The Looming Energy Squeeze

Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy discusses a near-term scenario that Big Oil deems all too plausible:

Royal Dutch/Shell says that in 2020, energy supplies will be so tight that they will tip the world into a full-blown crisis in which governments will force their populations to reduce driving, use less electricity, and pay an extremely steep increase for what they do consume. There will be a massive, decade-long economic slowdown, and geopolitical power will shift dramatically to energy-producing nations, the company says.

Shell’s forecasts, contained in a thought-provoking report on its view of the world through 2050, are based on current economic and energy-use patterns around the world. In previous weeks, we’ve heard almost identical energy-consumption projections from ExxonMobil (here is Exxon’s neat slide show) and BP — the world will use about 40 percent more energy by 2030.

For those more inclined to worry about global warming, there’s plenty to despair over:

Shell’s 52-page report says that in just four years, our usual sources of fuel are not going to meet growing global demand, so that there is going to be much switching to dirty coal, plus more use of agricultural-based biofuels.

16 Responses to “The Looming Energy Squeeze”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    Has anybody plotted a correlation between calls for reduction in subsidies for fossil fuel companies and the release of apocalyptic scenarios regarding constraints on the supply of their products?

  2. Thanks for the linkys.
    Although, I must say that on CO2 emissions, there seems to be a consistent disconnect in all three of the BP, Exxon and Shell reports, and the 2010 IEA World Energy Outlook.
    Consider the stated challenge in the opening words of the Shell report: “This can be summed up in five words: “more energy, less carbon dioxide”.”
    But if you look at the Shell outlook for CO2 emissions, they stay at or above the 2010 levels until 2040 and then makes a modest decline of what looks to be about 10% by 2050 (page 37). Or, in the BP chart deck, page 18, “CO2 emissions moderate” – where the chart bascially sees CO2 emissions doing nothing but going up, up, up.
    These scenarios are presented despite a recognition in the Shell, BP and IEA reports of an objective of, for example from Shell: “stabilising GHG levels in the atmosphere at or below 450 ppm of CO2-equivalent – a level scientific evidence suggests is necessary to significantly reduce the risks of climate change”.
    It doesn’t even seem to make sense to bother with these scenarios whilst at the same time pretending that they are making effective progress on emissions. They are essentially roadmaps to 600 ppm worlds…

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    For PR reasons they doff their hats to man-bear-pig. Behind the scenes they think the man-bear-pig hysteria will fade away in the next decade and they can get down to providing energy to the world without this ridiculous distraction.

  4. dbleader61 says:

    “Royal Dutch/Shell says that in 2020, energy supplies will be so tight that they will tip the world into a full-blown crisis”

    I will put 10 bucks up that there is no full blown energy crisis in 2020…and use it to buy at least 3 gallons of gas when I win. 

  5. JD Ohio says:

    See article from Nature describing the growth of Alkanes that may cause a revolution in energy industry.
    This is probably just the beginning.

  6. harrywr2 says:

    None of the projections include substantial growth in nuclear power.
    Globally we have 374 GW of nuclear generating capacity. There is no reason to believe that won’t triple by 2030.
    In 2005 global nuclear power starts were one unit every 8 weeks, in 2010 it was one unit every 4 weeks.
    It’s not a stretch of the imagination that world nuclear starts will be 1 per week in 2020 and 2 per week in 2025.

  7. Dean says:

    Talk of tight energy supplies ignores how separate electricity and transportation are. I could easily see that bulk uses for oil – transportation and agriculture – will run into a wall. But it’s hard to see how electricity will be affected so much. Electricity prices might trend upwards, but that’s not the same scenario as the crisis suggested.
    Even with Brazillian oil and Canadian tar sands, it’s hard to see how the supplies needed to support something close to the status quo can be provided given growth in China and India when it comes to oil. Unless electric cars are dominant in a decade, but I have a hard time seeing that transition happen so quickly. And the pressure that would put on electricity supplies if it did happen make it even less likely.
    Lastly, even if this does happen, it won’t be governments that are forcing people to use less energy. But I suppose a corporate report would like to make it seem that way.

  8. harrywr2 says:

    Dean Says:
    February 14th, 2011 at 8:09 pm “Unless electric cars are dominant in a decade, but I have a hard time seeing that transition happen so quickly”
    Any back alley mechanic in Istanbul and various other places around the world can retrofit your car to run on CNG for a few hundred dollars. I’ve often wondered why Chinese oil consumption numbers aren’t rising based on the number of cars they are buying. Natural Gas consumption numbers are rising.

  9. Sashka says:

    @ harrywr2 (#6)
    Could you share your sources?

  10. Dean says:

    “I’ve often wondered why Chinese oil consumption numbers aren’t rising based on the number of cars they are buying.”
    Because unlike in the US, driving miles don’t follow car purchase in many other places. In some cities in China it costs thousands of USD to just register a car. I’ve read that in Thailand, some people buy cars only for out-of-town trips. And of course there is the cost of fuel.
    In the US, urban patterns are based on car commuting. Not so in many other countries where car purchasing has taken off only recently. People don’t necessarily buy a car to get to work, or need it for that. Their miles driven tend to be optional.

  11. Pascvaks says:

    How accurate are the predictions?  I have no idea, just a feeling.  But, one thing is certain, what exists today will be gone tomorrow.  Human life and history are measured in “befores” and “afters”.  There should be no doubt that something big is coming, it always does, and now will be thought of as “before” and the rest of history will be “after”.   Is our current House of Cards crumbling?  No doubt it is.  Do lots of people suffer when bad things happen?  Yes they do. Are we currently “up”?  Yes.  Are we likely to keep going “up”?  Probably not.  Imagine you are enjoying life.  One day some unknown nobody shoots some guy you never heard of and kills him.  The next thing you know you’re in a trench in France being shot at by a bunch of Germans in another trench about 100 yards away.  That’s change.

  12. PDA says:

    We can’t bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell ’em stories that don’t go anywhere – like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you’d say.
    Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…

    Grandpa Simpson

  13. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Revkin, Dan Moutal, Aric Caplan, Twundit, ChurchAndState and others. ChurchAndState said: RT @Revkin: The Looming Energy Squeeze Big econ slowdown and resulting fuel/driving clampdown to come? […]

  14. Matt B says:


    Love the citation…….for further insight it is important to remember how issues at a typical nuclear power plant get reolved:

     “Now Marge, just remember, if something goes wrong
    at the plant, blame the guy who can’t speak English.  Ah Tibor, how
    many times have you saved my butt? Hehehehe”

  15. harrywr2 says:

    #9 Sources
    Chart of low and high 2030 nuclear projections by country.
    state of nuclear power contruction at the end of 2010.
    There is a lot of anectdotal evidence that the low estimates are extremely pessimistic. I.E. Bangladesh was only considered a ‘potential’ entrant to nuclear power in 2008. They’ve since ordered 2 GW from Russia. The high estimate for Turkey was 15 GW, they are in contract talks now for 12 GW. The low estimate for China was 50 GW, they already have shovel in the ground for 25 GW  in addition to the 10GW they already have. The low estimate for South Korea was 25 GW by 2030, they are now expected to reach that by 2017.

  16. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Very nicely written.  Provocative.  Mostly wrong.
    Nuclear has to be the biggest part of the long term answer.  That Shell completely discounts this most economically and environmentally practical answer seems to me of little surprise.  A prudent investment strategy might be to bet against most of their predictions.

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