Shell Scenario Tips Solar PV – Or Does It?

Last week Shell published New Lens Scenarios; one of which sees solar panels providing much of the world’s energy needs.

The New Lens Scenarios explore two possible ways the 21st century could unfold; examining trends in the economy, politics and energy as far ahead as 2100.

The “Oceans” scenario envisions a future where policies and technology limit the development of nuclear power and restrict the growth of natural gas outside North America. Uptake of carbon capture and storage catches is also slow and coal remains widely used in power generation until at least the middle of the century.

While energy prices encourage the development of hard-to-reach oil resources, liquid fuels still account for about 70% of road passenger travel by mid-century.

However, high prices also spur strong efficiency gains and the development of solar power. By 2070, solar panels become the world’s largest primary source of energy. Wind energy expands at a slower pace, due to public opposition to large installations of wind turbines.

Contrary to some of what has been published about the report; the Oceans scenario isn’t Shell’s vote of confidence for solar.

“Elevated demand for coal and oil, a lack of support for CCS and less natural gas development outside of North America contributes to about 25% higher total greenhouse gas emissions than in the Mountains scenario.”

In its Mountains scenario, natural gas becomes “the backbone of the world’s energy system”, CCS is in wide use and nuclear power in global electricity generation increases by around 25% in the period to 2060.

Even under the Mountains scenario, which unsurprisingly favours some of Shell’s own products, “emissions remain on a trajectory to overshoot the target of limiting global temperatures rise to 2 degrees Celsius.”

The Oceans and Mountains scenario can be viewed in full here (PDF).

In 2009, Shell announced it would not be making any more large investments in wind and solar energy in the future as they “continue to struggle to compete with the other investment opportunities we have in our portfolio,” – so it’s natural the company would cook up a more favourable scenario with natural gas as its centrepiece.