A mini-series on the future of energy
By Dave Wilkin, P. Eng., M.Eng. and Tim Lutton, BSc., MBA
Our previous articles explored the big-system factors driving the global energy-ecosystem: growth, reserves, technology, and geopolitics. We now describe one possible, really bad scenario that shows how they are interconnected, with potentially disastrous consequences. If we haven’t got your attention yet, perhaps this scenario might do the trick.
Let’s consider this scenario
Let’s say that by the 2030’s, China’s ‘belt and road’ multi-trillion $ initiative has boosted economic development and growth in Asia, Africa and beyond. This ensures the More Energy scenario plays out, pushing up energy demand by 50 per cent, swamping all efficiency gains and costly greener energy technologies.
Concurrently, the unsustainable technology-driven US tight shale oil boom is over, as recoverable reserves fall into steep decline and costs soar. US energy exports and their energy independence has ended. Meanwhile, continuing Canadian political ineptness has prevented any new pipelines from reaching our tidewaters, so Canada is unable to sell to the increasingly energy hungry foreign markets. Faced with declining domestic reserves, the US now looks north to our vast oil sands reserves. With no new global customers, and a weakened economy from years of flawed energy policy, Canada has no other option but to sell its incremental oil to the US, and at below world prices. But years of underinvestment has hollowed out Canada’s oil sector; scaling up production to meet new US demand takes far too long. Alberta has had enough of Ottawa’s bungled energy policies, triggering serious actions to separate from Canada and join the US so that it can reinvigorate its energy resource sector and sell more product to the US and beyond.
Heavy oil rich Venezuela, plagued with continuing bad governance and increasing meddling by Russia, can’t get its energy exports back on track either. Europe, Asia and a now rising Africa, all unable to transition to meaningful alternative energy sources, have become completely captive to Middle Eastern and Russian oil and gas. When Middle East reserves turn-out to be less than previously reported, these growing demands finally push them into decline, driving world energy prices through the roof. Russia, with decades of unencumbered oil and gas reserves remaining, is thrilled.
The continued receding of Arctic ice cover opens new shipping lanes, and combined with rising energy prices, brings new (unconventional) energy exploration and development in the most environmentally sensitive regions on earth. A more energy worried China now kicks its “Polar Silk Road” into high gear, in partnership with energy superpower Russia; environmental risks be damned. Serious conflicts with the US and other Arctic bordering nations follows, all playing out on our ignored northern doorstep.
The many energy insecure nations in Europe and Asia, having closed their remaining nuclear plants and unable to move to still costly renewable energy fast enough, now face serious long -erm energy security risks. Most turn to increased coal consumption to meet affordable energy needs. Carbon capture and storage remains far too expensive for most nations, and the small amount deployed is insignificant in the face of high carbon energy demand growth.
Higher temperatures and energy costs negatively impact the poorest, most populous and least able to adapt countries, driving unrest and creating a wave of global migration. This destabilizes the receiving developed countries and further weakens the developing countries. It also pushes CO2 emissions higher, as countries receiving the migrants have much higher carbon energy intensities per capita.
As oil and gas prices move higher, so too do the products and services dependent on them, including critical petrochemical products, such as plastics and fertilizers. With these reinforcing feedback loops now firmly entrenched, a tipping point is crossed, and the entire global economic system becomes unstable. Having delayed the spending necessary to build a diverse, sustainable future energy infrastructure, time has run out. Burdened from decades of unsustainable growing debt, and addiction to continual growth, the world economies sink into a deep recession. With few good options and little mutual trust left, a global economic collapse soon follows. Canada is not spared.
This is a worst-case scenario, unlikely perhaps but not impossible. The question is what do we need to do now, to make sure this scenario never occurs? Our next and final article in the series examines a better path forward for Canada. Watch for it!
Previous articles in this series –
A mini-series on the future of energy, by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
The Energy big picture, by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
Growth, the global energy driver ~ by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
The Geopolitics of Energy ~ by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
The greener technologies offer no silver bullet ~ by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville. He is an electrical engineer with a career spanning 35 years in IT, banking and consulting.
Tim Lutton worked in the natural gas and LNG industry for 32 years; with Imperial Oil in Canada, and ExxonMobil in the USA, Australia and Qatar and now lives in Huntsville.
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