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Global energy investment fell for a second-year in 2016

Why 2020 really is the “pivot point” for energy transition, says IHS Markit

Dec 09, 2020
3 min read
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For the past 30 years, noncarbon energy’s share of global primary energy demand compared to fossil fuels held remarkably steady—that is now starting to change.

“2020 is shaping up to be a ‘pivot point’ in the energy transition—the moment when noncarbon energy’s share of global demand increases compared to fossil fuels,” according to a new analysis by Jim Burkhard, vice president and head of oil markets and energy and mobility at IHS Markit.

On a global basis, noncarbon energy’s share of energy demand changed little from 1990 to 2019—staying within a narrow band of 8.3-9.8 per cent. Demand for fossil fuels increased 63 per cent during that period. This kept fossil fuels at a very steady 80-82 per cent share of total global primary energy demand.

However, 2020 is proving to be the year when the combination of COVID-19 impacts on fossil fuel demand, growing investment in renewables and increased concerns of climate change begin to shift that balance.

IHS Markit expects noncarbon energy’s share of global demand will reach or exceed 10 per cent this year, a mark not seen before.

Furthermore, investments in renewable electricity generation capacity and IHS Markit expectations for actual electricity generation point to 8-12 per cent annual growth in renewable energy demand to 2030.

That level of growth would put noncarbon energy’s 2030 share of global demand at 13-16 per cent—well above the historic range of the past 30 years.

 “For the past 30 years the pace of the energy transition has been in slow motion. The share of noncarbon energy in global primary energy demand and the trajectory of fossil fuel consumption held remarkedly steady. 2020 is shaping up to be the pivot year from which the pace of change accelerates,” said Burkhard.

Fossil fuel’s share of world energy demand in 2030 would drop to 73-77 per cent under those conditions. That figure never fell below 80 per cent between 1990-2019.

IHS Markit expects fossil fuel demand for 2020 to fall 7 per cent compared to 2019. Oil demand, which has born the harshest brunt from COVID-19 impacts, will register a 10 per cent decline.

Fossil fuel demand is unlikely to record persistent demand declines. And a return to global economic growth in 2021 would lead to an increase in overall fossil fuel demand. The IHS Markit base case does not expect world oil demand to plateau until the mid-2030s.

Nevertheless, investment trends indicate that noncarbon energy, led by solar and wind power, are poised to gain more global market share in the years ahead—even as demand for oil grows past pre-COVID levels.

 “We are still years away from peak oil demand and the world will continue to consume large amounts of crude for decades to come. But 2020 could be remembered as the pivot point where the next 30 years look much different in terms of the noncarbon energy’s share of demand and the overall pace of change. Certain years stand out in the history of energy. This year will be one of them,” added Burkhard.

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