Later City news
  • Baher BA

Will we still need fossil fuels in 2050?

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Later City News: The world population will have increased by more than 2 billion people by 2050, the vast majority living in cities in the developing world but at the same time the world is facing a rapid decline in renewable energy costs, improving energy efficiency, widespread electrification, increasingly “smart” technologies, continual technological breakthroughs and well-informed policy making all drive this shift, bringing a sustainable energy future within reach.

In an era of accelerating change, the imperative to limit climate change and achieve sustainable growth is strengthening the momentum of the global energy transformation.

Adnan Amin, director of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) believes that The global economy in 2050 would be larger, with nearly 40 million jobs directly related to renewables and efficiency. Timely action would also avoid stranding over USD 11 trillion worth of energy-infrastructure assets that are tied to today’s polluting energy technologies.

On the other side Mckinsey & Company believe that Fossil fuels will dominate energy use through 2050. This is because of the massive investments that have already been made and because of the superior energy intensity and reliability of fossil fuels. The mix, however, will change. Gas will continue to grow quickly, but the global demand for coal will likely peak around 2025.

Growth in the use of oil, which is predominantly used for transport, will slow down as vehicles get more efficient and more electric; here, peak demand could come as soon as 2030. By 2050, the research estimates that coal will be down to just 16 percent of global power generation (from 41 percent now) and fossil fuels to 38 percent (from 66 percent now). Overall, though, coal, oil, and, gas will continue to be 74 percent of primary energy demand, down from 82 percent now. After that, the rate of decline is likely to accelerate.

The World Energy Council has built two scenarios typified by characteristics, which, each from their own perspective, may comprehensively describe large parts of the world in 2050. In this scenario exercise, the elements of the two scenarios are generalized as being applicable to the (albeit imaginary) whole world: the more consumer-driven scenario and the more voter-driven scenario.

Schalk Cloete is a Research Scientist at Sintef. He thinks fossil fuel use will continue to see slow but steady growth. This is due to the lack of economically viable alternatives and the fact that most of the global economy is yet to be built. Hopefully, most developing countries would have reached a decent standard of living around 2050, allowing the demand for heavy industry to start a natural decline. But before that happens, I’m afraid that industrial fossil fuel demand will remain strong.