World Energy Appetite Seen Growing by 56 Percent by 2040

The world will consume 56 percent more energy in 2040 than it consumed in 2010, according to a projection issued July 25 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“This is good news, this is rising prosperity,” said EIA head Adam Sieminski, as he presented the agency’s findings to an audience at a Washington international policy organization. The report finds that China and India will maintain their growth momentum to be front-runners in a strong, long-term economic boom.

In fact, China’s energy consumption will be double that of the United States by 2040, according to International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO). Sixty percent of the increased global energy consumption will occur by 2040 in emerging economies of Asia.

Sieminski says policymakers will be challenged to find what he called the “sweet spot,” the overlapping area where national policies do something “that is good for energy, good for the environment and good for the economy.”

The report does not offer an assessment of how policymakers find that balance or deal with the environmental consequences that may come from continued use of carbon-based fossil fuels. Such fuels emit greenhouse gases that scientists say are lingering in the atmosphere, causing higher global temperatures, rising sea levels and an array of other consequences.

IEO 2013 projects that fossil fuels will continue to be the dominant source of energy for the world in the next few decades, even as they lose market share to other sources. Renewable energy and nuclear power will be the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, but they will remain lesser ingredients in the global energy mix for years, accounting for less than 25 percent of global needs by 2040.

Sieminski said that the global economic slowdown of 2008–2009 was a setback for expanded use of biofuels. Further technological advances are necessary for a broad scale up of those fuels, but the downturn was a disincentive for investors to assume the risks inherent in a fledgling enterprise, he said.

Fossil fuels will be supplying almost 80 percent of world energy demands for the next 25 years or so, IEO 2013 predicts. Natural gas consumption will grow by 1.7 percent per year, considered another important trend. Because natural gas use produces fewer emissions than fossil fuel, Sieminski said, in the United States it has been considered a good candidate to occupy that “sweet spot,” providing cleaner air and reduced reliance on imports of fossil fuels.

U.S. natural gas production has soared in the last several years as new technologies have allowed greater access to previously unrecoverable reserves that are deeply buried in the earth. Changing technologies and unexpected breakthroughs could also alter IEO’s projections on coal use increases.

“Can we figure out a way to do carbon sequestration?” Sieminski asked. That’s a method to capture and store carbon dioxide deep within rock formations, for example, to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere and trapping the planet’s heat. These carbon management strategies could reduce emissions, but various practical problems have prevented large-scale deployment of such technologies in power-generation facilities.

The new methods to drill for natural gas require huge blasts of high-pressure water to force gas out of rock formations. The process has raised controversy and environmental concerns in the United States. Sieminski suggests that a technological advance to identify a drilling method less water-reliant might allow greater recovery of that resource.

Coal use grows faster than petroleum consumption until after 2030 in the IEO 2013 forecast, mostly because of increases in China’s consumption of coal and slowing oil demand in countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 46 percent by 2040, IEO 2013 says, reaching 45 billion metric tons in 2040.

On gasoline prices, a perpetual matter of concern for nations of drivers, Sieminski said the global oil production and refining enterprise can be disrupted easily.

“All it takes is a little bit of imbalance” in global events, Sieminski said, to set energy markets into a panic that ultimately can hit the consumer in the pocket.

More information on the report is available on the EIA website.

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