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Fossil fuels, conservation in energy future

3 min read

BP executive says energy problems solvable

The BP Group Executive Director Iain Conn forecasts an energy future where fossil fuels still make up the bulk of world energy production, but in which demand is far higher, conservation more widespread, and the release of carbon dioxide controlled by new technology.

Conn, who delivered the March 8 talk – the second in “The Future of Energy” series sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment – said that global energy demand is projected to increase 60 percent by 2030, with much of the growth outside today’s developed countries.

Even with that large an increase, Conn said the problem isn’t where the energy will come from. The world has plenty of fossil fuels to meet the demand, he said. Despite some predictions that the world may be running out of oil, Conn said that BP – one of the world’s largest energy companies – believes oil reserves will last 40 years at current production rates. In addition, he said, there’s 70 years’ worth of natural gas and at least 164 years of coal.

While nuclear power and renewable resources will also be part of the mix, Conn estimated that most of the world’s fuel will still come from fossil fuels in 2030. “The history of our industry,” he said, “is one of technology overcoming fears of depletion.”

Even if that is the case, however, it won’t be business as usual, Conn said. Conservation will have to be emphasized in high-consumption nations such as the United States. The crisis of global warming will force a change in the way fossil fuels are used, increasing the importance of technologies such as carbon sequestration, which extracts carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and pumps it into the earth instead of releasing it up a smokestack into the atmosphere.

Helping that cause, Conn said, is the fact that half of the power plants that will be needed to supply world demand in 2030 haven’t been built yet, providing an opportunity to clean up the way power is generated.

BP is planning to build an advanced power plant in California, Conn said, that will extract the hydrogen from fossil fuels and use that to run the plant. The carbon dioxide that is removed from the fuel will be pumped into mature oil fields to help pump out more oil.

Conn said governments have an important role to play, by encouraging innovation and letting the market find the most efficient solutions.

“We’re at a moment that calls for boldness and innovation,” Conn said. “I believe the challenges posed by energy are daunting, but soluble.”