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Royal Dutch Shell Drops Two ‘Bombs’ in One Week

by John Brian Shannon | March 1, 2013

First came the announcement this week by Shell senior executives that oil extraction in the Arctic would be postponed for the second year in a row, and second is yesterday’s announcement foreshadowing the company’s plan for the future, Shell Sees Solar As The Biggest Energy Source After Exiting It in 2009.

The New Lens Scenarios Europe Shell report depicts two different energy policy scenarios, predicts that “photovoltaic panels will be the main power source by 2060 or 2070” (depending on which scenario) and “lower costs and state support will boost solar to about 600 gigawatts in 2035” – worldwide totals.

What might lie ahead 50 years from now… or even in 2100? We consider two possible scenarios of the future, taking a number of pressing global trends and issues and using them as “lenses” through which to view the world.

The scenarios provide a detailed analysis of current trends and their likely trajectory into the future. They dive into the implications for the pace of global economic development, the types of energy we use to power our lives and the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

The scenarios also highlight areas of public policy likely to have the greatest influence on the development of cleaner fuels, improvements in energy efficiency and on moderating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mountains

The first scenario, labelled “mountains”, sees a strong role for government and the introduction of firm and far-reaching policy measures. These help to develop more compact cities and transform the global transport network. New policies unlock plentiful natural gas resources – making it the largest global energy source by the 2030s – and accelerate carbon capture and storage technology, supporting a cleaner energy system.

Oceans

The second scenario, which we call “oceans”, describes a more prosperous and volatile world. Energy demand surges, due to strong economic growth. Power is more widely distributed and governments take longer to agree major decisions. Market forces rather than policies shape the energy system: oil and coal remain part of the energy mix but renewable energy also grows. By the 2060s solar becomes the world’s largest energy source. – Shell

According to information compiled from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the International Energy Agency, solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has grown to about 102 gigawatts worldwide in 2012 – which is up from 1 gigawatt globally in 2000.

Since year 2000, an average of 10 gigawatts of PV solar, per year, has been very unevenly added to the world’s electrical grids, but if PV solar installations were to grow at the same rate as the 2000-2012 timeframe, just 450 gigawatts of PV solar would be installed by 2035 — not the 600 gigawatts predicted by the report. The growth rate for PV solar has been astonishing for a new kind of energy for utility companies — and additionally so, considering it is battling with the big boys of the energy world, oil & gas, coal and nuclear. Regardless of past challenges, strong growth in PV solar is forecast until 2100.

All of this means that PV solar is set to grow dramatically between now and 2035, let alone by 2070.

Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell Solar GmbH 2004 | World’s then-largest solar power plant in Espenhain, Germany | Image credit courtesy: Peter Endig/dpa via AP Images

The report has PV solar power moving to number one position to provide at least 38% of worldwide energy supply (well up from today’s ranking of 13th place) to become the predominant kind of energy by 2100.

By 2100, energy from oil will account for only 10% of worldwide energy use and natural gas will account for just 7.5% of the worldwide total, Shell said.

Due to enhanced Carbon Capture and Storage, clean combustion technology and the use of CO2 gas for industrial processes by 2100, Shell sees “global emissions of carbon dioxide dropping to near zero by 2100”.

As all of the above plays out, natural gas demand is expected to surpass the historic demands seen for any other kind of fuel and the quote from the report’s main authour Jeremy Bentham, speaks volumes about the anticipated level of demand for the gas.

“The underlying pent-up demand for gas is very strong…we see it being sucked up, every molecule.”– Jeremy Bentham

The overall demand for energy will double in the next 50 years due to population growth and increases in living standards, and natural gas will eventually enjoy the highest level of fuel demand in history. But by 2100, the world will mainly run on PV solar, while other kinds of energy will contribute small percentages to the overall global energy mix.

It now appears that Shell would rather ‘switch than fight’ the move to PV solar. It is likely to be the first of many such switches in the global energy industry.

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