Shell's 2050 energy scenarios

Shell, the grandfathers of scenario planning, have a new set of scenarios that look at the world in terms of energy, through to 2050. There’s a PDF document that summarises the two scenarios — “Scramble” and “Blueprints” — and below is my summary of their summary. I must admit I’m not currently hopeful about our ability to cope with this stuff, given how poorly governments are able to handle other impending disasters… (Via City of Sound.)


Controlling demand for fuel is too unpopular for politicians to do so they concentrate on supply — a range of incentives for developing local supplies and deals between governments to ensure supplies from or to allies. Major resource holders increasingly make the rules. Despite some instability most people experience strong material progress in the first couple of decades.

The coal industry doubles in size by 2025 causing protests against the power plants and resulting pollution.

In the early years there is also a huge push for biofuels, which competes with food production and causes large sections of native habitats to be destroyed for farming, a land use change that results in further CO2 release. By 2020 second-generation biofuels are established which yield greater energy. Development of new sources of oil attracts increasing opposition due to environmental costs.

There is a pattern repeated among nations: develop these new sources of fuel but when a supply crisis occurs draconian measures are introduced to curb demand. This results in a global economic slowdown.

Tackling climate change is continually put off by governments who continually express concern but are unwilling to put plans into action. High fuel prices and demanding standards imposed by governments drive developments in biofuels, wind and solar. By 2030 economic growth is restored. This increases energy consumption and thus CO2 emissions. An international consensus on tackling climate change develops but the world is twenty years behind where it could have been if this had happened sooner.


Cities and regions begin to take action, spurred on by local environmental crises. As these actions become more visible, and the leaders become more popular, there is more incentive for national and international leaders to follow suit.

A carbon emissions trading scheme begins in the EU and is eventually adopted by other countries including the US and China, boosting clean alternative fuels and carbon capture and storage.

Multinationals argue for harmonised international policies. The US fosters greater fuel efficiency through new standards and taxes. Europe imposes stricter CO2 emission allowances. China and India secure technology transfer and investment in energy-efficient plants in return for participating in international frameworks.

Oil prices remain low because OPEC increases supply to defer the development of alternatives. Wind and solar solutions become cheaper and are taken up by poorer areas. Incentives to reduce the emissions of vehicles, plus increased wind and solar power, leads to a surge in electric transport, allowing nations a smoother journey onto the plateau of oil production.

By 2050 most coal-fired and gas-fired power stations have been fitted with carbon capture and storage technologies, reducing CO2 emissions.

International organisations increasingly agree on what works and what doesn’t and more intranational partnerships occur. However, the accelerated pace of change adds additional stresses and the more rigid societies and regimes struggle to adapt, with dramatic political change occuring.

By 2055 the US and EU are using an average of 33% less energy per capita than today and Chinese energy use has peaked.

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