The Coming Three Peaks in the World Energy System and their
Relationship to Climate Change and Poverty

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John H. Walsh
Energy Advisor


Three peaks are expected in the energy system in the coming half-century. World population is expected to peak about 2050, world conventional oil production in the 2017-20 period, and North American conventional natural gas production by 2010 at the latest. This paper examines the consequences of these peaks in terms of possible scenarios for three time intervals each of which faces different issues. Interval 1 deals with the period up to 2020; Interval 2 for 2020 to 2050; and Interval 3 after 2050.

A deep 'V' is expected in the price of oil in Interval 1 after the situation in Iraq is resolved and before the coming peak in production of conventional oil. The period of low oil prices is expected to coincide approximately with the peak in North American conventional natural gas production. The consequences of such a scenario are discussed in terms of the effect upon electrical generation.

Two major complicating and contradictory issues are important through all three intervals: the need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and the alleviation of poverty around the globe which will require an increase in energy consumption, especially electricity, in developing countries.

March 2003
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