EXPLAINED: Why $100 Oil Might Damage The Power Transition Extra Than It Helps


The surge in crude oil costs previous $100 a barrel has raised an enormous query: Will this newest spike within the notoriously unstable oil market assist to hurry the worldwide transition from fossil fuels to cleaner power sources to battle local weather change? The reply might be not.

On the one hand, power analysts say, hovering costs for gasoline, diesel and different merchandise comprised of crude oil will drive cost-conscious shoppers extra shortly into electrical autos and increase funding in competing clear applied sciences like hydrogen.

However on the similar time, these excessive costs will even drive extra drilling of oil and gasoline across the globe, as fossil gasoline firms rush to money in, sowing the seeds for the growth to show to bust. That may make oil plentiful and reasonably priced once more.

That could be a sample that the world has seen repeatedly within the oil age, and one which has punished clear power traders harshly up to now. Listed below are a few of the arguments on both facet of the talk:


When fossil gasoline costs rise, shoppers begin to take electrical autos and clear power options extra severely – not only for their environmental advantages however in hopes of finally saving money. It’s a state of affairs that performed out after oil practically broke $150 a barrel in 2008, giving a lift to electrical car gross sales.

International gross sales of electrical autos are rising, significantly in China and Europe, and to a lesser extent, the USA.

And the Paris-based Worldwide Power Company, the industrialized world’s power watchdog, has stated rising oil costs might enhance the tempo of electrification of the transport sector and in addition speed up the transition to renewable energy sources like photo voltaic and wind, whose prices have dropped in recent times.

However on the similar time, gross sales of gas-guzzling sports activities utility autos in 2021, a 12 months of steadily rising oil costs, had been on monitor to hit 45% of world automobile gross sales, which might set a document in each quantity and market share, in response to the IEA.

That SUV demand canceled out the effectivity positive aspects of EVs and has raised questions in regards to the diploma to which excessive oil costs affect the transition.

Analysts additionally level out that automobiles and vans solely burn about 20-25% of the world’s petroleum, with different sectors similar to manufacturing, marine transport, aviation and agriculture making only a few positive aspects in gasoline effectivity.

“We now have not seen any signal of power transition but,” in these sectors, stated Claudio Galimberti, an analyst at Oslo-based consultancy Rystad Power.


There’s one other dynamic at play. For many years oil has been caught in a growth and bust cycle: Excessive costs spur funding in oil and gasoline drilling which, in flip, results in decrease costs that enhance demand for oil. There’s little motive to assume this time could be any completely different.

In the USA, for instance, the world’s largest oil producer, drillers are already making ready to spice up output. U.S. oil manufacturing is predicted to soar subsequent 12 months to an all-time excessive above the 2019 document of 12.25 million barrels per day earlier than peaking at 13.88 million bpd in 2034, in response to the U.S. Power Info Administration.

Excessive costs would solely speed up this pattern, not sluggish it.

Many of the world’s oil reserves, in the meantime, about 65%, are managed by nationwide oil firms absolutely or partially owned by state governments.

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and Iraq all shortly get richer when oil costs rise as a result of they’re among the many world’s lowest price producers of crude, a pattern researchers say deepens commitments to the petro-economy.

“Excessive oil costs delay the thought even with probably the most high-cost producers among the many nationwide oil firms that they will survive the power transition, relatively than work on pivoting away from oil into clear power,” stated Paasha Mahdavi, a political science professor at College of California, Santa Barbara.

Additionally they reinforce the notion that reinvesting the society’s wealth in oil is “optimum for balancing authorities budgets immediately and sooner or later,” he stated.

There’s some nuance, although: Saudi Arabia, for instance, is main an effort to generate hydrogen produced with inexperienced power like wind and photo voltaic at its mega metropolis of the longer term NEOM, a challenge that it’s funding with petrodollars.

“Greater oil costs do enable low price petro states to proceed making investments in a few of these decarbonized options, however solely amongst this small group,” stated Mahdavi.


This tendency to fulfill excessive costs with elevated provide results in one other downside for clear power: volatility.

Speedy swings in costs make it laborious for traders to plan and may even kill some various power initiatives, stated Deborah Gordon, who leads the oil and gasoline options initiative at RMI, a Colorado-based analysis group on power innovation and effectivity.

“The a lot greater danger for the power transition is volatility,” Gordon stated. “It’s not excessive costs or low costs, it’s this ongoing shift.”

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