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BP study assesses key role of technology in future of energy use

Author : Alan Franck, Editor, Hazardex

03 November 2015

For the first time, BP has published its analysis of energy technologies and the options they present society in the quest for a sustainable and lower carbon energy future. The analysis, in a report entitled BP Technology Outlook, predicts that advances in technology will keep energy supplies plentiful and affordable and help pave the way to a lower carbon energy mix. 

The 80-page report brings together previously internal BP analysis and the work of other prominent business and academic experts, setting out technology and policy choices governments and industry can make around energy resources, oil and gas supply, power generation, transport, and options for reducing carbon emissions.

While the group has in the past been accused of overemphasising the benefits of the continued use of hydrocarbon energy sources as opposed to renewables, it is interesting to see a wide-ranging report on the key issue of the effects of technological development on future energy use from this particular point of view.

BP says that by applying today’s best technologies to discover oil and gas resources proven reserves would significantly increase from 2.9 trillion barrels of oil equivalent to 4.8 trillion barrels – nearly double the 2.5 trillion barrels required to meet projected cumulative global demand through to 2050.

In the power sector, which currently accounts for 38% of world primary energy demand, gas and coal-fired power are generally the most competitive today. BP’s analysis predicts wind and solar will continue reducing costs at around 14% and 24% respectively per doubling in installed capacity, consistent with past performance, and hence become more competitive over time.

In North America, and ignoring taxes and subsidies, modern combined-cycle gas turbine power plants would have a cost advantage over coal today if policy makers were to adopt a modest price on carbon dioxide of less than $40 per tonne. By 2050 a carbon dioxide price of $80 per tonne would make onshore wind technology competitive with gas-fired power, with utility scale solar photovoltaic close to being competitive, even accounting for the cost of managing intermittency.

This price on carbon would also make carbon capture and sequestration with gas-fired power economic.

The report suggests that liquid fuels will continue to dominate global transportation through to 2035 and beyond, largely due to their high energy density. The average efficiency of new light-duty vehicles is expected to improve by 2-3% per year as a result of increased hybridisation and improved powertrains, combined with advanced fuels and lubricants.

By 2050, electric vehicles could be approaching cost-parity with the internal combustion engine, due to advances in battery technology, while fuel cell vehicles could still have further to go.

The report also highlights the growing influence that digital technologies - such as advanced sensors, data analytics, robotics and automation, enabled by supercomputing - are having on the energy industry.

Developments in biosciences and advanced materials could also lead to significant improvements in the performance of fossil and non-fossil energy systems, including batteries, solar conversion and hydrogen as a fuel.

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