A research team from the University of Valladolid has developed a computer model focused on the prospective analysis of global energy resources whose results reveal that world energy markets may suffer strong disruptions between the supply and demand between 2020 and 2030.
The paper, published recently in Energy, a high-impact scientific journal, shows that if the current trends in the socioeconomic system do not change drastically, sectors, such as transportation, may suffer from growing supply constraints in less than 6 years (before 2020), while other sectors, such as the industrial, the residential or the electricity may encounter them before 2030.
The researchers, members of the Research Group in Energy, Economy and System Dynamics of the University of Valladolid, argue that scenarios projected by international agencies, as the OECD and UN, are not compatible with the energy resource extraction constraints published in the scientific literature and with the development rate of alternative technologies.
The study, carried out by a multidisciplinary team of engineers, physicists and economists, denounces that the international agencies such as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the International Energy Agency (IEA), systematically ignore in their analysis the uncertainties related to the availability of energy resources, considering them artificially abundant. A paradigmatic example is the fact that the depletion of crude oil, cheap and easily accessible, is rarely taken into account. This happens despite this phenomenon was described decades ago in the scientific literature and has been corroborated by the facts in the year 2006, when the IEA acknowledged the reach of the peak in the production of crude oil.
The work belongs to the tradition of the Limits of Growth, that go back to 1972 with the publications of the Club of Rome. These studies are gaining strength again, as other recent works show, such as the analysis of the influence of inequality and unsustainable use of resources in the collapse of civilization published by researchers from NASA.
The researchers claim that the renewable energies are certainly the alternative in the energy transition to a sustainable society, since the unconventional fossil fuels (shale and tight oil, shale gas, etc.) exhibit low extraction rates and energy return, besides their large environmental impacts.
However, they insist on the fact that the renewable energies present clear limitations in relation to the fossil fuels, mainly their intermittency and low power density. Also, renewable energies are a part of the biosphere: this feature is especially relevant since a significant appropriation of these energies may alter fundamental dynamics of the ecosystems.
The study finds that the scenarios based on global GDP growth, associated with increasing levels of energy consumption, are not compatible with the biophysical restrictions of energy sources. Especially, the substitution rate between fossil fuels and renewable energies and alternative energies cannot occur at a sufficient pace, notable in the transportation sector. As a consequence, futures of decreasing energy consumption may appear inevitable.
However, following the research team, if this situation would be faced appropriately, it would represent the opportunity of evolution to a sustainable society, through a set of ambitious policies that would include the promotion of: energy efficiency, public transport, urban planning, the end of the programmed obsolescence, etc. The conclusions of the study point that the confluence of technological improvement with radical social, political and institutional innovations would be needed to support a energy transition without severe disturbances in the world energy supply.
The Research Group in Energy, Economy and System Dynamics of the University of Valladolid is a multidisciplinary group of engineers, physicists and economists that, since its formation in 2008, has published several scientific works related to the peak oil and the potential of renewable energies.
The progressive reduction of high-quality-easy-to-extract energy is a widely recognized and already ongoing process. Although depletion studies for individual fuels are relatively abundant, few of them offer a global perspective of all energy sources and their potential future developments, and even fewer include the demand of the socio-economic system.
This paper presents an Economy-Energy-Environment model based on System Dynamics which integrates all those aspects: the physical restrictions (with peak estimations for oil, gas, coal and uranium), the techno-sustainable potential of renewable energy estimated by a novel top-down methodology, the socio-economic energy demands, the development of alternative technologies and the net CO2 emissions.
We confront our model with the basic assumptions of previous Global Environmental Assessment (GEA) studies. The results show that demand-driven evolution, as performed in the past, might be unfeasible: strong energy-supply scarcity is found in the next two decades, especially in the transportation sector before 2020. Electricity generation is unable to fulfill its demand in 2025–2040, and a large expansion of electric renewable energies move us close to their limits. In order to find achievable scenarios, we are obliged to set hypotheses which are hardly used in GEA scenarios, such as zero or negative economic growth.
Capellán-Pérez, Iñigo, Margarita Mediavilla, Carlos de Castro, Óscar Carpintero, and Luis Javier Miguel. “Fossil Fuel Depletion and Socio-Economic Scenarios: An Integrated Approach.” Energy. Accessed October 25, 2014. doi:10.1016/j.energy.2014.09.063.