World Energy Congress: The energy industry’s view of 2050 – no controls on demand and 500 million still without electricity

October 15th, 2013

I’m attending the World Energy Congress in Daegu, Korea this week and I thought it might be interesting to blog on the key themes of this meeting.

The World Energy Congress happens every 3 years and is organised by the World Energy Council (WEC), a network of 3000 member organisations located in 90 countries. Principally members come from the private sector, government or international institutions, although there is some representation from academic institutions. The conference is huge, with more than 5000 delegates and a large trade exhibition running alongside it.

The meeting has a different theme every day. Monday’s was ‘Vision and scenarios for the future’ and to mark this WEC launched a report titled: World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050 that shows 2 different scenarios for the development of the energy sector between now and 2050. The scenarios are artfully named after two styles of music – “Jazz”, where there is little forced direction and reliance is principally on markets to deliver change and “Symphony”, where there is more regulation and direction provided by governments. The scenarios are supposed to represent the two extremes within which actual future energy policy paths are likely to fall. From a development perspective a major problem with both scenarios is that neither eliminates energy poverty by 2050 and so  lack ambition when compared to the UN Sustainable Energy for All goal of universal access by 2030. The Jazz scenario does the best – with markets left to their own devices reducing the level of people without electricity in the world from 1.2 billion today to 300 million by 2050. Surprisingly WEC’s more regulated Symphony scenario does worse, leaving 500 million people still without electricity by 2050 – possibly because the government regulation envisaged by the scenario’s authors was focussed on green issues and carbon rather than on energy poverty. I say possibly because the other alarming outcome from both scenarios is a massive predicted rise is global annual energy consumption from 373 EJ in 2010 to between 491 (Symphony) and 629 EJ (Jazz) in 2050.

These two scenarios are supposed to represent extreme alternatives with an expectation that actual development will fall somewhere in-between. But scenarios are only as good as their underlying assumptions and in this case it appears those assumptions are “business as usual” for the energy industry, plus or minus a bit of green regulation.  It is disappointing that WEC hasn’t been more radical in its scenario building and had at least one of its scenarios representing what it would take to achieve universal access by 2030.

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