The Edge

What the energy world looks like in 2030

Expect a decade of accelerating change

1 minute read

The world we live in today is very different to 10 years ago. What change will this decade bring? I asked our analysts – across energy transition, power and renewables, macro oils, petrochemicals, gas, upstream, corporate, economics, metals and mining – to imagine what 2030 looks like. Here’s what they see.

Technology – brave new world

The world is decarbonising, the nascent technologies of 2020 now mainstream. Energy storage, at scale, is crucial in balancing a power market dominated by intermittent solar and wind. New generation cobalt-light, high-nickel lithium-ion batteries underpin an industrialised electric vehicle market in which China leads manufacturing and dominates the supply chain. One in four light vehicle sales globally is an EV while autonomous EVs are starting to take off in the mass market.

‘Free’ surplus renewable generation supports green hydrogen pilot projects, threatening fossil fuels’ stranglehold on high-intensive industries, including steel and cement. Hydrogen is emerging as a potentially viable solution for residential and commercial space heating. Industrial-scale carbon capture and storage opens the prospect of prolonging fossil fuels’ life in markets where there’s access to suitable spent oil or gas reservoirs. Among emerging technology bets are bio-methane (net-zero emissions gas), algae (low-emissions biofuels) and biotechnological advances in the food chain that disrupt agriculture.

Smart cities: an electrifying experience

Cities in China, California, Japan and Europe lead the way on decarbonisation and how we consume energy – a sneak peek into what a 2050 world looks like. In these cities, smart homes give us complete control over energy consumption and efficiency. Smart systems connect wirelessly to appliances and control domestic ambience – cooking, heating, lighting – cost effectively, choosing when to buy power from the grid, sell it or store it.

The power systems in these cities are decentralised – distributed generation dominated by renewables, supported by grid-edge technologies, such as energy storage and EV charging. Gas is still in the generation mix in a back-up capacity. Universally, massive investment is being made in ‘last-mile’ distribution to meet steeply rising power demand.

New energy and fossil fuel resilience

Signs of sweeping change are evident, though the energy mix globally hasn’t changed much. Fossil fuels, even coal, are proving resilient – the only option in many developing economies to readily meet rising energy demand. But zero- and low-carbon energy in power and other sectors are in the ascendancy as costs fall.

Efficiency gains and policy focused on consumption – everything from carbon taxes on fossil-fuel-based fuels and goods to subsidised public transport – are dampening fossil fuel demand. The decline in coal demand is accelerating; electrification has brought global oil demand growth close to peak, with the developed world already in decline. Gas demand is the most resilient among fossil fuels, with LNG exceeding piped export volumes. Gas growth, though, is coming under threat from new technologies like hydrogen.

The decline in coal demand is accelerating; electrification has brought global oil demand growth close to peak, with the developed world already in decline.

Oil and gas investment, ESG and finance

Oil and gas products still support the global economy. But the industry is different: upstream is low cost (Middle East and Russia), low risk, lower carbon – and low employment. Investment focuses on brownfields. Digitalisation, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and supercomputing are enhancing recovery, maybe even discovery – though exploration has largely ceased. Environmental pressures have intensified, severely limiting finance availability for oil, perhaps gas. Those banks still prepared to lend insist on ever-higher hurdle rates and faster payback.

With the Permian now ex-growth, underinvestment in global upstream and higher finance costs increase the risk of oil price spikes. Downstream is closing capacity in OECD countries as demand declines. Refining assets are increasingly concentrated in growth markets (Asia), growth segments (petchems) and low-emissions refined products that incorporate biofuels.

Corporate landscape

The industry has consolidated to cut costs so there are fewer players. Strategies have shifted, and the lines have blurred between oil and gas and utilities. The Majors, other large IOCs and a few NOCs have morphed into energy providers, taking power ‘global’. Power – generation, grid edge, even retail customers – is a significant, fast-growing core business built by acquisitions as well as organic investment. Some have even taken the plunge into the supply chains of cobalt, lithium, nickel and copper – the metals of energy’s future.

Legacy upstream and downstream still dominate in most integrated companies’ portfolios, but as a (shrinking) cash cow, with investment limited. A few pure oil and gas low-cost Middle East NOCs are thriving. Many others, IOCs and NOCs, struggle to adapt. Value-driven niche players, perhaps privately backed, make hay for a time as the wider industry churns assets and positions towards low carbon.