Every year, towards the end of February, BP releases its Energy Outlook. This sets out the firm's idea of how the world's energy demand and supply will evolve over the next 20 or so years. It isn't the only such report that a major firm puts out, but it is one of the most well regarded, particularly because it is one of the first to be released, and that past Outlooks have proven prescient.
In the 2018 edition, the general direction of the story has not changed. Global energy demand is still growing, up by some 1.3% per year through 2040. The world will continue to diversify its energy sources, with BP calling it ‘the most diversified energy mix ever seen.' What has changed, however, is speed. Specifically in electricity, which will account for almost 70% of primary energy demand growth through 2040. With buoyant economic growth projected, demand for power will rise, not just from developing nations building new infrastructure, but from the accelerating electric transportation sector – BP increased the number of electric cars it expects in 2035 to 180 million, up from 100 million in last year's report. By 2040, almost 20% of the world's 2 billion cars will be electric.
This has implications for oil. While natural gas and LNG will see strong growth, propelled by power usage in Asia, oil faces a more challenging future. With oil-based transport likely to see a decline beginning 2030, global oil demand will peak in 2035. BP does not see a sharp falloff after, but rather a plateauing, as industries will continue to find avenues to absorb crude, which will grow strongly thanks to American production. By 2040, the US will be the world's largest producer of oil and gas. However, BP does warn that oil demand could start sliding rapidly if proposed bans on internal combustion engine bans play out faster than expected. Or if bans on single-used plastic items take off, denting oil demand for petrochemicals.
All these aren't new headlines. It is fair to say that the industry has anticipated most of this (driven by developments in China and Europe), and has been preparing for such a future already. Hence, BP and Shell's recent major investments into renewable energy and electric vehicles. However, the speed at which these changes happen may still keep the best forecaster guessing. With the economics of renewable energy investments still unclear (or unconvincing) in some areas, combined with the concern of potential raw material shortage for battery manufacturing, costs could escalate with the growing popularity of renewable energy. Shell continues to project higher demand for LNG as the transitionary fuel towards cleaner energy, and that seems to be the immediate high growth story for now. What is certain is that the clock is ticking. How fast or slow, would probably be the highlight in next year's report. As they say, it is not “if” but “when”.
Key points of the BP Energy Outlook 2018:
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