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The BP Statistical Review and the future of hydrocarbon energy

Last month the BP Statistical Review was released detailing energy consumption and production.

It is considered to be the most comprehensive report of its type and offers information useful for the energy sector and informs government policy. The review also gives an indication of what the future of energy use could be.

The review indicated that global energy consumption grew by 2.5% in 2011, but this was mostly in developing countries. The OECD managed to drop consumption by 0.8%. The strongest production of oil was in the US, with 81% of their domestic needs being supplied locally. This is a huge improvement on previous numbers despite the US attempting to reduce reliance on oil and increase use of renewables under the Obama administration.

Carbon dioxide emissions grew by 3% and this was driven by the use of coal in Asia and other developing nations. Emissions dropped by small amount elsewhere with the US accounting for 17% of overall emissions totals and Asia contributing 45%. It is thought that Asia will contribute 50% of carbon emissions by 2020.

The report also highlights the problems associated with the irregularity of supply of fuels and in particular the problems in Libya and Japan. Each of these pushed up overall prices with oil reaching an unprecedented $100 per barrel.

With these statistics showing some of the trends in the use of hydrocarbons, it is possible to consider what the future of these energy sources could be.

What is a hydrocarbon?

It might be useful to explain exactly what a hydrocarbon is before we think about its future. A hydrocarbon is described as a combustible chain of carbon atoms bonded together with hydrogen atoms attached. Carbon atoms can attach to each other to form long chains, while hydrogen atoms can only bond to carbon. Each configuration will produce different substances:

  • Methane
  • Natural gas
  • Octane
  • Gasoline
  • Coal
  • Diesel

Because of their basic structure, each of these substances will break apart to release CO2 and water back into the atmosphere when used for energy. For this reason it is important to limit the use of these forms of energy.

The future of hydrocarbons

It is clear that the world will continue to have a reliance on hydrocarbons for some time to come. With the expectation that Asia will increase their consumption to deliver the industrial benefits already afforded to the rest of the world, it is hardly surprising. However it is possible that Asia will learn from the mistakes already made in the west and they will continue to develop further their use of renewable sources of energy.

2011 has also taught the rest of the world the importance of having a reliable local source of energy. The turmoil in the Middle East has led to problems with supply, something which most government would rather not repeat. This has led to more emphasis being placed on the use of renewables – with mixed results. It is likely this will continue to grow, although maybe not at a pace which will prevent problems of supply and increased prices over the next few years.

This search for alternative energy supplies has led to a boom in shale gas in the US. This is spreading to the UK and elsewhere and may become the next big thing in terms of fuel. However the use of nuclear energy is being put forward in the UK while it is being discounted in other parts of Europe.

Overall, there is little doubt that the use of renewables will continue to grow, but with increasing populations, higher demand for energy and changes in supply, the use of fossil fuels is unlikely to drop significantly in the near future.

One thing the BP review shows us is that their business is safe for a good few years to come and they have not seen the need to change their business model just yet.

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