Lost in the discussion about when

oil demand might peak due to the adoption of electric vehicles is the broader, long-term outlook for global energy demand. Indeed, while one camp of energy forecasters sees overall energy demand as continually rising, other groups such as the World Energy Council believe that global energy demand is destined to peak.

An energy demand forecast is fundamentally a technology-use forecast. Long-term energy forecasts feature assumptions about the rate at which current technologies – such as computers, cars and appliances – will be used as global population and per-capita income grow. (The wealth effect is key in estimating how quickly and broadly people will be able to buy and use technology.) These energy forecasts also carry assumptions about the rate at which the energy efficiency of current technology will improve. And in the petroleum module they estimate how fast one technology (electric vehicles) might displace another technology (internal combustion engines).

However, because the timing of the widespread deployment of new and/or emerging technologies is unknown (along with the timing and scale of the associated energy use), energy forecasters generally avoid estimating future energy demand associated with new/emerging technology.

Nonetheless, the energy implications of several emerging technologies seem to point to a significant increase in future energy use as these technologies are deployed at scale.

These include:

  • The global cloud is estimated to already consume twice as much power as the entire nation of Japan. Cisco forecasts a 10-fold increase in data traffic in the next decade.
  • Video will account for 80% of internet bandwidth use by 2020, up from over 50% today. Virtual reality (VR) and 3D displays for medical, industrial and entertainment uses will further drive the increase in data traffic. Going from today’s 2D pixels to tomorrow’s 3D voxels entails more data as a single megapixel (1 million pixel) image becomes a gigapixel (1 billion pixel) 3D image. A point of reference: 3D VR video requires as many gigabits in a second as a cell phone uses in a month.
  • Wireless charging is now a standard feature on the new iPhones and will migrate to bigger applications (such as electric vehicles). But convenience comes at a cost; total energy used to recharge batteries roughly doubles when done wirelessly.
  • As new, more complex classes of materials are developed (think carbon nanotubes) the greater the energy use to produce them. For example, the energy used to manufacture materials for today’s digital infrastructure is roughly 1,000 times more per kilogram than for the kinds of materials (steel, cement) that dominated the economies of the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Ambulatory robots require ~10 times more power than humans; which means that when robot use reaches one per 10 people then the energy used by robots will equal the total spent to feed all humans.

And the list of energy-intensive emerging technologies goes on – drones, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, etc.  Rather than dealing with a shrinking market, the challenge for energy producers going forward is likely to be how to supply increasing energy demand – and where oil and gas will fit into the picture

Spears and Associates has served the oilfield since 1965. Its services are divided between off-the-shelf products such as the Oilfield Market Report, the Drilling & Production Outlook, Oilfield Logix and private and multi-client Consulting.