Jul 1, 2019

Visualizing the varied world energy projections

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Adapted from a Resources for the Future report; Chart: Axios Visuals 

A new online tool offers an interactive, apples-to-apples comparison of long-term global energy outlooks issued by intergovernmental bodies, major oil companies and others.

Why it matters: These detailed projections and scenarios inform policymakers, analysts, activists and really anyone trying to grapple with where the world might be headed.

But, but, but: A big challenge is that it's tough to compare big reports on the future of various fuels, and global or regional demand from parties like the International Energy Agency and Royal Dutch Shell.

  • They differ on metrics used for energy consumption, such as how they report carbon emissions, economic assumptions and data presentation.

Enter the interactive tool and accompanying report from scholars with the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, which harmonizes these huge and distinct long-term analyses.

The big picture: The tool cleanly compares how these reports project the future based on current and planned national policies, and climate-friendly scenarios offered by some of the analyses.

Here are some high-level takeaways from the comparison:

  • The studies agree that absent strong climate efforts, consumption grows "20–30% or more through 2040 and beyond, led largely by fossil fuels," notes RFF president Richard Newell and colleagues Daniel Raimi and Gloria Aldana.
  • That's driven largely in the global "east" — that is, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East — while consumption in the global "west" is largely flat.
  • Renewables surge, but without more ambition on climate, they "primarily add to, rather than displace, fossil fuels."

The intrigue: "Under ambitious climate scenarios, the global economy becomes much more energy efficient, global coal consumption declines by more than half relative to current levels, oil use falls by up to 20%, natural gas increases modestly, nuclear energy grows by more than 50%, renewables more than double, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are deployed at scale by 2040."

Where it stands: Beneath high-level areas of agreement, the analysis shows that modelers with different companies and organizations can diverge a lot. For instance...

  • IEA's "current policies" case sees coal use growing 38% in the global "east" by 2040, while the U.S. Energy Information Administration sees a 6% rise there.
  • BP, Equinor, and IEA diverge sharply in how much carbon capture and storage comes online by 2040
  • In scenarios that would keep temperature rise below 2°C, Shell's "Sky" scenario is notable for assuming widespread deployment of carbon dioxide removal tech.

Go deeper: Take the model for a spin

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