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To the Moon and Back!

By Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director

Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director

Did you know that the sun’s mass is estimated to be 1.9885 x 1030 kilograms? Or that one “googol” is 10100, i.e., 1 followed by 100 zeroes. Such large numbers are almost impossible to imagine.

The same is true for global energy demand, arguably one of the least understood and underestimated realities. 105,595,980,000 barrels of oil equivalent – that’s the annual global energy demand, expressed as the amount of oil that would be needed to meet that demand. Granted, that’s a figure so large as to be nearly meaningless to most of us. It’s hard to grasp the effort required to meet this demand, and consequently, what an enormous endeavour is required from everyone involved to reshape the energy landscape to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

105,595,980,000 barrels of oil equivalent – let’s break this figure down a bit. And, to be clear, you may choose slightly different conversion factors than I have.  Dissecting this figure is only meant to give you an idea of what the energy world looks like, and for simplicity’s sake, I have converted energy consumption into the equivalent in oil consumption, fully acknowledging that oil only meets part of the global energy demand.

The average energy consumption per person is equivalent to 13.7 barrels of oil (that’s nearly two tonnes) annually. If you’re not that familiar with the size of a barrel, that works out to 2,180 litres of oil per person. Of course, that’s a global per person average – but nearly 800 million people live without access to electricity, so they are not reflected in this statistic, which makes the personal average consumption significantly higher. If we look at Europe, for example, the picture is quite different: an average EU household of 2.3 people consumes about 7,260 litres of oil each year. That is 726 average sized household buckets filled with oil. Stacked on top of each other, those buckets would exceed the height of the Cheops pyramid (that’s the big one, to you and me).

Back to the bigger picture: about 7.7 billion people are currently living on the planet, with the expectation that this number will rise to 9.2 billion people in 2040. Improving living standards in developing countries comes with increased energy demand. It remains to be seen if this increase in energy demand can be offset by efficiency gains in the developed world. Even if we can ultimately bring down overall energy consumption, energy demand will remain high for the foreseeable future.

The world needs roughly 39 billion litres of oil equivalent every single day. To visualize this, imagine a 40-inch pipeline: to contain that amount, the length of this pipeline would exceed the length of the equator. That’s a pipeline with an inner radius of about one meter, going around the globe, that would need to be refilled every single day. And, if the diameter of that pipeline was reduced to ten inches, the pipeline would stretch to the moon and back, needing to be refilled every day. The image might be right out of sci-fi, but the scale of the world’s energy needs is very real.

What does all of this tell us? That global energy demand is huge and transforming the energy supply mix is a monumental task.  A reason to surrender? To the contrary. But we need to acknowledge that simply eliminating certain energy sources from the picture means the maths just won’t add up! What’s important today, tomorrow, and for every day to come, are business and governments working together, much more international co-operation, recognizing and harnessing the skills, brains, innovation and engineering power of the oil and gas industry, and responsibility and commitment in our individual actions. All of these can work hand-in-hand to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit the planet’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Let us say that we want to meet 20 percent of today’s global energy demand with onshore wind energy. An area similar to the size of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy combined would not be enough to meet the total land use required for wind farms to provide one-fifth of the world’s demand – and that assumes that the entire area would be available and suitable for onshore wind. The land area required for wind farms may well decrease as the technology evolves but it remains a considerable challenge.

By the way, 20 percent of global energy demand met with wind energy would equal almost 80 times as much wind energy as was produced in the entire EU in 2019.

Another analogy to provide context, thanks to the excellent, recently published IEA Net Zero Roadmap: if investment in new oil and gas projects were to cease as of now, we would have to build the largest solar park that has ever been built to-date every day from now to 2030. And that’s only part of the picture. Much more would have to be done, including a major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency to 4% a year from now through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades.

History shows that the mix of energy sources needed to meet the world’s demand has only become more diverse over time, and once an energy source has been added to the mix, it stays.

Renewables will continue to play a tremendous role in the journey towards a lower carbon future. And I trust that smart engineers will come up with ground-breaking solutions to overcome storage challenges and improve access to critical minerals. But the transition needs more. We need investment and political support for low-carbon technologies such as Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) and clean hydrogen, recognizing that limiting this to green hydrogen only wastes the abundant opportunities that Blue Hydrogen presents. These technologies need to be scaled up as quickly as possible, and, at the same time, emissions from oil and gas production must be further reduced. The share of energy supply that oil and gas still have to meet is huge and is going to remain significant. This comes with a clear call for action. Our industry must not shy away from this responsibility, and we don’t. First, we need to continue putting our own house in order and reducing our own emissions to minimize our carbon footprint.

IOGP supports its Members in all these efforts with the work that we do in our low carbon programme, developing a portfolio of deliverables related to electrification, flaring and venting, CCUS, and energy efficiency. The Association has been a supporting organization to the Methane Guiding Principles since 2018, and is contributing a range of good practice guidance, including guidelines for methane emissions target setting. With OGCI and IPIECA, we are working on recommended practices for methane emissions detection, and we are finalizing a flaring management guideline with the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) Partnership that will be relevant for governments, regulatory bodies, and the oil and gas industry.

If you haven’t heard of it, although I doubt that, please have a look at the SPE Gaia Sustainability program. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of Mother Earth. The mission of all of us connected and working on this program, led by the much-respected, indomitable warrior Johana Dunlop, is to provide a space and framework where engineers, scientists, and all advocates of our industry are empowered — at every level within their organizations — to make a real difference in how we preserve life on Earth and provide energy to the world. This will require the huge mindset change that we’ve been driving to continue and to spread with urgency as widely and as quickly as possible so that we accelerate and scale up the actions we are taking to address the planet’s sustainability challenges.

Achieving the Paris Agreement goals is anything but easy, and it requires cooperation. Let’s work with each other, not against each other, to achieve what we all aim for: a sustainable planet for the generations to come.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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