A question of balance
When considering your energy future, you probably want to know that you will get all the energy you need…
when you want it…
… and at a price you can afford.
Without harming the planet.
It’s all a question of balance. And oil and natural gas are essential to that equation. Even when meeting the 2-degree centigrade target agreed by the UN, the world will still need oil and gas alongside renewables and nuclear power to meet about 44% of total energy demand in the year 2040. That’s what the International Energy Agency(IEA) says.
For the past 150 years, oil and gas have helped billions of people to improve their standards of living.
You can see the benefits all around you – not only at the petrol station. For instance, oil and gas were essential in making the phone or laptop or tablet on which you’re reading this.
Looking ahead, the energy and feedstocks that IOGP members produce will help to lift billions more people out of poverty in the decades ahead.
According to the IEA, almost 3 billion people – 38% of the global population of 7 billion – risk their health every day by relying on biomass such as wood and dung for cooking.
And 1.3 billion people have no access at all to electricity. Another 3 billion have only unreliable access to power.
The quickest, most economical way to spread the benefits taken for granted in the developed world is through existing energy technology and infrastructure. Much of that is geared to oil and gas.
There are good reasons for that.
Oil’s energy density also makes it an excellent fuel. If you fill up your car with 50 litres of gasoline, you only add about 40kg in weight to vehicle. Depending on how you drive, this keeps you on the go for up to 700 km. No other fuel gets you as far as efficiently.
And there’s still no substitute for kerosene to power conventional aircraft. Even lithium-ion batteries.
Anything with moving parts – including electric cars and trains – relies on oil as a lubricant. Nothing works better at the speeds and temperatures we expect of our transport.
Oil is also an essential ingredient, for example, to the pharmaceutical industry.
Many of the medicines that save and prolong lives and control pain are made with petrochemicals.
Even if tomorrow the world decided not to use any more oil as a fuel, it would still be needed as a vital ingredient in health – as well as industry, agriculture and transport.
Gas is just as important – particularly for power generation.
Fortunately, there’s lots of gas.
Total gas resources, the IEA says, are 781 trillion cubic metres. With the right technology and market conditions, there could be enough gas available for 180 years or more.
The graph shows what this means in European power generation in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted in grams per kilowatt hour throughout a power plant’s lifecycle.
Coal comes out worst.
Natural gas, however, is the cleanest burning of any fossil fuel (oil isn’t normally used for power generation). Used in the latest combined cycle power generation plants, gas emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal.
Gas is also an ideal partner to renewables such as solar and wind power – when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Here’s how the IEA sees things 24 years from now if the world achieves the UN’s target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C.
Even then, oil and gas remain essential.
Renewables have a bigger role to play. But alone, they are unlikely to meet the growing needs of a quickly expanding global population.
Planning the world’s energy future is a complicated task.
Yet as a consumer, you’re constantly being faced with ‘yes or no’ alternatives.
Life isn’t that simple – especially not in the energy sector, where a sustainable future will rely on a balance of climate awareness, affordability and security of supply.
To achieve that balance, oil and gas will continue to play a vital role in your energy future for decades to come.