Peak Oil Demand: When Is It Really Coming?

By Earl J. Ritchie, Lecturer, Department of Construction Management

There is a widely held belief that the peak of oil consumption will result from demand reduction rather than depletion. Published scenarios depicting how soon this might happen are all over the map, ranging from less than three years to beyond the foreseeable future.

Source: Modified from Bloomberg 2017

Three broad categories of means to reduce consumption are illustrated by the shaded areas in the graph above. Efficiency includes improved fuel mileage and ways to reduce miles traveled, such as mass transit and ride sharing, as well as efficiency in buildings and other non-transportation uses. Electric vehicles include hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Fuel switching includes biofuels and natural gas.

Published scenarios are influenced by philosophy, with forecasts of later peak demand usually coming from oil industry sources or traditionally related organizations and forecasts of an earlier peak from the renewable energy industry and environmental organizations.

In addition to continuing progress in vehicle fuel economy, renewable fuels and electric cars, the pace of future reductions will depend to a significant degree upon behavioral factors: the willingness to reduce driving, use alternative transportation and abandon fossil fuel cars for electrics. In the US, these changes have been slow in coming.

How oil consumption can be reduced: The US case

Let’s consider each of these measures, using the 2013 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Half the Oil Plan as an example. This plan applies only to the United States, however, it illustrates potential reduction measures elsewhere.

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