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What Would an Accelerated Global Energy Transition Look Like?

Cumulative emissions in the past five decades reached 1.125 trillion tonnes last year. This equates to above 1-degree temperature increase from pre-industrial levels, and it’s had an impact on the environment — with bushfires in Australia, continued Arctic ice melting, and increasingly extreme weather events worldwide.

What would it take to see faster change? Wood Mackenzie’s latest Accelerated Energy Transition Outlook seeks to answer that question.

We still maintain our base case that the globe is on a 3-degree trajectory and that the long-term energy mix remain dominated by hydrocarbons.

However, our two new scenarios outline two possible pathways for lower emissions globally.

The Accelerated Energy Transition (AET) reflects the potential for heightened preferences across society to meet the challenges presented by climate change. This is our realistic assessment of how the transition could progress much faster. It is a 2.5-degree pathway.

But obviously this is not enough. For the first time, we’ve also created a scenario to quantify how the world can shift to a 2-degree trajectory — labeled as the AET-2.

In our analysis, we’ve posed the the question: how can markets scale zero-carbon energy faster?

Electrifying energy markets is one solution, but that needs to be enabled by three factors. 

Three lever: energy efficiency, hydrogen, carbon removal

Less energy needs to be consumed across both of our scenarios.

In our Energy Transition Outlook (ETO), peak energy demand arrives in 2040; in the AET its 2029; for the 2-degree world, energy demand will need to peak much faster — in just 3 years time, in 2023.

How could it happen so quickly? All of the consumer-led growth across Asia Pacific, hydrocarbon-led industrial activity in the lower 48 U.S. states, and an expansion of energy access in some markets — all would need to come from electricity, mainly renewables. And when you use more electricity to meet your energy needs, the demand curve flattens, which means less fossil fuel combustion and significantly lower losses from production to final consumption.

One area we examined more closely was energy efficiency. In our ETO, we broadly assume efficiency improvements of 1-2 percent each year; in the AET, we increased these to around 3-4 percent per year, higher still in the AET-2 scenario to 6 percent across all markets.

Carbon prices
The world still needs a carbon price or a market mechanism, otherwise the shift in investments will be slow. 
In our Accelerated Energy Transition, we state that global carbon prices of around $40/ton CO2e are in the zone of what’s politically palatable. For a 2-degree world, this must be extended to $110/t. This range of carbon prices provides markets with new price signals to spur investments in new zero-carbon technologies.
Assuming these carbon prices, large-scale carbon removal becomes economical. In our AET case we see the need for around 600 Mt of carbon capture and sequestration, focused mostly on the power sector. But broad carbon removal becomes absolutely necessary in a 2 degree world, with CCS, DAC, and forest sinks all helping to lower emissions over the next 30 years. 
The hydrogen economy taking off.
In both scenarios, we see a large push for wind, solar, and storage developments — this leads to a surge in these investments, causing dramatically lower power generation costs around the world. Ample power supply and improvement in electrolyser efficiency provides the conditions for the hydrogen economy to expand dramatically, up to 10 percent of global demand in our AET-2 case.
And this is critical because hydrogen — as an energy carrier — has so much potential across so many sectors: processing, logistics, energy storage, fuel source for energy-intensive manufacturing, power-to-X (gas, ammonia etc), and finally fuel cell vehicles.
Power sector implications
The power sector is critical to the energy transition, as it provides the conditions and incentives to decarbonize energy demand much faster than the ETO forecast.
We are expecting that costs for zero carbon technologies will decline by 40-50 percent over the next 20 years. Our scenarios assume cost assumptions fall at a faster rate than our base case, leading to a surge in zero carbon power capacity additions.
Power and renewables: cost declinesof zero-carbon technologies drive capacity additions
In our scenarios, we looked at the dispatch logic — and impact on commodities — differently than we have before.
In several large energy markets, companies are changing where they deploy capital. Renewable + storage is replacing the need for new gas fired capacity. This is happening in the U.S. power market right now and it is a trend that could accelerate in other markets.
That’s why, in our scenarios, we quantified a broader and faster roll out of this trend.
The shift in power sector investment is so important because it increases zero carbon electricity supply. One implication is that this provides the conditions for green hydrogen to take flight — large-scale power supply at low prices. Green hydrogen provides a new supply source that can help to decarbonize heavy-duty transport, industry, and residential sectors. 
The future of commodities

Commodities are not affected uniformly in our scenarios. Coal, oil and gas see a fall in demand and therefore the marginal cost of supply will fall too, driving prices lower. The issue is that we will still need to build new supply because existing assets’ contribution will fall faster.


We tested the boundaries around gas demand in two ways, looking at the power sector and at industry.

Gas: under 2-degrees, demand peaks in 2025, 35% lower than our ETO by 2040, and continues to fall

On the power side, many of the gas capacity investment needs that we see long term are for peaking investments; in our scenario analysis, we see peaking demand met by a combination of renewables and long duration batteries.

Hydrogen has a large impact on our gas demand forecasts across the industrial and res-com sectors. Our approach was to estimate total hydrogen production, then we quantified the potential for hydrogen displacement across major industrial and res-com sub sectors that are difficult to decarbonize.

Blending hydrogen into existing pipeline networks will facilitate demand — we estimate that pipeline networks can be blended with up to 20 percent hydrogen (by volume) to overcome technical and safety concerns.

Taking these conditions — new power sector economics and an alternative for gas for heating and industry — we arrive at a materially different future for gas.

We are already seeing some buyers becoming conscious of the source of gas supply. It’s often the case that upstream gas production is emissions-intensive which will need to be decarbonized resulting in higher costs.

Otherwise it is likely to be unacceptable in geographies which are tough on regulations. You can argue that EU Green Deal and Taxonomy don’t bode well for gas demand in Europe.

To arrive at a 2-degree trajectory, we had to make some major assumptions around oil demand drivers, and transport in particular, resulting in oil demand peaking by 2023.
Oil: demand peaks in 2023 in a 2-degree world – almost a decade earlier than in the ETO
In our base case, we have around 300 million EVS — displacing about 5mb/d.
This displacement is higher across our scenarios — we have a range of between 700-950 million EVs in the AET and AET-2 cases, displacing 10- and then 25 mb/d. There are two critical levers: first, autonomous electric vehicles increase exponentially in the scenarios; AEVs have around five times the utilization of traditional private, ICE cars. Second, we assume strict enforcement of existing fuel-efficiency standards and that ICE engines improve efficiencies dramatically.
There are several other factors which could see EVs expand faster than our base case. One of the game changers we assume is inductive charging on major highways and in cities — charging, while an EV is in motion, would lead to surge in EV sales.
Thermal coal has been under threat from lower utilization, local policies and decreased funding for some time — coal demand already peaked, around 2014.
Coal: demand does not disappear completely in a 2-degree world – it must be paired with CCS in thermal power
The critical distinction with our scenario analysis is that coal assets do not have to close prematurely, prior to the end of their asset life. Because our carbon price assumptions incentivize carbon removal, and CCS in particular, coal still has a place in the energy mix.
For example, CCS adoption picks up in Asia to avoid plant closure before end of lifespan, and avoids heavy employment losses in mining. Across each scenario, China and India are the only two markets with sizeable coal use in power generation in 2040.
In our 2-degree scenario, coal-related emissions fall to 21 percent of global emissions by 2040 — compared to 27 percent in the AET and 38 percent in the ETO.
A lower emissions pathway is possible — but it requires an enormous shift in priorities, government policies in markets that matter, and investment. And starting from today.
However, care is also required that energy supply is not at risk. The world is on a delicate path because cumulative emissions are already at 1-degree level.
We not only need to mitigate future emissions by using more zero-carbon energy but also adapt to what is already in the air by deploying removal projects.
Learn more about Wood Mackenzie’s Accelerated Energy Transition Outlook here, or watch the on-demand webinar here, including a 15 minute Q&A with the report authors.
David Brown is Head of Markets & Transitions, Americas for Wood Mackenzie and Prakash Sharma is Head of Market & Transistions, Asia Pacific.

Source: Greentech Media