In last week’s New York Times, Daniel Yergin gave readers three possible energy landscapes for 2030: a climate-friendly redesign, a renewable ideal, and a troubled, coal-reliant outlook.
He admits that the rapidly changing energy industry makes it nearly impossible to predict our energy future. But scenarios “help to identify what seems to be predetermined,” he says, while also highlighting driving forces and big uncertainties.
Yergin’s three potential scenarios:
1) Global Redesign: In Yergin’s first 2030 scenario, the economy has doubled and energy demand has grown, especially in emerging markets. Two sets of advances have made it possible to meet that demand: an unconventional revolution in oil and gas (improved shale gas technology and rising natural gas output), and a declining cost of renewables (solar, wind turbines, etc.). There is also renewed interest in energy efficiency for buildings and transportation—although gridlock has become pervasive.
2) Meta, or the Age of Renewables and Electric Transportation: Because of devastating storms and rising temperatures, climate change is a top issue for everyone. An “Oil Shock” pushed oil prices to their highest levels ever, putting energy security on top of the agenda. The result is a new era of energy innovation: more electric and hybrid cars, cheaper solar panels and wind turbines, and the return of nuclear power in small, modular reactors that can be built in factories and transported for immediate installation at power plants.
3) The Turbulent Times of Vortex: This is a “world of turmoil and volatility,” Yergin writes. There is little energy change and even a rebound in coal, all following the Great Crash of 2017. With the economic downturn, oil prices fell and reduced the incentive to switch to renewables. Low-cost coal, however, increased its market share by 2030, especially in Asia-Pacific, making climate-change policy one of the most divisive economic issues.
Which future would you like to see? And how do we harness the innovative thinking necessary to get there?