May 18, 2016

Future Global Energy Demand: Up, Up, and Away!

Stephen Eule

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released it latest International Energy Outlook (IEO), its forecast of global trends in energy supply and demand from 2012 out to 2040.

As an old Danish expression goes, it’s awfully hard to make an accurate prediction, especially about the future. EIA points out that, “Energy market projections are subject to much uncertainty. Many of the events that shape energy markets are random and cannot be anticipated. In addition, future developments in technologies, demographics, and resources cannot be foreseen with certainty. Key uncertainties in the IEO2016 projections are addressed through alternative cases.”

One key uncertainty is the impact the Paris climate change agreement will have on energy demand and emissions. EIA states the obvious when it writes that even though many countries have made greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledges in support of the Paris agreement, “a great deal of uncertainty remains with regard to the implementation of policies to meet stated goals,” something we’ve commented on before.

So we’re grateful to EIA for sticking its neck out. So what is EIA projecting from 2012 to 2040? Here are some of the top line results:

  • Demand Growth: Energy demand between 2012 and 2040 is expected to grow by nearly half worldwide. EIA expects developed country demand will rise a not insignificant 18% while developing country demand jumps 71%, with Indian, Southeast Asian, and African demand more than doubling (see the nearby chart).  
  • Fossil-Fuels Continue to Dominate: Fossil fuel use is forecast to grow 38% by 2040, with natural gas leading the way (up 70%). Although the share of energy demand met by fossil fuels declines by 2040, hydrocarbons still remain the fuel of choice, accounting for 78% of total global demand in 2040 compared to 84% in 2012. Of that 78%, about 30 percentage points are from petroleum, 26 percentage points from coal, and 22 percentage points from natural gas.  
  • Renewables: EIA expects demand for renewable energy will more than double by 2040, largely backing out coal. The share of energy demand met by these technologies should climb from about 12% in 2012 to about 16% in 2040. Hydroelectric power will remain the largest single source of renewable energy, accounting for about half of renewable electricity output in 2040.  
  • Nuclear: Nuclear power is forecast to grow 87%. Its overall share of demand, however, is expected to move from a bit more than 4% in 2012 to not quite 6% in 2040. Most of that increase is anticipated to come in Asia, and it includes the Japan switching back on a large portion of its nuclear fleet shut down after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011.  
  • Carbon Dioxide Emissions: EIA did not include the impacts of the Clean Power Plan on U.S. emissions or the European Union’s Paris commitment. As we noted above, while EIA did its best to incorporate at least some of the various emissions pledges made by countries like China and India, it’s not exactly clear how much. It is interesting to note, however, that although China has said it will peak its carbon dioxide emissions “around 2030,” EIA shows China’s emissions continuing to climb through 2040, increasing by nearly one-third from the 2012 level.  Over the same period, emissions from India should more than double while emissions in Africa (89%), Southeast Asia (91%), and the Middle East (82%) also grow rapidly. Even if one assumes the United States and other advanced countries will achieve their pledges—a big if—the increases in emissions forecast from developing countries will more than offset, by a large margin, reductions from developed countries.