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Vladimir Likhachev

Ph.D. in Technical Sciences, Deputy Director of the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Deputy Director of the Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure Development Research, Institute of Economics and Utility Regulation, Higher School of Economics

Energy in the twentieth century has become one of the main objects of prediction. The problems of long-term energy development are extremely relevant to human development. It is already important to determine future changes in the world energy structure and begin preparing for the fact that traditional sources of energy will lose their leading role. What will replace them? What will the main parameters for the development of world energy be in 100 years time?

Energy in the twentieth century has become one of the main objects of prediction. The problems of long-term energy development are extremely relevant to human development. It is already important to determine future changes in the world energy structure and begin preparing for the fact that traditional sources of energy will lose their leading role. What will replace them? What will the main parameters for the development of world energy be in 100 years time?

From fortune-telling to scientific rationale

Soothsayers, diviners, astrologers, and the results of their “art” have always attracted the special attention of the society. Since ancient times, people have found it necessary to consult “experts” about their future. In our time, forecasting has become a science, major research centers are now engaged in it and they do so based on advanced methodology [1, 2, 3].

From a scientific point of view, the study of the distant future (up to 100 years) is primarily cognitive in nature. However, the closer the forecast period, the more pragmatic problems it solves. The required depth of a forecast depends on the specific problems under study.

The global energy crisis will continue growing and deepening, while the cost of fossil fuels will continuously rise, which will expand economic opportunities for the use of alternative renewable energy and increase their share in the energy consumption structure.

Energy in the twentieth century has become one of the main objects of planning and forecasting, and to date, the world has accumulated considerable expertise in the study of its future development.

The problem of studying the future world energy is that it is necessary to take into account a complex set of factors: trends in the development of the global economy and world energy, technological, resource and environmental factors, political and socio-cultural issues, as well as their mutual influence. It is also necessary to combine quantitative and qualitative analysis of emerging and future trends. It is especially important to take into account the mutual influence of energy, economy and ecology.

World energy and energy revolutions

Photo: Flickr / mightyriverpower
Kawerau Geothermal Power Station
New Zeland

Like other sectors of the economy, energy growth is based on cyclical patterns, and its dynamics reflects all phases of long-term and very long-term cycles (conception, development, bloom, stagnation, crisis), change in technological structures (about once every fifty years) and technological methods of production (once every few centuries).

Energy revolutions occur regularly. For example, in the XVIII century, there was a shift from the use of manual labor, draught domestic animals, and wood to coal and steam engines that accompany the beginning and the flowering of the industrial revolution in Europe and a shift from feudalism to capitalism. The dynamics of the global system from 1870 to 1970 was determined by the next phase of long-term growth – the industrial phase. During the industrial phase, there were several growth waves separated by sharp crises, which were accompanied by a change in the development paradigm. The processes of consistent development of the use of oil as engine fuels, development of electric power systems, and development of nuclear energy all occurred simultaneously. Today, the use of gaseous fuels (Fig. 1) in the world continues increasing.

Presently, in the world consumption of primary energy resources (PER), oil accounts for 34%, coal – 30%, gas – 24%, hydropower – 6%, nuclear power – 5%, renewable energy sources (RES) – 1% (Fig. 2). As you can see, fossil fuels, oil, coal and gas still remain the basis of world energy.

Figure 1. Dynamics of world energy consumption in the XX century, mln tons of equivalent fuel

Source: Russia’s energy industry. Problems and prospects. – Moscow, Nauka, 2006


Figure 2. Structure of PER consumption in the world, 2011

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011

According to most experts, a gradual, deep transformation of the global energy began in the beginning of the XXI century, the foundations of energy revolution of post-industrial-noospheric type were laid. The need for change in energy is due to the fact that as of today, the best fossil fuel fields – the foundation of modern energy – have been exhausted or seriously depleted. As a result, the cost of fossil fuels has significantly increased.

The global energy crisis will continue growing and deepening, while the cost of fossil fuels will continuously rise, which will expand economic opportunities for the use of alternative renewable energy and increase their share in the energy consumption structure. Figure 3 shows the forecast of the pattern of consumption of PER in the world, prepared by Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2008. As seen from the figure, by 2050, there will be a reduction in the use of oil to 20% of the total consumption of PER in the world. The consumption of coal and gas will also reduce. Such renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass energy will be the most to dynamically develop.

Figure 3. Structure of PER consumption in the world, 2050

Source: Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050

The real energy revolution will unfold in the middle of the XXI century. Figure 4 shows the results of a forecast, conducted for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In this scenario of world energy development, it is assumed that the structure of primary energy sources will change radically: the share of oil and other fossil fuels will reduce even more at the expense of nuclear energy and renewable energy. Moreover, by the end of the XXI century, they can meet more than half of the world consumption of PER.

Photo: Flickr / nermaleggycowiemuggy
Wind Farm Outside Urumqi, China

The revolution will cover the energy consumption sphere. As a result, its growth rates will continue declining, and by the end of the century, the absolute volumes of global energy consumption will decline. One can discuss with the authors of this forecast on the periods of achieving peaks and speed of decline in the use of oil, gas and coal, but this cannot change the main conclusion that there will be a transition to a fundamentally new structure of global energy balance.

As a result of the aforementioned changes outlined, there will be the possibility of overcoming the growing global environmental crisis caused by pollution of the atmosphere by stationary (enterprises) and individual (transport) power installations.

Only a significant reduction in fossil fuel use will allow to gradually reduce pollution of the atmosphere between 2040 and 2050.

Figure 4. Forecast of world energy consumption

Source: Russia’s energy industry. Problems and prospects. Nauka. – Moscow, 2006

New energy technologies

In order to ensure the aforementioned changes in the structure of world energy sources, there is need for a shift to new energy technologies.

Experts identify two “laws of success” for energy technologies:

  • Research stage
    This stage takes 30 years, during which there is thousand-fold increase, it is required to reach 1-2% of world total consumption of primary energy (sustainable growth rate – 26% per year) starting with experimental-industrial scales;
  • Development stage
    After the first stage, introduction of technologies occurs more sequentially, determining their final niche in the energy mix.

Table 1 presents the main directions of growth of energy technologies most relevant by the middle of the XXI century.

Table 1.Main areas of energy technologies

Motorization Energy-efficient vehicles. New materials (composites)
Hybrids, electric transport
Transport on hydrogen fuel cells
Gas transport, GTL
second and third generation biofuels
Electrification Distributed gas generation (micro-CHP)
Nuclear power plants (4th generation, small model nuclear power plants)
Wind power plants (scaling and cost reduction)
Coal-fired plants with supercritical steam parameters
Combined-cycle power plants with coal and biomass gasification
Converters of solar energy into electricity
Solar concentrators
CO2 capture and storage in thermal power plants
Decentralization of generation
Smart grids
Electricity storage systems
Industrialization CO2 capture and storage.
Production of hydrogen and synthetic fuel
Urbanization ActiveHouse and PassiveHouse, resource-efficient cities
Heat pumps
Solar heating
Fossil fuels extraction Technologies of production of unconventional oil and gas
Deep seabed mining technologies
Cost reduction in gas transportation technologies

Source: ERIRAS. Forecast of energy development in the world and Russia by 2035.

In the second half of the XXI century, along with the aforementioned technologies which are expected to play a predominant role in the global energy sector, there will be aneed for new “innovative” technologies, which are currently only under discussion among scientific circles.

Photo: Flickr / global-imagery
White Cliffs Solar Power Station

At the beginning of the 2010s, about ten promising approaches to the development of fundamentally new energy were marked. In some areas of search, some significant practical results have already been achieved, while in others – researches are being conducted at the level of laboratory or pilot models.

Hydrogen, as one of the most promising directions of world energy development, is attracting wide attention. The use of hydrogen as a means of energy storage, transportation and consumption is the basis of hydrogen energy. The development of this industry allows applying hydrogen in production and meeting the needs of the transport infrastructure.

In addition, controlled thermonuclear fusion (CTF) is worth mentioning. At the core of CTF is the process of fusion of light atomic nuclei originating from the release of energy at high temperatures in a regulated controlled environment. The expected economic use of fusion reactors to generate electricity will be secured with an unlimited supply of publicly available fuel (hydrogen). Its production can easily be secured from sea water. The absence of combustion products and the impossibility of uncontrolled fusion reaction are the other positive aspects of CTF.

Russian Nuclear Community
Project of the 4th generation
nuclear power station

Development of energy technologies in the second half of this century may be associated also with further exploration of the outer space. During this period, under certain conditions, a number of projects on development of space power systems utilizing solar energy and transmitting it back to Earth using super-high-frequency (SHF) or microwave radiation can be implemented. It is assumed that the basis of this system will be solar power satellites in the geostationary orbit of about 5 GW capacity and lunar power system of 20,000 GW capacity. Another major project involves mining helium-3 on the moon with its transportation to Earth and then its usage in fusion reactors. Despite the seeming fantastic nature of the energy projects related to space, the initiative of Energia – a Russian Space Corporation – is worth remembering. From 2006 to 2007, Energia actively promoted the idea of creating a lunar station and began work on extraction of helium-3 by as early as 2015-2020. Implementation of the project did not receive support due to lack of technologies on using helium-3 in small nuclear reactors.

There are other results in the field of promising energy sources. The expert group IGSO, for example, sees the following energy technologies as promising:

  • liquid heating installations – vortex heat generators (there are other names for these installations);
  • cold fusion;
  • magnetomechanical power amplifier;
  • induction heaters;
  • motors without mass ejection;
  • tense closed circuits;
  • power plants on the basis of dynamic superconductivity;
  • atmospheric electricity.

Risks and opportunities in Russia

The aforementioned world energy prospects create not only major risks but also opportunities for Russia.

Russia’s energy strategy up to 2030 envisages various scenarios of global energy development and opportunities for adaptation to them [4]. However, a more distant future requires fundamentally new challenges, which are virtually ignored in the modern state’s energy policy. For example, the inevitability of climate change and the need for appropriate climate policy. Russia has not taken sufficient steps towards transition to non-carbon energy, thereby making Russia’s position in the global climate control system very vulnerable (systems of emission quotas, fines for exceeding them, reduction in the export of fossil fuels, possible tariff and non-tariff restrictions on the supply of carbon-intensive products, etc.) In Russia, the industry of renewable energy, energy-servicing and energy-saving services is developing very poorly, despite their considerable market potential.

There is a very serious risk of deep technological gap. Energy development in Russia and public policy in this area are designed in the spirit of industrial energy and are focused on increasing fossil fuel production and energy facilities. Insufficient attention is being paid to key areas – “intelligent networks”, management of power consumption and energy information systems, energy-saving technology, power decentralization ( – in the creation of a new type of energy.

World transition to non-carbon energy sources calls into question the sources of revenue to the budgets of those countries that depend heavily on exports of hydrocarbons.

To overcome the challenges of the future and implement the opportunities inherent in it, adjusting the state energy policy with a focus on the prospect of creating post-industrial energy is necessary.


The development of humankind in the XXI century will face the need for radical changes in the energy sector. The period of up to 2100 will experience a radical restructuring of the structure of the global energy balance. Conventional sources of energy (oil, gas, coal) will no longer play a dominant role and will give way to non-carbon forms of energy. The importance of new technologies, whose development foundation should be laid down now, will increase multiple times. For Russia, this means the need to change priorities to energy development in the near future.

1. Energy in a finite world: a global system analysis/ W. Hafele. – Cambridge Massachusetts: Ballinger Publ. Comp., 1981.

2. World energy and transition to sustainable development / Belyaev L.S. et al, Nauka – Novosibirsk, 2000.

3. World Energy Assessment: Energy and the Challenge of Sustainability. IIASA, 2002.

4. Russia’s energy strategy up to 2030. Ministry of Energy of Russia, 2009.

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