Population growth will drive energy demand higher, expert says

HOUSTON — The world is becoming more energy efficient, but growing economies and an increasing world population will drive more energy demand for decades, an industry expert said Saturday.

This growth largely will come from emerging economies, where the average gross domestic product is expected to grow 2.8 percent annually for years, said David Khemakhem, an energy and technology advisor for Exxon Mobil, speaking to a luncheon audience at the IIT 2013 Global Conference in Houston.

“The GDP is a good indicator of the growth you will see,” Khemakhem said, discussing the results of Exxon’s 2013 Outlook for Energy.

But the pressures of population — which is expected to grow to more than nine billion by 2040 — and economic growth is partially mitigated by lower energy demand per capita, due to energy efficiencies in everything from light bulbs to the electric grid.

“A substantial amount of energy got saved because of these improvements,” Khemakhem said, noting that the savings have taken place both in Western countries and in emerging economies.

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The percentage of households located in urban environments also is increasing in emerging economies, which drives a different kind of energy consumption, Khemakhem said.

For example, the number of households in Africa is expected to grow by 70 percent, as the population shifts from larger family structures to more individual family households, Khemakhem said. He noted that India will require more than twice its current level of energy by 2040.

Energy imports will be needed to meet some of the increased demand, Khemakhem said, noting that Asia likely will need to import more than 70 percent of its oil by 2040, up from 45 percent currently.

North America, by contrast, has benefited from hydrocarbons discovered in unconventional plays, and is expected to meet its own energy demands by 2040.