Today, the International Energy Agency issues its annual report on energy – World Energy Outlook 2012. The report is especially instructive in the role of technology in our energy future, an argument made consistently in this blog. The report identifies the substantial changes to our energy availability that are driven by technological developments, including the growing abundance of natural gas and oil.
By 2030 the report forecasts that the United States becomes the largest global oil producer, outpacing Saudi Arabia by 2020, and it forecasts that North America becomes a net oil exporter by 2030. The success of the US and Canada is due to upstream technologies that have been relatively recently deployed.
The Outlook report forecasts that energy efficiency is expected to have a very significant impact on the reduction in US demand for oil, contributing to its becoming energy independent. This forecast is not based on the development of new technology. However, the development of more energy efficient technology such as devices for storage of electricity is already underway, as I noted elsewhere in Domestic Energy and Scientific Research. And these technological developments have the potential to make energy efficiency an even more central player in reducing US energy demand as demand grows elsewhere.
The report observes that the importance of energy efficiency deployment can be especially well understood in terms of its impact on slowing climate change. Earlier editions of the report have addressed the challenges of limiting warming to no more than 2° C. However, “Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies . . . would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much –needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Natural gas remains, according to the Outlook report, a very important aspect of our energy future. Again, it is technology development that has allowed the efficient extraction of natural gas from shale. With the potential for the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the US becomes a major source of energy for developed and developing countries. There is a growing demand for energy in developing countries and a relatively rapid shift from nuclear to alternative sources of energy in developed countries such as Japan and Germany. Both contribute to growing demand for natural gas and the importance of the role of the US as an exporter of LNG.
Advances in Energy Research are making renewables increasingly capable of playing a more important role in our energy mix. The World Energy Outlook 2012 report forecasts that renewables will account for almost one-third of our total electricity output by 2035. This would be a very significant development. Without new technology much of these changes would not be occurring. The Outlook report is a reminder of the very critical role of R&D spending by corporations, the US funding agencies, and universities. With that technology development, the energy landscape is altered considerably.