Why Carbon Fuels Will Dominate The 21st Century's Global Energy Economy

by Peter R. Odell
published March 2004 • ISBN: 0 906522 22 6 • pp. 192 • 39


Global energy demand has grown only slowly since the mid-1970s. This is predicated to continue, even without actions to limit/reduce CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, increasing energy use is required to eliminate energy poverty, not only for the 2 to 3 billion of the world's present population which suffer from the condition, but also for the net additional 3 billion inhabitants of planet earth by 2050. Sustainability for a more populous 21st century world depends on this development.

Carbon fuel use since 1970 has been much below expectations at that time. Consequently, proven reserves have expanded to an all-time high. These provide a secure base for supply growth of coal, oil and gas. Collectively their present 90% share of global energy use will decline only very slowly, viz. to 80% by mid-century and still over 55% by 2100.

Conventional expectations for a high growth rate in coal's use are unrealistic. At most, its contribution to fossil fuel supplies will be 30%. Thus hydrocarbons will remain dominant supplying over 50% of global energy use until post-2070. But their relative contributions will change dramatically. As gas supply grows more than five-fold over the century, it will contribute 57% of hydrocarbons supply (oil; 43%). Gas will overtake coal by 2010 and oil by 2040. Conventional and non-conventional gas reserves and resources will be adequate to maintain gas as a growth industry until post-2090 - even without a contribution from gas hydrates and geo-pressured gas.

Oil supply will likely be more demand than resources constrained - given the demand-side preference for gas for technical and commercial, as well as environmental, reasons. The remaining 2000x109 barrels of recoverable conventional oil resources will sustain over 50% of oil demand until almost 2060. Thereafter non-conventional oil will take the leading role. The latter's output will peak only in the penultimate decade of the century and by 2100 its resource-base will be little more than half-depleted. In spite of oil's relative decline as an energy source the industry will, nevertheless, be larger in 2100 than it was in 2000.

The historic and contemporary geo-political significance of the oil industry will, however, be undermined over the coming two decades. Thereafter, with its falling contribution to global energy supply and an increasingly dispersed geographical pattern of production, it will become "just another source of energy" in a competitive market.

Serious medium- to long-term upward pressures on oil and gas prices are unlikely. Higher finding/exploitation costs will be offset by technologically-derived savings. Modest real price increases from post-1986 levels (of 10 to 20% by 2020 and 20 to 30% by 2040) will subsequently be constrained by lower-cost renewable energy supplies.

Finally, what if oil and gas are NOT fossil fuels? As argued by the inorganic origin theorists of the Former Soviet Union - home to the world's largest hydrocarbons' industry. Enormous implications follow from oil and gas being renewable resources. All concerns for "scarcity" would be undermined and future oil and gas supplies at stable or falling costs could be guaranteed.


About the Author

Peter Odell was born in 1930 in Coalville, Leicestershire, into a family of coal-miners and railwaymen. His lifetime interest in energy emerged from that background.

Following three years with Shell International's Economic division from 1958-61, he returned to academia via the London School of Economics and subsequently in 1968 to a Chair in the Netherlands School of Economics, now part of Erasmus University in Rotterdam; at that time, prior to the North Sea's development, the energy capital of Europe. He retired from his Directorship of the University's Centre for International Energy Studies in the 1990's, and now has the status of Professor Emeritus of International Energy Studies.

His publications date back to the early 1960s and have covered a wide range of economic and geopolitical issues on the global and European energy economies. In 1991 he was honoured by the International Association for Energy Economics for his "outstanding contributions to the subject and its literature"; and in 1994 by the award of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Centennial Medal for his studies on the development of North Sea oil and gas. From 1977-9 he advised the UK Secretary of State for Energy on that topic and subsequently assisted both European and International Organisations likewise. He also undertook numerous commitments over many years to lecture and contribute to symposia in Europe, the Americas and Asia/Australasia on his research interests.

In this new book he ventures into long-term and controversial forecasts on 21st century energy prospects. These efforts mark the culmination of his long experience as a forecaster of energy sector developments over the past 40 years. Precursors to this presentation of the global energy outlook for up to 2100 include the following robust predictions which he made;

• in 1964 he forecast the near demise of the UK and European coal industry by 2000.

• in 1969; the doubling of the officially defined reserves and production potential of the giant Dutch Groningen gasfield.

• in 1976; a "bonanza" for the UK and Norway from the exploitation of his estimated minimum of 80 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea.

• in 1976; the inevitability of Europe's nuclear power industry ever to produce electricity competitively.

• in 1980; the 90% probability for a 70-year future for increasing global oil production.

• in 1982; the collapse of the international oil price from its $40 per barrel post-2nd oil price shock level, when most other forecasters were warning of the price rising to $100 per barrel by 2000.

• in 1984 and 1988; the evolution of natural gas as Europe's primary energy source by the early 21st century.

• in 1994, the gradual regionalisation of the global oil market based on major discoveries of reserves in all world regions.

• in 1997; the return to an "ordered" international oil market under US hegemony, with the support of Russia and the leading members of OPEC.

The bases for these - and the many other - predictions which he made can be found in his recently-published two-volume selected collection of 70 studies and commentaries dating back to the 1960s, viz. Oil and Gas: Crises and Controversies, 1961-2000 (Vol.1. Global Issues and Vol.2. Europe's Entanglement), also published by Multi-Science Publishing Company Ltd., Brentwood, Essex, UK.


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