Harmonizing Energy Horizons: A comprehensive comparison of global energy transition outlooks, projections and scenarios

5th April 2024

Harmonizing Energy Horizons: A comprehensive comparison of global energy transition outlooks, projections and scenarios 

Energy transitions have far-reaching impacts that extend beyond the energy sector alone, intersecting with vital systems like industry, agriculture, and urban infrastructure, and ultimately reshaping society. The looming risk of disorderly energy transitions is evident as various global visions and diverging technology pathways emerge.  

While the goal of achieving zero-emissions energy systems by mid-century is clear, the journey to a sustainable future is riddled with challenges. No single entity, whether a country, company, or community, can manage energy transitions alone or by focusing solely on a single issue. There's no silver or green technology bullet. Relying only on better energy modelling and forecasting to guide successful transition will be fatal, even in a data-rich era. 

It is therefore timely for leaders to ask: Are global energy scenarios achieving their potential in catalysing action toward new energy futures? How do the Council’s World Energy Scenarios compare with global energy outlooks, scenarios and normative visions used by others, and what can we learn by contrasting the increasing richness of energy futures thinking? 

The World Energy Council has been developing participatory and narrative-led scenarios for almost two decades to support a better-quality global strategic dialogue on the future of energy systems. Scenarios provide strategic frameworks that enable big picture thinking and decision making under deep uncertainty. They are designed to be used as a set to explore and navigate what might happen, not what should happen or what we want to happen. Scenarios can serve as a much-needed tool to help navigate today's rapidly changing and increasingly fragmented energy landscape.  

In anticipation of the 26th World Energy Congress in April 2024, we are refreshing our global energy foresight tools by creating scenarios foundations that reflect current realities and future possibilities. The focus is on ‘collaboration as a choice’ and the use of scenarios to surface opportunities for cooperation and alignment as we redesign energy for the betterment of billions of lives and the planet’s health. 

As a part of the refresh, the Council has conducted a comprehensive comparison of global energy scenarios to test the continued plausibility, relevance, and challenge of its own existing World Energy Scenarios. The scenarios that were compared included:  

  • IEA's World Energy Outlook 2023 [2023] 
  • Shell's Energy Security Scenarios [2023] 
  • World Energy Council's World Energy Scenarios [2019] 
  • Equinor' s Energy Perspectives 2023 [2023] 
  • BP's Energy Outlook 2023 [2023] 
  • DIW-REM's Energy, Climate, and Policy towards 2055: An Interdisciplinary Energy Outlook (DIW-REM Outlook) [2019] 
  • MIT's 2018 Outlook 
  • ExxonMobil's Global Outlook 2050 [2023] 
  • EWG / LUT's Global Energy System Based on 100% Renewables [2019] 
  • DNV-GL's Energy Transition Outlook 2023 [2023] 

A summary of key findings is below, with the full comparison to be release in mid-2024. 

Scenarios comparison: an overview  

The review found that despite large variations, most scenarios agree on a significant shift towards renewable energy and the need for aggressive decarbonization to meet global climate goals. Commonalities include the emphasis on solar and wind energy expansion and electrification as key drivers. However, differences emerge in the pace of transitions, the role of nuclear energy, and the reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. These divergences highlight the range of pathways considered viable for achieving net-zero emissions, underscoring the importance of strategic choices and policy flexibility in navigating increasingly diverse energy transitions. 

The varieties of technological innovations and renewable energy pathways in these scenarios showcase a dynamic and multifaceted approach towards decarbonization. The scenarios explore a diverse mix of technologies; the expansion of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the integration of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier, the potential scaling up of nuclear energy, and the implementation of CCS technologies. Each technology plays a unique role in energy transitions, and the combination of these diverse approaches offer different pathways to reduce carbon emissions and enhance energy security. The emphasis in most of the scenarios is on utilising technological advancements to create a sustainable and low-carbon energy future, highlighting the need for investment, innovation, and supportive policies to realise these diverse energy pathways. 

Divergent futures for the primary energy mix 


The scenarios, outlooks and projections anticipate a spectrum of primary energy mixes by 2050. On one end, scenarios like EIA REF 2023 and IEA STEPS 2023 project slower transitions with a considerable share of fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil.  Other scenarios, such as BNEF NZS and IEA NZE 2023, project the most ambitious shifts towards renewables, anticipating a drastic reduction in fossil fuels and a corresponding plunge in emissions. Between these alternatives, scenarios like the World Energy Council’s Unfinished Symphony 2019 and Equinor Reform 2023 envision a more balanced approach, with a substantial role for natural gas and a moderate increase in renewables. These groupings underscore the varied pathways and pace at which global energy transitions may unfold, reflecting differing degrees of technological optimism and policy support. 

Scenarios like EIA REF 2023 reflect higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, implying slower transitions from fossil fuels, whereas scenarios such as BNEF NZS reflect a steep decline in emissions, aligning with aggressive decarbonization efforts and a substantial increase in renewable energy sources. Overall, most scenarios agree on the necessary dynamic of decreasing emissions via prioritising rapid energy transitions and more effective climate policies. 

Technological advancements in renewables, hydrogen, nuclear, and negative emissions technologies  

In the more ambitious climate scenarios, renewable generation sources enable the shift away from fossil fuels. However, the pace of growth varies widely across scenarios, the most optimistic being BNEF NZS, where renewables are expected to grow by a factor of 21 by 2050. In more conservative scenarios, such as IEEJ Reference, wind and solar power generation is expected to triple by 2050. All scenarios, except Equinor Bridges, attribute the most growth to wind and solar generation over the next decade in China, North America, and the European Union, with these regions projected to account for 62% of all such growth in Equinor Walls and up to 83% in BP Accelerated. 

Hydrogen plays the largest roles in BNEF and BP Net Zero (both with 10% of final energy consumption in 2050) and in IEA Net Zero (6%). Scenarios which emphasize an evolution of the current energy policy landscape, such as the IEEJ Advanced Technologies and the IEA APS include some hydrogen consumption but considerably less. 

In 2050, nuclear energy’s share ranges from 5% in IEEJ Reference to 14% in BNEF and BP Net Zero, compared with 5% in 2021. Under three of the four net-zero scenarios, energy consumption from nuclear more than doubles by 2050, driven in some cases by the production of hydrogen for end uses in other sectors. 

Negative emissions technologies (NETs), such as direct air capture (DAC) and CCS, play a large role in every ambitious climate scenario. As long as fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions remain high, achieving international targets of 1.5°C or 2°C by 2100 will increasingly rely on large-scale NETs, CCS, and perhaps even more challenging technologies, such as geoengineering. 

Regional energy mixes  

Future oil demand varies considerably across regions and scenarios. For example, while all three of BP’s and IEA’s scenarios project demand in the Asia-Pacific region to peak by 2030 and then decline, reference scenarios from ExxonMobil and IEEJ project regional demand growth through 2050.  

  • In China, demand is anticipated to peak by 2030 under all scenarios except OPEC’s Reference case. (Notably, ExxonMobil does not publish China-specific modelling results.)  
  • In India, demand grows under all reference scenarios but begins to decline in the 2030s or 2040s under ambitious climate scenarios.​ 
  • In North America, under all scenarios, oil demand peaks in 2025 to 2030. However, the rate of subsequent decline varies dramatically between scenarios. By 2050, North American oil demand ranges from highs around 16 mb/d under ExxonMobil’s Reference and IEA STEPS to lows of just 3 mb/d under ambitious climate scenarios. ​ 
  • In Latin America, demand remains relatively flat through 2050 under reference scenarios but falls by more than half under most ambitious climate scenarios.​ 

Especially for China and India, the bandwidth of total energy consumption and energy mix is expected to be very broad.​ 

Fracturing geopolitical environment  

Beyond the techno-economic aspects, regional dynamics and geopolitical shifts will play a pivotal role in energy transitions, revealing a landscape marked by differences in pace and approaches across the globe. As nations often navigate energy transition within a framework shaped by energy security, industrial competitiveness, and national self-interest, transition pathways will inevitably vary.  

With this this inevitable variation in transition pathways, the World Energy Council’s upcoming 2024 scenarios will build on the scaffolding of how new modes of collaboration and alignment might develop. The emergence, for instance, of "energy blocs" underscores a retreat from global cooperation towards national and regional pragmatism, affecting the uniformity and efficiency of global energy transitions. The resulting patchwork of energy policies and priorities highlights the challenges and opportunities unique to each region with technological advancements, policy frameworks, and geopolitical considerations driving distinct pathways and clusters of collaboration, while alignments of mutual interest emerge in response to new opportunities. 

Need for alignment and collaboration  

The divergence of global energy transition scenarios reveals the importance of increased alignment and cooperation for advancing energy transitions. The varied sustainable pathways outlined by the outlooks above demonstrate that there is no “one size fits all” approach to progressing energy transitions, especially in a fracturing environment. Incorporating more stakeholders into these conversations is critical to ensuring transitions take into account the unique challenges and opportunities presented by global diversity and complexity.  

As we look towards a cleaner energy landscape, the 2024 World Energy Congress in Rotterdam, 22-25 April, will provide a key platform for furthering these conversations. 

The World Energy Council’s comparison of global energy transition outlooks, projections and scenarios was conducted by Professor Stefan Ulreich of the Biberach University of Applied Science. The full comparison will be released in mid-2024.  

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