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How Innovation Could Bring Us to Peak Oil by 2020

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Energy companies are grossly underestimating low-carbon advances with a business-as-usual approach says a new report co-authored by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

The report also points to the falling costs of electric vehicle and solar technology as having the potential to halt the growth in global demand for oil and coal from 2020, challenging the wisdom of backing fossil fuel expansion.

Growth in electric vehicles (EVs) alone could lead to 2 million barrels of oil per day (mbd) being displaced by 2025 — the same volume that caused the oil price collapse in 2014-15. This scenario sees 16mbd of oil demand displaced by 2040 and 25mbd by 2050, in stark contrast to the continuous growth in oil demand expected by industry.

“Electric vehicles and solar power are game-changers that the fossil fuel industry consistently underestimates,” said Lukas Sussams, senior researcher at Carbon Tracker. “Further innovation could make our scenarios look conservative in five years’ time, in which case the demand misread by companies will have been amplified even more.”

The power and road transport sectors account for approximately half of all fossil fuel consumption, so growth in solar photovoltaic (PV) and EVs can have a major impact on demand. The report argues that the use of business-as-usual scenarios should be retired. Scenarios should now apply, as a minimum, the latest cost reduction projections for solar PV and EVs, along with emissions commitments nations have made in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement, to reflect the current state of the low-carbon transition.

The new “starting point” scenario more accurately reflects the current state of play and finds that:

  • Solar PV could supply 23 percent of global power generation in 2040 and 29 percent by 2050, entirely phasing out coal and leaving natural gas with just a 1 percent market share. By contrast, ExxonMobil sees all renewables as supplying just 11 percent of global power generation by 2040.
  • EVs could make up a third of the road transport market by 2035, more than half the market by 2040 and more than two-thirds of market share by 2050. BP’s 2017 outlook expects EVs to make up just 6 percent of the market in 2035.
  • Coal demand could peak in 2020 and fall to half 2012 levels by 2050. Oil demand could be flat from 2020 to 2030 then fall steadily to 2050. Most major oil and gas companies do not expect coal to peak before 2030 and none see peak oil demand occurring before 2040.
  • Global warming would be limited to 2.4°C to 2.7°C by 2100 (50 percent and 66 percent probabilities) in this scenario. The is significantly lower than business-as-usual scenarios to 4°C and over, often used by the energy industry. This shows that if specific decarbonization efforts are made outside of the power and road transport sectors focused on in this report, i.e. heavy industries, aviation and shipping, global warming will be kept even lower.

Expect the unexpected: The disruptive power of low-carbon technology, warns that fossil fuels may lose 10 percent of market share to PV and EVs within a single decade. While this might not sound like much, it could mark the beginning of the end once demand starts to decline. A 10 percent loss of power market share caused the collapse of the US coal mining industry and Europe’s five major utilities lost more than €100 billion in value from 2008 to 2013 because they were unprepared for an 8 percent growth in renewable power, of which solar PV was a big part.

“There is no more business as usual in the energy sector — so it is time that scenario was discarded. There are a number of low-carbon technologies about to achieve critical mass decades before some companies expect,” said James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker.

The report provides full transparency on the assumptions and underlying its scenario analysis, as recommended by the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. It calls for companies to start doing the same to enable the market to understand the basis for business as usual strategies.

The report explores how plausible advances in solar PV and EVs could impact on future fossil fuel demand alongside efforts to reach international climate targets. It models a range of scenarios using the latest data and market projections for future cost reductions in PV and EVs, with varying levels of global climate policy effort and energy demand.

“Most low-carbon pathways analysis considers what needs to be done to meet ambitious climate targets like 2°C. Here we’ve looked at what would happen to the global energy system and global temperature if the lowest-cost options are deployed, in light of the latest projections of PV and EV costs. It’s time we fully understood the implications of these technologies’ relentless ride down the cost curve,” said Ajay Gambhir, senior research fellow at Imperial.

The report can be read in full at

8 Comments on "How Innovation Could Bring Us to Peak Oil by 2020"

  1. Apneaman on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 10:21 am 

    This just aired on PBS a couple of days ago if anyone is looking for a shot of high tech hopamine-dopamine.

    PBS Nova: (2017) – Search for the Super Battery

    “We live in an age when technological innovation seems to be limitlessly soaring. But for all the satisfying speed with which our gadgets have improved, many of them share a frustrating weakness: the batteries. Though they have improved in last century, batteries remain finicky, bulky, expensive, toxic, and maddeningly short-lived. The quest is on for a “super battery,” and the stakes in this hunt are much higher than the phone in your pocket. With climate change looming, electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could hold keys to a greener future…if we can engineer the perfect battery. Join host David Pogue as he explores the hidden world of energy storage, from the power—and danger—of the lithium-ion batteries we use today, to the bold innovations that could one day charge our world.”

    Innovation “…limitlessly soaring”? No. There is still innovation, but the rate is at a crawl compared to the 20th century. Plenty of tweaking decades and century old tech, but the World Wide Web was the last thing one could make a case for a real gamechanger.

  2. rockman on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 10:48 am 

    “The report also points to the falling costs of electric vehicle and solar technology as having the potential to halt the growth in global demand for oil and coal from 2020…”. And again a complete lack of connection to the FACTS. In 2016 98.5% of the 82 MILLION vehicles purchased were ICE’s. And in the US, one of the countries most financially capable of going EV last year truck sales measured 10 million/yr vs less then 200k EV’s.

    And they are projecting in just 3 years we may see a halt in the growth of oil demand IN ALL AREAS and not just transportation. Yes, just 3 years…truly delusional.

  3. Anonymous on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 1:22 pm 

    Yes, people who write articles like this, seem 100% oblivious to the fact that EVs, leave well over 90% of the problems created by oil-burning cars, unresolved. And 90% may be understating it. And that includes all the oil-based infrastructure that cars require to even operate properly. Those would be left unchanged(totally reliant on oil) even in a mythical all-EV world they keep dreaming of.

  4. BobInget on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 1:37 pm 

    Portland Student Finds Cheap Way To Make Saltwater Drinkable
    BY IWB · FEBRUARY 3, 2017

    by Edmondo Burr

    A Portland student is grabbing everyone’s attention because of a science experiment that began at high school.

    A senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, Chaitanya Karamchedu, or Chai as he is called, found a cheap and easy way to bypass all existing desalination methods and turn salt water into fresh drinking water. Universities and tech companies such as MIT and Intel are now investing in his work.

    Chai is now focusing his attention on curing cancer, by destroying cancer cells from the inside out. KPTV – FOX 12 Sputnik reports: “1 in 8 people do not have access to clean water, it’s a crying issue that needs to be addressed,” said Karamchedu.

    “The best access for water is the sea, so 70 percent of the planet is covered in water and almost all of that is the ocean, but the problem is that’s saltwater… scientists looked at desalination, but it’s all still inaccessible to places and it would cost too much to implement on a large scale.”

    Karamchedu has done at his high school what teams of experts in high-tech laboratories with deep pockets have not: find a cheap way to desalinate water. “Sea water is not fully saturated with salt,” he explained, so he added a polymer that bonds with and then absorbs the salt molecules in the water. Previously, scientists have tried to break the bonds between salt and water, with little success.

    “People were concentrated on that 10 percent of water that’s bonded to the salt in sea and no one looked at the 90 percent that was free,” said Karamchedu’s biology teacher Dr. Lara Shamieh. “Chai just looked at it and said if 10 percent is bonded and 90 is free, why are we so focused on this 10 percent, let’s ignore it and focus on 90.”

    In other words, salt water is 90 percent drinkable, and Karamchedu’s polymer isolates that drinkable water from water molecules that have bonded with salt, purifying it. Breaking molecular bonds is difficult and expensive, and Karamchedu’s technique sidesteps the technology. “What this is compared to current techniques, is that it’s cheap and accessible to everyone, everyone can use it,” said Shamieh.

    As an added bonus, the salt byproduct of Karamchedu’s method can be used as a biodegradable fertilizer.

    For his work, Karamchedu has received a $10,000 award from Intel’s International Science Fair and took second place at MIT’s TechCon Conference. He also received a $2,000 grant from the Regeneron Science Talent Search, one of 300 high schoolers to receive the prestigious honor. “They were very encouraging, they could see things into it that I couldn’t, because they’ve been working their whole lives on this,” said Karamchedu. Clean water, a resource that estimates is denied to some 663 million people worldwide, is not Karamchedu’s only area of interest. He also seeks to eradicate cancer.

    “He’s working on at least mentally thinking about the idea of killing cancer cells from the inside out. I keep telling him to remember his high school biology teacher when he wins the Nobel prize,” said Shamieh.

    “I can really see beauty in things that aren’t immediately applicable, and at the same time I want to do something to make a difference that’s not completely in the abstract. It’s important what you do has an impact on people,” Karamchedu added.

  5. BobInget on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 1:52 pm 

    The fastest way to change minds of HUMAN Anonymous critics around EV’s? Simply drive one for a week. I don’t care how old or race or sex, just rent one from a dealer. It will blow your mind.

    The only problems with electrics, ‘range anxiety’
    are being solved as we speak. Currently, only home owners or those with access to 110 0r 220 outlets
    can take advantage or EV’s .That’s changing.

    VW, the world’s largest, Toyota, the world’s second largest are preparing to install charging networks
    not unlike Tesla’s.

    The bolt has a waiting list of over 150,000 units.
    Currently only sold in Oregon and California.

  6. rockman on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 4:30 pm 

    Bob – Difficult to take anyone serious when they say they can do X so much cheaper then anyone else when they don’t give even a hint how much X will cost to do.

    There are hundreds of technologies in the world that would improve BILLIONS of lives. Too bad many are to expensive to deploy.

  7. BobInget on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 4:46 pm 

    It certainly remains to be seen if;
    (a) Caramchedu’s process can be scaled up.
    (b) Can it compete with solar powered desal ?
    (c) If this ‘real’ of fake news. (maybe ‘C’ should be ‘a’ )

    I suspect someone is pulling our collective chains.
    If on the slight chance it’s breakthrough , Holy Cow!

  8. BobInget on Sat, 4th Feb 2017 4:54 pm

    Print Email Lizzy Acker | The Oregonian/OregonLive By Lizzy Acker | The Oregonian/OregonLive
    Email the author | Follow on Twitter

    on February 03, 2017 at 10:25 AM, updated February 04, 2017 at 9:36 AM
    Chaitanya Karamchedu is the kind of teenager who forces you to completely reevaluate your entire life.

    Karamchedu, who goes by “Chai,” is a senior at Jesuit High School who has discovered a cost-effective way to take the salt out of ocean water, which could potentially save lives all over the world.

    “One in eight people do not have access to clean water,” Karamchedu told KPTV. “It’s a crying issue that needs to be addressed.”

    “The best access for water is the sea, right?” he said in an interview with the station. “Just because 70 percent of the planet is covered in water, almost all of that is the ocean. But the problem is, of course, that it’s saltwater.”

    Desalinating water is expensive and difficult to implement on a large-scale, but somehow, in his high school lab, Karamchedu came up with a way to isolate the saltwater using a polymer.

    “The real genesis of the idea was realizing that seawater is not fully saturated with salt,” he said.

    “People were concentrated on that 10 percent of water that’s bonded to the salt in sea and no one looked at the 90 percent that was free,” Karamchedu’s biology teacher at Jesuit High School, Dr. Lara Shamieh, told KPTV. “Chai just looked at it and said if 10 percent is bonded and 90 is free, why are we so focused on this 10 percent, let’s ignore it and focus on 90.”

    Karamchedu’s work is racking up the awards. So far he’s received a $10,000 award from the US Agency for International Global Development at Intel’s International Science Fair, been named one of 300 Regeneron Science Talent Search Semifinalists and placed second at MIT’s TechCon Conference.

    In the tech world, where the phrase “change the world” is an almost meaningless phrase, Karamchedu idea seems like it might actually do something roughly like changing the world. But now, the high schooler is on to a new problem: Karamchedu’s been thinking, theoretically, about new ways to cure cancer.

    Portland teen discovers cost-effective way to turn salt water into drinkable fresh water

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