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Electric Vehicle Sales Foretell a Big Oil Crash

Energy
Vehicle charging points at a railway station in France. François GOGLINS via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Oil and gas companies have underestimated probable electric vehicle sales and the effect they will have on their own businesses and profits, a new report says.

If the car manufacturers' projections of future sales of electric cars are correct, then demand for oil will have peaked by 2027 or even earlier, sending the price of oil in a downward spiral as supply exceeds demand, said Carbon Tracker (CT), an independent financial think-tank carrying out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets.


It said fossil fuel companies have taken into account some engine fuel efficiencies and the effect they would have on oil demand, but not the expected increase in electric vehicles themselves. There is a big mismatch between forecasts of EV market penetration from vehicle manufacturers and from oil majors, said Laurence Watson, a CT data scientist.

"The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day. Increases in fuel efficiency will also eat into oil demand and the industry's profits. The oil majors' myopic position presents a serious investor risk," he told the Climate News Network.

Expectations Far Lower

The report looks at all the projections of the oil majors, including Exxon and BP, and says their figures for electric vehicle growth in the 2020s are 75 percent to 250 percent smaller than those expected by the global car manufacturers that have announced targets.

Electric vehicle sales in China alone, a figure bolstered by government intervention, are expected to be seven million a year by 2025. These, plus the three million a year aim of Volkswagen by the same date, would exceed oil industry estimates for sales for the whole world.

There are immense variables taken into account in the report. These include the number of miles driven by the average electric vehicle and the sort of car it replaces.

These variables depend on the influence of various governments' policies to reduce oil in transportation in order to keep global temperature rise below 2°C beyond pre-industrial levels. The need to reduce air pollution also strongly favours the introduction of electric vehicles in cities.

More Demand Reduction

Another of the imponderables is the increasing efficiency of the internal combustion engine, which in itself also reduces demand for oil. It follows a growing trend already well-established in several countries, including Sweden, which from 2019 will produce no more vehicles powered by internal combustion alone.

The take-up of electric vehicles is crucial to the future of the oil industry because transportation takes up 50 percent of total oil demand. About half of the demand from transport is from light passenger vehicles, those that are most likely in the short term to switch to electricity.

Heavy-duty transport, aviation and shipping are also beginning to switch, but it is cars that will make the early difference.

The report argues that it is not total oil demand that matters but the difference between supply and demand. The 2014 crash in the oil price was caused by a surplus of 2 million barrels of oil a day, mainly because of a boom in U.S. shale production.

To get the price back up in order to improve oil company profits took the combined efforts of the OPEC oil countries and the Russian government in cutting production, a process that needed three years.

According to the CT report, demand for oil will fall by 8 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 because of the expected deployment of electric vehicles, meaning that the oil-producing countries will have to constantly reduce their production in order to keep prices up.

The report argues that although oil demand will continue to be very large, the peak demand will have been reached around 2025. Demand displacement by electric vehicles "will significantly disrupt oil and gas company business models. Furthermore, we believe that when global oil demand peaks this will fundamentally alter investors' approach to the industry."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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