We live in the age of petroleum. But we may live to see its end -- in just 19 years.
For hundreds of years, wood constituted the primary fuel (beyond food) for man's activities. This changed for the first time around 1890, when coal became the world's dominant fuel. Coal was top dog for 70 years, until 1960, when petroleum became the most utilized energy resource.
This year, in its annual statistical outlook, BP predicts that the global petroleum age will come to a close in 2030, after a 80 year run. By 2030, petroleum will give up it's mantle to...coal. And natural gas. (See: page 10.)
In 2030, BP predicts, petroleum will both provide about 27% of the world's energy, as will coal. Natural gas will account for just a shade less, about 26%. Nuclear, hydro, and renewables (including biofuel) will each contribute a near equal share of the 20 or so remaining points of share.
The latest International Energy Outlook by the EIA also projects coal to pass petroleum within the next 20 years as the primarily world fuel, although this is harder to see in its macro data because it adds petroleum with other sources like biofuels in a "liquid fuels" category. [page 2]
Petroleum's global "market share" has been on the downslope for over thirty years already. It's share peaked in the late 1970's in the mid-40 percent range. Growth in petroleum demand came largely from widespread use in the transportation sector, especially in developed countries. Coal's re-rise relates directly to the growing demand for electricity, particularly in emerging countries -- and in China in particular. (More than half of the world's new coals power plants in the this period will be in China.)
NG's use is growing more rapidly than coal (from a smaller base) with growth in electricity production as well as industrial uses. Under BP's projections, the market share of NG will have doubled from its 1970 level by 2030.
The macro picture [p. xx] in the U.S., as painted by EIA, is similar in history but different in outlook. In the U.S., petroleum usurped coal earlier, in the late 1940's. But NG also passed coal, in the 1950's, as the #2 fuel, a status is has retained. And in the U.S., EIA does not yet foresee any point in which petroleum is not our leading fuel source.
These long term views of contributions by fuel source highlight the vast span of time that typically characterize energy markets. Energy supply tends to work on nearly century-long time frames. Something to keep in mind if one is banking on big roles for favored resources, or just resources du jour.