INSIGHT: ExxonMobil energy review highlights cost and efficiency

09 December 2009 17:15  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--Meeting the world’s demand for energy will require trillions of dollars of investment and a commitment to innovation, ExxonMobil said this week.

The energy giant’s latest world outlook for energy suggests that demand will grow by 1.2% a year over the 25 years to 2030. That’s an increase of 35%.

More importantly, energy demand is forecast to remain relatively flat in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations but to grow 65% in the developing world. And that takes into account greater efficiencies globally as well as economic growth in the OECD of 50% over the period.

Power generation will demand most energy: 55% of the total growth in demand to 2030, by which time it will represent 40% of total primary energy demand.

Fossil fuels will continue to provide most of the fuel for power generation but a focus on carbon capture will drive production from coal to natural gas and open further opportunities for wind and nuclear power generation.

“In our energy outlook, we see many hopeful things – economic recovery and growth, improved living standards and a reduction in poverty, and promising new energy technologies,” ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said on release of the report.

“But we also see a tremendous challenge, and that is how to meet the world’s growing energy needs while also reducing the impact of energy use on the environment.”

Publication of the global energy study at the time of the UN Copenhagen climate change summit provides a salutary reminder of just what it will take simply to meet a growing world’s energy needs.

Controlling carbon emission within such an environment can only get more, not less, difficult. It is also potentially hugely costly.

Point Carbon last month calculated that it might cost ExxonMobil $5.9bn (€4.0bn) a year simply to purchase the carbon credits it would need to operate under a potential US cap and trade system. The energy giant could recoup most of that amount, however, through higher gasoline prices.

ExxonMobil says that natural gas would become the most economically attractive fossil fuel for new power stations if CO2 were priced at $30/tonne, a carbon price it expects to be reached over the next 10 years. (In its November study, Point Carbon assumed a carbon price of $15/tonne.)

At $60/tonne, nuclear and wind power are attractive and high growth for both are assumed in the ExxonMobil study. By 2030, 40% of the world’s electricity will be generated by nuclear and renewable fuels, it says.

But carbon capture and storage schemes at this emission price per tonne still look expensive, as do large-scale solar power facilities.

ExxonMobil, however, forecasts that wind, solar and biofuels will grow at nearly 10% a year on average to 2030 but, because they are starting from a low base, will still only be contributing about 2.5% of global energy needs.

The company tellingly says that “the most important ‘fuel’ of all will be energy saved through fuel efficiency” and in doing so points to opportunities for producers of chemicals.

It estimates that efficiency gains of about 300 quadrillion Btu a year can be achieved by 2030, which is equivalent to twice the growth in energy demand over the period.

Now that’s a gain that will require materials and innovation - the backbone for the chemicals industry.

Sector companies face a huge energy challenge certainly and, more likely than not, a costly burden as they try to reduce carbon emissions or pay more for the CO2 they produce.

They will, however, be able to tap into growing markets for energy efficient materials and the demand for more energy efficient products. 

($1 = €0.68)

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By: Nigel Davis
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