody likely.

For those of you who haven’t yet read oil industry expert Matthew Simmons brilliant 2005 book, “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” let us quote:

“The original owners of Aramco were just as certain as the 1970s began that Saudi Arabia could easily produce 20 to 25 million barrels a day by the mid-1980s as the current owners and the International Energy Agency are about their outlook for the early twenty-first century. It took almost a decade of steadily increasing saltwater incursion and dropping reservoir pressures to lower this fantasy level for the original Aramco owners to about 10 to 12 million barrels a day, to be sustained only until the end of the twentieth century. Then, assuming no massive oil discoveries were made, twilight would begin as these great fields embarked on irreversible decline.”

That would pose a big problem for the global economy, as even the EIA report doesn’t predict renewable energy will be able to grow fast enough to fill the gap.

“Renewables are the fastest-growing source of world energy supply, but fossil fuels are still set to meet more than three-fourths of total energy needs in 2035 assuming current policies are unchanged,” said Richard Newell, the agency’s administrator.

The EIA outlook also underscores another reason that today’s policies must change: under the business-as-usual scenario, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase from 29.7 billion metric tonnes in 2007 to 42.4 billion by 2035. What that could mean for the climate isn’t something the EIA addresses, but rest assured the results wouldn’t be pretty. And all the energy efficiency measures currently under way won’t help.

“(P)olicymakers are most actively concerned with the energy intensity of the economy and carbon intensity of energy, which are more readily affected by the policy levers available to them for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the EIA outlook states. “(A)ssuming no new climate policies, worldwide increases in output per capita and relatively moderate population growth overwhelm projected improvements in energy intensity and carbon intensity.”