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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Huge divergence persists in long-term energy outlooks


Graph lines showing business trends rising over lit up city skyline at night Photo: Adobe Stock
Energy investment decisions are informed by energy demand outlooks and scenarios, which can diverge massively amid uncertainty over climate and energy policies

Photo: Adobe Stock

Leading scenarios for energy demand in 2050 continue to diverge massively amid uncertainty over climate policies and how the global energy industry will cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new report published by the International Energy Forum (IEF).

The 24 energy demand outlooks analysed by the IEF in its report show a divergence between the highest and lowest scenarios of 92mn b/d by 2050 for oil and 5,100bm m3 for natural gas by 2050, roughly equal to the size of the global market today. Meanwhile, the range of projections for renewable energy demand in 2050 is four times greater than the current global renewables market.


‘The wide range in scenarios underscores the uncertainty in future energy demand, the wide-ranging potential impact of policies, and the immense challenge ahead for achieving just and orderly transitions,’ comments Joseph McMonigle, Secretary General of the IEF.


‘Energy investment decisions are informed by energy demand outlooks and scenarios. While aspirational scenarios are essential for tracking progress towards climate goals, it is equally important to provide outlooks based on current policy and consumer trends. Investment decisions should be based on realistic scenarios and real-time market data to prevent supply shortfalls,’ he adds.


Comparing the six main energy outlooks from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the report finds some areas of agreement about 2030. All base case scenarios show an 8–12% increase in primary energy demand by the end of this decade, with non-OECD countries driving the growth.


Low-carbon energy sources, including renewable, hydro, biomass and nuclear, are expected to grow by a total 32–67% by 2030 in all six scenarios. Meanwhile, coal demand is expected to fall by 2030 in all six scenarios, although the size of the decline ranges from 5% to 46%.


By 2045, three of the six scenarios predict robust growth in primary energy demand. However, the IEA’s net zero scenario shows primary energy demand plummeting by 15%, projecting a break with the historical relationship between economic growth and energy demand growth.


Four of the six core scenarios show fossil fuels accounting for more than 50% of primary energy in 2045, versus a current share of approximately 80%.


The IEF also gathered data on 18 additional scenarios from seven sources – including BP, Bloomberg NEF, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – to understand how IEA and OPEC projections compared against other industry-leading outlooks.


Three quarters of all 24 scenarios show primary energy demand in 2050 at higher levels than 2021, the report says. Forecasts for total liquids demand in 2050 diverged by 92mn b/d – almost the size of today’s global market. Scenarios based on current trends and policies show demand plateauing, while net zero scenarios show a peak and collapse.


More than half of all scenarios to 2050 show coal demand falling by more than half, fossil fuels accounting for over half of total primary energy demand and nuclear power increasing by over 50%.


Most scenarios show electricity demand growing by 80% by 2050, with more ambitious net zero scenarios showing up to 200% growth versus 2021.


In addition, most net zero scenarios show carbon capture expanding to 6–8 Gt/y of CO2 by 2050, according to the report.