Seven essential graphs from the IEA’s World Energy Outlook

  • 12 Nov 2012, 17:00
  • Robin Webster

The International Energy Agency today released the latest instalment of its World Energy Outlook (WEO). The report's projections are widely seen as the Bible of the energy world - and it certainly contains enough graphs and stats to keep energy geeks happy.

This year's instalment includes the surprise prediction that the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the biggest world-wide producer of oil before 2020. But it also contains some sober predictions of expected temperature rise based on current trends as, not for the first time, the IEA warns that the world is on an unsustainable energy path.

We have picked out a few of the most useful and interesting graphs below.

Fossil fuels still rule

The report looks at energy trends from 2011. It says fossil fuels remained the most significant source of power, with little sign that this will change. The following graph contrasts energy demand by fuel in 2010 with predictions for 2035 under its central 'New Policies Scenario', which assumes that countries will deliver on all their current commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Subsidies for renewables and fossil fuels

In total, the IEA expects subsidies for renewable energy to rise from $88 billion now to nearly $240 billion in 2030.  The IEA projects that renewables will account for one-third of total electricity output by 2035 - largely as a result of government intervention.

But its worth noting that the IEA also says that subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $523 billion in 2011 - up almost 30 per cent on 2010 and six times more than current subsidies for renewables. According to the IEA, the cost of fossil fuel subsidies has been driven up by higher oil prices. Fossil fuel subsidies are most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where the IEA says recent changes of government may also have impacted on commitments to roll them back.

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Emerging economies are driving energy demand

The report highlights that the balance of power-hunger is shifting towards emerging economies. The IEA predicts that by 2035, the rich countries of the OECD will need just 3 per cent more energy than they did in 2010. Meanwhile, the need for electricity in emerging economies is expected to drive a 70 per cent increase in worldwide demand.

This pattern is reflected in changes in the amount of power generated by different countries, with China ahead of everyone else in increasing power generation, as this graph shows:

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America and Iraq, changing the energy world

The IEA says: " The global energy map is changing in dramatic fashion". Why? It argues that North America is "at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world". Access to new sources of oil and gas - like ' light oil' and shale gas - mean that the USA's production of fossil fuels is predicted to rocket in the next couple of decades:

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By 2017, the United States is projected to have become the largest global oil producer in the world - exceeding even Saudi Arabia. And the IEA says that the US - which currently imports 20 per cent of its energy needs - will be "all but self-sufficient in net terms by 2035" - although this is partially due to new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

The IEA predicts that growth in US shale gas means the country's energy prices will be significantly lower than in the EU and Japan. While dependence on imported oil and gas is expected to rise in many countries, the United States, will swim "against the tide" - and reap the benefits in terms of increased international competitiveness.

The other country worthy of special mention is Iraq. The report predicts that Iraq will account for nearly half (45 per cent) of global expansion in oil production until 2035. By the mid 2030s, most of Iraq's oil is expected to be exported to Asia, as this graph shows:

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Carbon emissions and climate change

The IEA have already concluded that emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector reached a new record high in 2011. It says:

"Taking all developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path".

The IEA expects that even under its new policies scenario, global energy demand will increase by a third by 2035. It predicts that this corresponds to a "long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6°C".

If countries do not deliver on their commitments to reduce emissions, the report predicts energy demand will be even greater. Without these policies, the IEA believes the world is on track for a temperature rise of 5.3 degrees Celsius.

The following graph shows the IEA's projections for emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy system under different scenarios:

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Energy efficiency gets its own scenario

Energy efficiency gets much more prominence in this year's report. The IEA has created a new scenario unpacking the benefits of bringing in energy efficiency measures.

The scenario predicts that growth in global energy demand up to 2035 can be halved by the implementation of economically beneficial energy efficiency measures. The IEA also says that introducing these measures could boost economic growth by US $18 trillion globally.

The IEA uses the concept of 'lock-in' to examine this question. On current trends, it argues that the world will be 'locked in' to a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius by 2017. This means that by 2017 the world will already have constructed enough infrastructure - like roads and power plant - to guarantee a two degrees Celsius temperature rise.

The implementation of economically beneficial energy efficiency measures would buy the world some time - delaying the 'lock in' date until 2022 by reducing overall consumption.

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Epic fail

The IEA argues in today's press release that its energy efficiency scenario shows:

" efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits."

In this morning's briefing, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol argued that the world's failure to implement energy efficiency measures amounts to an "epic failure". But it was not a topic that attracted a lot of questions from journalists in the subsequent press briefing. Despite the IEA's efforts, it seems likely that energy efficiency may again lose out to the report's more exciting-sounding findings.

You can see most - but not all - of the graphs in the IEA's presentation to press.

UPDATE 13th November: The United States is predicted to overtake Saudi Arabia as the biggest producer of oil - not exporter as we originally stated in the introduction.

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