Why all is lost: increasing demand for jet fuel will be bigger than savings from electric cars

airport with stop sign
© STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images

We are all cutting back in the West, but more flying in developing countries overwhelms the savings.

OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has some predictions for its members in its latest report that can be summed up as: Don't worry. Be happy. Demand for fossil fuels will just keep growing and growing. And the coming wave of electric cars won't make any difference; any reduction in oil consumption will be overwhelmed by the increase in aviation. Adam Vaughan of the Guardian writes:

In a forecast that will dismay environmentalists – and which questions the theory that oil company reserves will become “stranded assets” – Opec’s annual report significantly revised production estimates upwards. Opec expects global oil demand to reach nearly 112m barrels per day by 2040, driven by transportation and petrochemicals. That is up from almost 100m today and higher than last year’s projection.

Long term oil demand© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

Perhaps the most dismayed environmentalist will be TreeHugger Sami, who has been telling us for years about the coming carbon bubble and how we are in the middle of "a huge, world-altering shift in how we generate, use and conserve energy." OPEC's not buying it, and expects to keep selling it.

car fleet growth© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

Aviation will be the fastest growing user of oil, but the largest absolute growth is expected to come from road transport. The world will add another 1.1 billion cars and trucks, totalling 2.4 billion. The number of cars in the developed world won't increase much, but developing countries will add 768 million passenger cars. Electric cars will take a little bite out this, with as many as 300 million sold, totalling 15 percent of the passenger car fleet. But it's not nearly enough to make much of a difference. Electric vehicles are that thin green band floating on top of a sea of conventional vehicles. Almost all of the growth will be in developing countries, mainly India and China.

Demand growth© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

Fuel consumption for aviation is the fastest growing sector, increasing consumption by 2.2% a year on average to 2040, driven by "a rapidly expanding middle class, particularly in developing countries and an increasing penetration of low-cost carriers."

OPEC predicts that American "tight oil" from fracking will peak in about 2023, putting them back in control of the market. They also note that even if the oil used in transport declines, this could be "offset by a very healthy outlook for demand from the petrochemical sector, which is booming in key regions of the world." And alternatives to fossil fuels?

fuel type changes© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

Oil is forecast to remain the largest contributor to the energy mix throughout the forecast period, with a share of nearly 28% in 2040, higher than gas and coal. Despite relatively low demand growth rates (especially for coal and oil), fossil fuels are projected to remain the dominant component in the global energy mix, with a share of 75% in 2040, albeit a drop of 6 percentage points from 2015.

demand by region© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

It is all a rather dismal picture for anyone concerned about carbon emissions, which apparently nobody is when there is money to be made selling cars, cheap flights and of course, lots of oil, which is the business OPEC is in. The worst part of it all is that we can be madly insulating our homes and bicycling to our LEED Platinum offices, doing everything we can in the OECD developed countries, and it all seems meaningless and futile, completely overwhelmed by the growth in the developing world. OPEC may be a somewhat biased source, but this is still scary and depressing stuff.

Demand by sector© Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. 2018 OPEC World Oil Outlook

Why all is lost: increasing demand for jet fuel will be bigger than savings from electric cars
We are all cutting back in the West, but more flying in developing countries overwhelms the savings.

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