Global energy mix in 2050: scenarios & policies – CPS lecture 2

By Penny Carmichael, on 15 October 2012

-Article by Abigail Mountain

Our second instalment of this session’s lectures was “Global Energy Mix in 2050: Scenarios and Policies”, given by Philip Thomas of the World Energy Council (WEC). As was the case with the previous lecture, I ignorantly thought that this would not interest me very much at all. But yet again, I was forced to eat my words after another thought provoking talk. So a word from the newly wise: come along! Even if the title doesn’t have your heart racing.

The main focus of the lecture was about scenario planning; an extremely complex process that allows the energy industry to make flexible long-term plans. In doing so, they hope to gain some sort of stability for the future of our volatile energy market. We can’t simply use traditional forecasting methods to predict what is going to happen within this market, as its future is dynamic, depending on a score of variables. Instead we examine all of the energy markets (e.g. oil, gas, biofuels…) together, globally, not just regionally, due to the tight link between them. We can then start to bring in the huge number of environmental, political, social, technological, educational and economic ‘drivers’ that could change the course of our market. After coming up with a handful of scenarios, a strategic pathway to each of them must be made, with signposts along each path to enable us to detect which scenario we are heading towards. If, in the future, we come across one of these signposts, alarm bells will ring and (hopefully) we’ll be able to stabilise the market before anything gets out of hand.

Of course, we immediately think of the disaster in Fukushima, which has had a huge effect on the nuclear industry. How on Earth do we account for such catastrophes in our scenarios? We would expect countries in the West to abandon nuclear power if we see another disaster, but would developing countries follow suit? This brings us onto to another point made in the lecture; that of cultural differences. Although we’re desperately trying to reduce our carbon emissions and encouraging more policies for a greener future, Asia and other developing areas are having their own industrial revolution. For regions such as these, the cost and access of energy trumps environmental concerns, in favour of economic growth.

Does this mean our efforts are in vain? Definitely not. But a staggering statistic from the lecture that stuck with me was that in order to meet our idealistic green goals for the not-so-distant-future, we’d all have to individually reduce our carbon emissions by 85%. I should probably finish writing this now… And you should probably finish reading it.