Dawn of a New Energy Future by Shell Chief Executive
In the years ahead, conventional diesel and gasoline-run cars will go increasingly far on every liter of fuel. Biofuels will account for up to 10% of liquid transport fuel in the next few decades. By 2020 up to 15% of new cars worldwide could be hybrid electrics like Toyota’s Prius – some of them capable of plugging in to recharge their batteries. After 2030, fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen will be a small but growing part of the fleet. By 2050, more than a billion extra vehicles are expected on the world’s roads, more than double today’s total.
Greater variety of fuel choices will be a boon for consumers. Different fuels will be stronger in different regions. In
As more vehicles go electric, the environmental footprint of the world’s power generators will become even more important. Wind, solar and hydropower will account for 30% of electricity generation by 2030, up from about 18% today. Many new coal-fired power plants are expected to capture CO2 emissions and store it safely underground, rather than pump it into the atmosphere. Plants will increasingly turn coal into a gas, rather than burn it. They will burn the gas to generate power, or use it as raw material for a variety of chemical products, while CO2 will be captured and stored. Such integrated plants will begin to resemble refineries.
Indeed, fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – will continue to provide more than half the world’s energy in 2050, building a long bridge to an era when alternatives can take over. A growing population and higher standards of living for billions of people in the developing world will mean we need all available sources of energy to keep the world’s economies humming. So while the world races to build up alternative fuels, it must also find new sources of fossil fuels, including unconventional ones like oil sands. And we must accelerate efforts to make fossil fuels cleaner, by reducing the CO2 emitted in their production and use.
None of this will be easy, or cheap. Industry and government regulations must change on a huge scale, at an unprecedented pace.
According to the International Energy Agency, by 2030 we will need to invest
Much of this money will come from private companies, but governments will need to continue using tax credits and other incentives to encourage the growth of renewables. They are still small relative to the world’s overall energy needs. Including hydropower, renewables account for about 7% of global energy. Wind today supplies about 1%, with approximately 70,000 turbines. Biofuels, thanks partly to billions of dollars in government subsidies, now also supply about 1%.
Judging from society’s experience with nuclear power and other technologies, new energy sources take at least 25 years to reach significant scale. To illustrate the challenge, in the case of wind the world will need another 1-1.5 million turbines covering an area nearly the size of
Energy companies are already preparing for the future, increasing production of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, investing in renewables such as sustainable biofuels, and researching ways to capture CO2 and store it safely underground. But the enormity of the challenge means government should do its part to encourage society’s shift to a new energy system. For instance, new technologies with great promise to reduce CO2 emissions will require initial government support to quickly achieve the scale necessary to have real impact.
One critical step is to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions — doing so in all major countries, not just a few. I prefer a system that caps emissions and allows companies to trade emission allowances, as Europe’s already does. Judiciously limiting the number of allowances should encourage a relatively steady CO2 price, which will have the strongest influence on energy consumers’ behavior and on the efficiency designed into factories, homes and offices. It will also harness the ingenuity of industry and channel investment to the most efficient emission reductions.
While energy policy can drive technology, it may ultimately raise costs and be politically unpopular. As society and political leaders face difficult choices, they should remember that failure to act now could force us into more painful choices down the road. Influencing consumer behavior may prove toughest of all. While technology will give society greater energy choices, it remains unclear whether people are willing to become better users of energy.
Despite the massive hurdles, the push to create a new energy system for the future will benefit us all. It will reverse the rapid rise in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. It will provide new business opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs. It will create well-paid jobs in a thriving new industry. Competition among energy sources will drive innovation, keep energy affordable and increase global energy security.
The race is on; may the best companies and technologies win!
The companies in which
Note to Editors:
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