Energy consumption, carbon emissions to increase through 2050: EIA

By Jack Burke07 October 2021

Natural gas, coal and batteries will be used to support grid reliability

If current policy and technology trends continue, global energy consumption and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase through 2050 as a result of population and economic growth, according to a new U.S. government report.

The International Energy Outlook report from the US. Energy Information Agency (EIA) also finds that liquid fuels will remain the largest energy source, but renewable energy use grows to nearly the same level.

Across all cases, end-use sectors in non-OECD countries drive the return of global energy use to pre-pandemic levels. By 2050, global energy use in the reference case increases nearly 50% compared with 2020—mostly a result of non-OECD economic growth and population, particularly in Asia.

In the reference case, global emissions rise throughout the projection period, although slowed by regional policies, renewable growth, and increasing energy efficiency.

Renewables will be the primary source for new electricity generation, but natural gas, coal, and increasingly batteries will be used to help meet load and support grid reliability

Increases in electricity generation are primarily from renewable generation sources.

World coal-fired generation declines through 2030 in the reference case, but it remains a significant part of the worldwide generation mix.

Carbon dioxide (co2) emissions in the global electric power sector remain stable despite significant growth in electricity demand.

Oil and natural gas production will continue to grow, mainly to support increasing energy consumption in developing Asian economies

Supply of petroleum and other liquids continues increasing in both OPEC and non-OPEC regions to meet growing world demand through 2050 across cases.

Non-OECD Asia lacks adequate production to meet growing demand; most of the crude oil it uses comes from the Middle East.

Natural gas production increases worldwide to help satisfy key demand markets.

Globally, incremental electricity generation comes largely from renewable resources, beginning in 2025. As renewables—particularly solar and wind—become cost-competitive, the IEO2021 Reference case projects that all post-2020 electricity generation growth in OECD regions will come from those sources and that they will displace an increasing share of existing non-renewable, mostly fossil fuel-based, sources. In non-OECD regions, we project that electricity generation from renewable sources account for about 90% of generation increases from 2020 to 2050. Because electricity generation grows at almost twice the rate in non-OECD regions than in OECD regions in the Reference case, the non-OECD regions add over two times the generation from renewable sources compared with the OECD regions.

This projected growth in renewables is uncertain and may largely depend on changes to regulatory policies and market rules, large and cost-effective supply chains to support renewable installations, and a sufficient amount of conventional generation technologies or storage to back intermittent renewable capacity.

As larger amounts of intermittent generating capacity are incorporated into a region’s electrical grid, a range of generating sources will be built or maintained to provide backup for solar and wind resources because their outputs can vary. Solar generation occurs only during daylight hours, regardless of the location of the installation site. The regularity of this resource, along with typically diurnal electricity demand is better supported by battery storage with a discharge capability of several hours. In contrast, wind generation tends to vary widely throughout the day and season, requiring the use of more conventionally fueled resources that are not energy constrained, such as natural gas turbine plants.

“An example of these differences can be seen in India, where by 2050, we project intermittent generation—mostly solar—will account for two-thirds of the electricity generation mix,” the report states. “To accommodate that trend, about 330 GW, or about half of the world’s projected battery storage capacity in 2050, will be required to support a system with such a high level of solar power generation.”

In contrast, Canada has vastly different solar resources because of its high latitude and limited sunlight in the winter and fall months, making wind more economic to build and operate than solar. By 2050, intermittent generation—almost exclusively from wind resources—accounts for about 25% of Canada’s electricity generation mix. To ensure grid reliability with the growth in wind generation, natural gas-fired generating capacity will likely become the more economic choice.

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