Dubai — Global oil demand may have hit the peak in 2019 and natural gas will follow suit around 2025, the director general of International Renewable Energy Agency said March 16, as the energy transition gathers pace, echoing forecasts made by BP last year.
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Under a 2050 scenario that meets the Paris Agreement's commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 C, fuel use is forecast to decline by more than 75% if energy transition policies are enforced now, IRENA said in its World Energy Transitions Outlook.
Under the 1.5 C scenario, global oil production is projected to plummet by 85% to slightly above 11 million b/d by 2050 from current levels, with natural gas remaining the largest source of fossil fuel at about 52% of current levels, the Abu Dhabi-based organization said.
"In the last eight years, the installed capacity of renewables has been outpacing systemically the installed capacity of fossil fuels-related plants," Francesco La Camera, director general of IRENA, said in a virtual media briefing. "There is a structural change that is already there. The energy transition is already in place, it is unstoppable."
IRENA's prediction of peak oil mirrors BP's projection last year that the world may never return to the pre-pandemic oil demand level of about 100 million b/d. Demand for oil will be the biggest casualty from lower energy demand in the coming three decades as weaker economic growth and a faster shift to renewable energy accelerates the demise of oil-based transport fuels, BP said in its Energy Outlook 2020 published Sept. 14, 2020.
Natural gas will still be needed in the future for power generation and in some industries, IRENA said. Coal will be phased out by 2050, with gas supplying around 6% of power generation and nuclear energy around 4%.
"Fossil fuels still have roles to play, mainly in power and to an extent in industry, providing 19% of the primary energy supply in 2050," IRENA said. "Around 70% of the natural gas is consumed in power/heat plants and blue hydrogen production."
IRENA's bearish view of fossil fuel demand contrasts with predictions from the International Energy Agency and OPEC.
Under the IEA's last central forecast scenario published in November, world oil demand will rise to 106.4 million b/d in 2040 from 96.9 million b/d in 2018, with growth flattening out by 2030.
Last year, OPEC said for the first time that peak oil demand may be nigh, estimating that the world's thirst for oil will stop growing in about 20 years.
With the pandemic prompting a re-examination of the oil market and countries becoming more aggressive on their sustainability targets, OPEC on Oct. 8 estimated that global demand would hit 109.3 million b/d in 2040 before declining to 109.1 million b/d in 2045 and plateauing "over a relatively long period."
S&P Global Platts Analytics sees global oil demand peaking in 2040 at around 114 million b/d before slipping to 109 million b/d in 2050 under a "most likely" scenario, some 5 million b/d lower than pre-crisis forecasts.
Use of fossil fuels is being whittled away by the rising adoption of renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification, according to IRENA.
"Over 90% of the [decarbonization] solutions in 2050 involve renewable energy through direct supply, electrification, energy efficiency, green hydrogen and BECCS," or biomass with carbon capture and storage, IRENA said. "Fossil-based CCS has a limited role to play, and the contribution of nuclear remains at the same levels as today."
Under the 1.5 C scenario, electricity would become the main energy carrier with 50% of direct share of total energy use, up from the current level of 21%, IRENA said. Nearly 90% of electricity needs will be provided by renewables, up from 7% in 2018, with the remainder coming from gas and nuclear.
Wind and solar photovoltaic will constitute the biggest part of the power generation mix, supplying 63% of total electricity needs by 2050, with installed renewable generation capacity growing to 27,700 GW from 2,500 GW currently.
Electricity demand is forecast to grow over two-fold between 2018 and 2050 with the use of electricity in industry and buildings doubling and in transport jumping from zero to over 12,700 TWh, according to IRENA.
Hydrogen and its derivatives will make up 12% of final energy use by 2050 and 30% of electricity use will be dedicated to green hydrogen production and its derivatives, it said. The world will need almost 5,000 GW of hydrogen electrolyzer capacity by 2050 from just 0.3 GW now to achieve this level of hydrogen.
To achieve the 1.5 C scenario, the world will need to spend $33 trillion on top of the $98 trillion currently earmarked for energy systems investments. Some $24 trillion invested in fossil fuels need to be rerouted to energy transition technologies over the period to 2050, IRENA said.