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The great transformation

A record deployment of renewables has helped shape the energy supply over the last 15 years

A number of emerging technologies, policy initiatives such as the COP21 agreement in Paris last year, the continued increase in demand in China and India, a rise in growth of renewable energies, as well as the growth in unconventional oil and gas, have solidified the level and extent of their impact on the energy sector and the environment.

We have seen fundamental structural changes in the energy sector, often referred to as energy transitions, globally.

The motivation, objectives and priorities for tackling these emerging energy transitions differ within different countries and regions, but can mainly be related to the Energy Trilemma of energy security, sustainability and affordability.

With long investment and substantial lead times, the energy industry has traditionally been a long-term market, and therefore change could take a fairly long time-especially on a global scale.

Rapid innovations

Therefore, when the changes in global primary energy consumption numbers over the past 15 years are compared, they are quite remarkable.

During this time, we have also experienced new developments such as low oil and gas prices.

The peak oil debate belongs to the past. The reality is that oil demand will peak before 2030. Energy intensity reductions are set to increase at a faster rate than the demand increase from a growing global middle class.

The electrification of energy use is a conspicuous trend. Naturally this therefore shifts the discussion from peak oil to peak demand. The diversification of technologies and resources within the energy sector creates many opportunities but the complexity associated with such diversity can also lead to increased challenges.

Strategic thinking

Solar and wind power will continue their rapid growth. The integration of these intermittent energy carriers into the supply system can be seen as just one of these structural challenges.

With the increased existing level of volatility, relying on solid facts and data as the basis for strategic decision-making by relevant stakeholders-such as governments, international organisations and companies-is becoming even more important than in the past.

Many principal drivers have shaped global energy supply and usage in recent years including:

  • The climate pledges ratified within the Paris agreement which form a milestone in international efforts to tackle climate change;
  • The record deployment of renewable energies, in particular wind and solar capacity for power generation, which increased globally by 200 gigawatts between 2013 and 2015;
  • Global wind power generation capacity reached 432 GW in 2015, around 7% of total global power generation capacity (420 GW onshore, 12 GW offshore). A record of 63 GW was added in 2015 and total investment in the global wind sector was $109bn in 2015;
  • Crude oil prices recorded the largest percentage decline since 1986, with the halving of the world market price for oil, from more than $100 per barrel to less than$50/b. In 2015 oil remained the world's leading fuel accounting for 32.9% of global energy consumption;
  • A decrease in global coal consumption, which occurred in 2015 for the first time in the current century, mainly caused by China's transition to a less energy-intensive society;
  • The achieved progress in the implementation of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies, in North America, with the world's first large-scale application of carbon dioxide capture technology in the power sector commencing operation in October 2014 at the Boundary Dam power station in Canada.

 

The goals of the Paris treaty on climate change are unachievable without a global commitment to CCUS.

As energy-related activities have significant environmental impacts, it is indispensable to build and provide an energy system which covers the needs of economies and preserves the environment.

The Global Transition is unstoppable, and requires a worldwide response and careful management, building on the principles of the Energy Trilemma.

A successful energy transformation calls for global political and economic collaboration at an unprecedented scale.

The world is projected to move towards a low carbon energy future, where CCUS-enabled fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency all play a key role in the system.

A one-sided focus on selective priorities creates additional tension, increased system costs, and undermines the stability needed to encourage further required investment.

Hans-Wilhelm Schiffer is Executive Chair, World Energy Resources, WEC

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