Energy: With “Peak-Oil” Passed, It Is Time for a Post-Carbon Age

The World Energy Outlook report 2010 was released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on November 9th. The implications for the future of our planet are grim and stark unless some urgent and concerted actions are taken. The IEA projects, for its 25-year energy policies scenario, that conventional crude oil production will never regain its all time peak of 70 million barrels per day reached in 2006. In the view of the IEA, crude oil production is likely to stay at a plateau of around 68 million barrels per day, which would mean the end of cheap oil.

Since the peak of 2006, we have entered, without much knowledge of it, a post-peak world. Unconventional sources of oil and gas- such as tar sands, oil shale and natural gas liquids- are far more expensive to extract from the ground and to process into usable petroleum products, and are also environmentally problematic. This means that over the next decade, oil prices will be more expensive, driven mainly by the rapid industrial growth in China and India. For the two new Asian industrial giants, the demand is projected to grow, according to the IEA, by 36 percent by 2035. At this point the price of oil will be over $200 a barrel. By around 2015, the IAE projects that we could have oil price above $100 a barrel.

So only on the issue of the rise of  energy cost due to diminishing overall oil supply, the forecast of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2010 (WEO2010) is bleak. But at least, and for the first time in its history, the WEO2010 has studied a new scenario that anticipates future actions by governments to meet the commitment they have made to tackle climate change and growing energy insecurity. The report offers recommendation on what must be done and spent, post-Copenhagen, to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degree Celsius.

Developed nations will suffered the consequences in a world going through an energy transition, but for poor nations the impact of it will be a lot worse. Making energy supply secure and curbing energy’s contribution to climate change are the two over-riding challenges facing our world for a sustainable future.

But another key element requires immediate attention and action by governments and the international community. It is the alarming fact that today billions of people lack access to the most basic energy services: electricity and clean cooking facility. According to the IEA, this bad situation is not going to improve over the next 20 years, but could, as matter of fact, deteriorate even further. The WEO2010 estimates that 1.4 billion people-over 20 percent of the global population- lack access to electricity, and that 2.7 billion people- or 40 percent of the global population- rely on the traditional use of biomass for cooking.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 31 percent of the population has access to electricity. As a disturbing comparison, residential electricity consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption in New-York. In other words. the 19.5 million people in New-York consume in a year the same quantity of electricity as the 791 million people of Sub-Saharan Africa. This disparity is not only shameful and unacceptable, it is also not sustainable.

Note: To read the 18 pages summary of the World Energy Outlook 2010 click here. To see key graphs of the report click here.

Editor’s Note: Photographs by Gilbert Mercier


9 Responses to Energy: With “Peak-Oil” Passed, It Is Time for a Post-Carbon Age

  1. Bilgeman November 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Mr. Mercier:
    “With “Peak-Oil” Passed, It Is Time For A Post-Carbon Age”

    A “post-carbon age”, huh?

    Do you have any idea of what you’re talking about?

    By and large, friend, all technology is based on fire. There are exceptions to this rule, but where the rubber meets the road, you’re going to have to release energy in order to capture it and convert it into a more reliable and user-friendly form.

    The babble about “post-carbon” simply indicates that you are rather woefully undereducated in the basic sciences…which makes the scientific and political agenda you advance suspect, (to put it charitably).

    Here’s a prime example of it:

    “In other words. the 19.5 million people in New-York consume in a year the same quantity of electricity as the 791 million people of Sub-Saharan Africa. This disparity is not only shameful and unacceptable, it is also not sustainable.”

    Why is this apparent disparity in energy consumption “shameful”?
    Did you ever stop to think that one reason such a disparity is possible is that a New Yorker’s, (or New Orleanians’), use of energy is far more efficient than a Malian’s….a taxi only consumes energy when you start the engine to drive it, a camel or a horse eats whether it is doing any work or not. In the same vein, a microwave oven is orders of magnitude more efficient at doing the same job of heating food than an open wood fire is.
    (And the microwave saves a lot of trees).

    But apparently, these rewards for greater efficiencies are held up to be badges of shame by someone of your ignorance on the subject.

    As for the “Peak Oil” notion, we can have THAT discussion after the fields in Alaska’s NWR start declining yields, as well as the fields off the East and West coasts, and the light sweet crude pay discovered under South Dakota, and the Bakken natural gas field which stretches from upstate New York and peters out in central Ohio.

    It’s only “Peak Oil” perhaps in the sense of the artificial constraints placed upon exploration and production, which are entirely politically motivated.

    • Martha November 15, 2010 at 7:03 am

      Mr. Bilgeman:
      This particular comment suggests that you insist on having no practical knowledge of natural systems. It’s not worthwhile to engage with you on either the peak oil issue and the pressing need and planning for energy diversification, or the (separate but related) issue of the climate crisis, in your current condition. Self-education is one of your options.


      • Brian November 15, 2010 at 8:19 am

        Martha’s right, bilgeman. Do your homework, then come back and comment.

      • Bilgeman November 17, 2010 at 5:22 am


        What a wonderful ad hominem attack on your part.

        Straight to the insults without a single example of where I am wrong.

        “It’s not worthwhile to engage with you …”

        Then why, pray tell, did you feel the need to open your mouth?

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  3. Darold November 15, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    What a joke. Peak oil hysteria has long ago been shown to be a hoax.

    • Martha November 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm


      That’s an article by someone who does not cite science and spews half-truths and distortions on an industry site committed to oil consumption. A government conspiracy theory is a highlight of his argument.

      It can be important to evaluate the quality of sources.

      Oil is peaking, and it is not possible for new reserves to maintain current production levels. What’s more, the environmental impacts of historical oil production have been absolutely devastating to the environment. All is not well.

      There is some scientific disagreement on timing, however many industry executives rely on mistaken predictions from the past. The scientific geological evidence, combined with economic analysis, suggests we have just passed peak — or will very shortly.

      Credible science sites do a good job of examining the real issues.

      p.s. The linked source links to weather t.v. personality John Coleman as a source for accurate information on climate change. Coleman (perhaps not so coincidentally) also relies on a conspiracy theory instead of science facts for his ridiculous views. Of course, the American Meteorological Society’s position is consistent with the IPCC and Coleman did not sue Al Gore. 😉


  4. Drew November 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I’m far less pessimistic. Market forces — that is, the cost of energy — will naturally drive society to other fuel sources. In other words, as oil becomes more expensive, renewables, and I suspect most likely nuclear, will become the cost-effective choice. There are numerous new designs for clean, safe nuclear power generation, for example. Governments that choose to help these forms get going faster will help drive down the price of energy.

  5. alprazolam November 16, 2010 at 1:10 am

    Interesting that we will do without oil…

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