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MEMO/07/02

Brussels, 8 January 2007

World Energy Technology Outlook to 2050

The WETO-H2 study has developed a Reference projection of the world energy system and two variant scenarios, a carbon constraint case and a hydrogen case. These scenarios have been used to explore the options for technology and climate policies in the next half-century. All the projections to 2050 have been made with a world energy sector simulation model – the POLES model – that describes the development of the national and regional energy systems, and their interactions through international energy markets, under constraints on resources and climate policies.

The development of the world energy system in the reference projection

The reference projection

The Reference projection describes a continuation of existing economic and technological trends, including short-term constraints on the development of oil and gas production and moderate climate policies for which it is assumed that Europe keeps the lead.

World energy consumption

The total energy consumption in the world is expected to increase to 22 Gtoe per year in 2050, from the current 10 Gtoe per year. Fossil fuels provide 70% of this total (coal and oil 26% each, natural gas 18%) and non-fossil sources 30%; the non-fossil share is divided almost equally between renewable and nuclear energy.

Energy efficiency improvement

The size of the world economy in 2050 is four times as large as now, but world energy consumption only increases by a factor of 2.2. The significant improvement in energy efficiency arises partly from autonomous technological or structural changes in the economy, partly from energy efficiency policies and partly from the effects of much higher energy prices.

North-South balance in energy consumption

Energy demand grows strongly in the developing regions of the world, where basic energy needs are at present hardly satisfied. The consumption in these countries overtakes that of the industrialised world shortly after 2010 and accounts for two thirds of the world total in 2050.

Oil and gas production profiles

Conventional oil production levels off after 2025 at around 100 Mbl/d. The profile forms a plateau rather than the “peak” that is much discussed today. Non-conventional oils provide the increase in total liquids, to about 125 Mbl/d in 2050. Natural gas shows a similar pattern, with a delay of almost ten years.

Oil and gas prices

The prices of oil and natural gas on the international market increase steadily, and reach 110 $/bl for oil and 100 $/boe for gas in 2050[1]. The high prices mostly reflect the increasing resource scarcity.

Electricity: the comeback of coal, the take-off of renewable sources and the revival of nuclear energy

The growth in electricity consumption keeps pace with economic growth and in 2050, total electricity production is four times greater than today. Coal returns as an important source of electricity and is increasingly converted using new advanced technologies. The price of coal is expected to reach about 110 $/ton in 2050[2]. The rapid increase of renewable sources and nuclear energy begins after 2020 and is massive after 2030; it implies a rapid deployment of new energy technologies, from large offshore wind farms to “Generation 4” nuclear power plants[3].

CO2 emissions

The deployment of non-fossil energy sources to some extent compensates for the comeback of coal in terms of CO2 emissions, which increase almost proportionally to the total energy consumption. The resulting emission profile corresponds to a concentration of CO2 in the atmospheric between 900 to 1000 ppmv in 2050. This value far exceeds what is considered today as an acceptable range for stabilisation of the concentration.

The European energy system in the reference projection

Energy demand trends

Total primary energy consumption in Europe increases only a little from 1.9 Gtoe / year today to 2.6 Gtoe / year in 2050. Until 2020, the primary fuel-mix is rather stable, except for a significant increase in natural gas consumption. Thereafter the development of renewable energy sources accelerates and nuclear energy revives. In 2050 non-fossil energy sources, nuclear and renewable provide 40% of the primary energy consumption, much above the present 20%. The consumption of electricity keeps pace with economic growth; the market for electricity remains dynamic because of new electricity uses, especially in the Information and Communication Technologies.

CO2 emissions

This combination of modest climate policies and new trends in electricity supply results in CO2 emissions that are almost stable up to 2030 and then decrease until 2050. At that date CO2 emissions in Europe are 10% lower than today.

Electricity production

Because of relatively strong climate policies, European electricity production is 70% decarbonised in 2050; renewable and nuclear sources provide 60% of the total generation of electricity and a quarter of thermal generation is equipped with CO2 capture and storage systems.

Hydrogen production

Hydrogen develops after 2030, with modest although not negligible results: it provides in 2050 the equivalent of 10% of final electricity consumption.

The carbon constrained world energy system

The carbon constraint case

This scenario explores the consequences of more ambitious carbon policies that aim at a long-term stabilisation of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere close to 500 ppmv by emerging and developing countries.

A “Factor 2” reduction in Europe

In this carbon constraint case, global emissions of CO2 are stable between 2015 and 2030 (at about 40% above the 1990 level) and decrease thereafter; however, by 2050, they are still 25% higher than in 1990. In the EU-25, emissions in 2050 are half the 1990 level; on average they fall by 10% in each decade.

An accelerated development of non-fossil fuels

By 2050, annual world energy demand is lower than in the Reference case by 3 Gtoe / year. By 2050, renewables and nuclear each provides more than 20% of the total demand; renewable sources provide 30% of electricity generation and nuclear electricity nearly 40%. Coal consumption stagnates, despite the availability of CO2 capture and storage technologies. By 2050, the cumulative amount of CO2 stored form now to 2050 is six times the annual volume of emissions today.

Energy trends in Europe

In Europe, the total consumption of energy is almost stable until 2030, but then starts to increase[4]. This is in a sense a statistical phenomenon arising from the high primary heat input of nuclear power. Renewable sources provide 22% and nuclear 30% of the European energy demand in 2050, bringing the share of fossil fuels to less than 50%. Three quarters of power generation is based on nuclear and renewable sources and half of thermal power generation is in plants with CO2 capture and storage. Hydrogen delivers a quantity of energy equivalent to 15% of that delivered by electricity. By 2050, half of the total building stock is composed of low energy buildings and a quarter of very low energy buildings[5]. More than half of vehicles are low emission or very low emission vehicles (e.g. electricity or hydrogen powered cars).

The world energy system in the H2 case

The hydrogen scenario

The hydrogen scenario is derived from the carbon constraint case, but also assumes a series of technology breakthroughs that significantly increase the cost-effectiveness of hydrogen technologies, in particular in end-use. The assumptions made on progress for the key hydrogen technologies are deliberately very optimistic.

Total energy demand

Although the total energy demand in 2050 is only 8% less than in the Reference case, there are significant changes in the fuel mix. The share of fossil fuels in 2050 is less than 60%; within this share, the demand for coal drops by almost half compared to the Reference case, and this despite the lower cost assumed for CO2 capture and storage. The share of nuclear and renewable energy increases, especially between 2030 and 2050; this behaviour is partly caused by the high carbon values across the world and partly by the increased demand for hydrogen.

Electricity production

The move to a hydrogen economy induces further changes in the structure of generation and the share of nuclear reaches 38%. Thermal electricity production continues to grow and is associated with CO2 capture and storage systems; in 2050, 66% of electricity generation from fossil fuels is in plants equipped with CCS against 12% in the Reference case.

Hydrogen production and use

The use of hydrogen takes-off after 2030, driven by substantial reductions in the cost of the technologies for producing hydrogen and the demand-pull in the transport sector. From 2030 to 2050, production increases ten-fold to 1 Gtoe / year. By 2050, hydrogen provides 13% of final energy consumption, compared to 2% in the Reference case. The share of renewable energy in hydrogen production is 50% and that of nuclear is 40%.

Around 90% of hydrogen is used in transport. By 2050, the consumption of hydrogen in transport is five times as high as in the Reference case, with a share of 36% of the consumption of the sector. Hydrogen is used in 30% of passenger cars and about 80% of these are powered by fuel cells; 15% are hydrogen hybrid vehicles and 5% are hydrogen internal combustion engines.

The European energy system in the H2 case

Total energy demand

Nuclear energy provides a third of the total energy demand in Europe. Oil, natural gas and renewables each provides roughly 20% and coal 6%.

Electricity production

The share of fossil fuels in power generation decreases steadily and significantly. The use of CO2 capture and storage systems develops strongly; by 2050, more than 50% of thermal electricity production is from plants with CO2 capture and storage.

Hydrogen production and use

The production of hydrogen increases rapidly after 2030 to reach 120 Mtoe by 2050, or 12% of world production. Hydrogen provides 7% of final energy consumption in Europe, against 3% in the Reference case. In Europe, hydrogen is produced mainly from the electrolysis of water using nuclear electricity. The share of hydrogen produced from renewables is also substantial (40% in 2050). About three quarters of the hydrogen produced in Europe go to the transport sector.

See also IP/07/8 and MEMO/07/3


[1] In 2005 $

[2] Or about 22$ per barrel of oil equivalent

[3] The scenario assumes that economic and societal obstacles to nuclear can be overcome

[4] This increase is mainly linked to the strong penetration of nuclear, as due to the comparably low efficiency of nuclear power plants a given amount of electricity from nuclear requires more primary energy input than the same of amount of electricity coming from fossil fuels or renewables
[5] Buildings with a reduction by a factor of 2 (low) to 4 (very low) from the consumption of present buildings


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