How To Read BP’s Projection Of Energy Rationing

BP’s “Delayed and Disorderly” scenario for the energy sector suggests that energy rationing may be necessary to prevent climate catastrophe, but that doesn’t mean BP expects energy rationing to take place.
“If you can't reduce reductions by energy efficiency and you can't reduce emissions enough by improvements in the fuel mix,” said BP economist Spencer Dale, “then the only way in this scenario you can achieve your required reduction in carbon emissions is by rationing of energy—rationing the use of energy in activities and end uses in order to bring carbon emissions down.”
But that’s a feature of the model BP uses in its Energy Outlook 2020, Dale says in a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, rather than a prediction. In reality, societies may deploy alternatives to rationing.
“The particular features of that particular use of energy rationing is obviously incredibly stylized, and in reality other types of options may be possible such as various negative-emissions technologies.”
By stylized, Dale means BP chose energy rationing as the strategy for a model in which the world continues along the business-as-usual path for another decade and then has no choice but to rapidly decarbonize.
Governments may make a different choice.
Such choices are features of energy and emissions modeling, and I’ve had numerous opportunities to hear David Daniels explain them. Daniels is the chief energy modeler for the U.S. government’s modeler in chief: the Energy Information Administration.
“EIA is really sure that what we project in here is not going to happen,” Daniels said in an appearance last year, speaking of EIA’s own Energy Outlook. “It is wrong. We know it's wrong. It's biased. We know where the bias is.”
The EIA’s baseline projections relied on two assumptions, Daniels said at Rice University’s Baker Institute, that certainly will not come to pass:
“First, there are no technology revolutions between now and 2050, no structural breaks, no technology breakthroughs. Sure, technology can lead us to evolve, prices get cheaper, technology continues to improve, but no breakthroughs, no dilithium crystals.”
“The second one is current laws and regulations as written on the books stay as written on the books. Nothing ever changes. No new laws, no new regulations. How many people believe that's going to happen? Right, yeah, EIA doesn't believe that either. We're absolutely sure that is not going to happen. The US Congress is not going to take no action between now and 2050 that has an impact on the energy system.”
Projections, Daniels explained, do not perform the same role as forecasts.
“Why in the world do we do this? It's ridiculous, right? We do it because we're not trying to produce a forecast of the future. We're not trying to predict what's going to happen. We do it because we're trying to produce a baseline, a baseline against which to measure change, the impact of action. You can't measure the impact of action unless you have a baseline against which to measure it, so we are producing a baseline. This is the no-change, no-action baseline.”
In its Delayed and Disorderly scenario, BP is anticipating a world that continues to act insufficiently to lower carbon emissions until it no longer can.
It “reflects the existence of a of a finite carbon budget,” Dale said, “and one of the features of a finite carbon budget is that continuing high levels of carbon emissions in the near term have to be compensated for some point in the future.”
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