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Asia will lag behind Europe, US in embracing non-conventional energy

Investment in oil and gas projects will continue to flow in Asia

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Kuala Lumpur — Rising geopolitical tensions have forced Asian oil companies to speed up diversification of petroleum fuels and embrace newer forms of energy, but structural bottlenecks and feeble government policy will act as stumbling blocks, making the process painfully slow.

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Delegates attending the Asia Oil & Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said Asian oil companies were keen to reduce overdependence on conventional energy, but oil and gas would still account for more than 50% of the energy mix over the next two decades.

The region will lag behind its European and North American counterparts in embracing non-conventional forms of energy, they added.

"We do long-term internal scenario planning for a 20-year horizon. And even in the best case scenario, renewables will not be more than 18% of the energy mix, and oil and gas will still account for more than 50% of total energy consumption," said Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, president and group CEO of Petronas.

"The returns in new energy and renewables are not as great as conventional oil and gas. We have to plan investment in such a way that there is no compromise in the company's financial position," he added.

However, Petronas said it would continue to make strategic investments in renewables and specialty chemicals in its push to diversify.

Heads of Asian oil companies and leading consultants said Asia would still witness billions of dollars invested in the oil and gas sector.

"The scope to push oil and gas demand growth is still there in Asia. Because of that, the growth in non-conventional forms of energy in Asia will be much slower than the other regions," Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of Facts Global Energy, told S&P Global Platts, on the sidelines of the conference.

He said while the rest of the world will see oil demand peak by 2030, for many Asian countries peak demand will most likely be pushed to 2040, with demand being driven by petrochemicals.

"In the longer term, energy transition is something that we have to think about. European governments are changing the energy landscape very quickly, with things like carbon pricing and electric vehicle regulations," Russell Hardy, Group CEO of Vitol, said.

He added that the internal combustion engine will be banned by the Dutch government in 2025 and the UK may do so by 2030, but Europe can afford this because everybody has electricity and affordable energy today.

The challenge is how to allow Asia to grow within that framework because a billion people are still without electricity and there's still 30% of world growth in energy consumption still to come, Hardy said. "How do we do that sustainably?"

OIL, GAS PROJECTS MOVING AHEAD

One such region is India, which is expected to surpass China's oil demand growth in the next decade on the back of rapid urbanization. In 2018, global oil demand grew by 1.4 million b/d, with China (0.7 million b/d]) and India (0.3 million b/d) accounting for almost two thirds of the total, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy.

Oil and gas will be a major energy provider for the next two decades, and countries like India will only see a gradual shift away from these fossil fuels, although renewables will also be a major part of the energy mix, said Sanjiv Singh, chairman of state-run Indian Oil Corp.

He said India is still in the process of displacing biomass and firewood in its rural areas with petroleum fuels, and investment is pouring into building out city gas networks to supply cooking gas, while refineries find it far more economical to produce petrochemical feedstock domestically.

India's market opportunity hasn't gone unnoticed, with a focus on petrochemicals demand.

Saudi Aramco and ADNOC have committed to investing in India's biggest downstream project being jointly built by state-run refiners IOC, Hindustan Petroleum Corp. and Bharat Petroleum Corp.

Officials in charge of the project -- a mega refinery and petrochemicals complex on the country's west coast with a refining capacity of 60 million mt/year (1.2 million b/d) -- have said they were hopeful the project will move ahead soon.

"We are targeting 30% of the production from this complex to be petrochemicals," Singh said, adding that the timeline of peak oil demand is a moving target. "Depending on how technology changes over the next five years, that peak could either get delayed or could get advanced," he added.

Chansin Treenuchagron, president and CEO of Thailand's PTT said he expects oil demand to peak at 110 million-120 million b/d in about 15 to 20 years.

"We're expecting transport demand to peak first, probably around 2030," Vitol's Hardy said, adding that total oil demand will peak a few years later because of petrochemicals. There is still scope for oil demand to grow by about 12 million b/d from current levels, with the bulk of that growth expected in Asia, he added.

-- Sambit Mohanty, sambit.mohanty@spglobal.com

-- Erip Yep, eric.yep@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Geetha Narayanasamy, geetha.narayanasamy@spglobal.com