Where might energy technology take us?

Last edited: 27 October 2014

Have you ever wondered how technology may change our lives by 2050? It's a question that applies to individuals and businesses alike. BP's head of technology David Eyton shares his thoughts on why it's important to adapt for the future

On BP’s technology strategy…

BP’s technology strategy has three elements: to manage safety and operational risk, capture business value and differentiate us from the competition. Our investment is aligned with the organisation’s business goals: focusing on its strengths in exploration, deep water, giant fields, gas value chains and high-quality downstream businesses.

On assessing future technology potential…

Over the past decade, we have studied global technology trends and asked ourselves ‘where is the world headed?’ Often small changes today, when accumulated over time, can make significant differences in the longer term. So, BP is increasingly taking into account the long-term impact of technology on its portfolio choices. In 2013, we carried out a long-term technology view which indicates, for example, that the global potential of unconventional sources of energy is very significant and likely to become a growing part of the industry’s focus. If we know that, we can develop skills and technologies today that will allow us to compete in the future.

On why technology matters…

First and foremost, technology can improve the standards with which we operate – we must find and produce the resources safely. Second, it can help us access new frontiers – either new regions or new forms of energy. Digital technology is a good example of how we are already making progress in these areas. The third thing technology can do is help us improve efficiency. The reality is that today’s global energy systems are incredibly inefficient. It is a fact that only 12% of the energy captured at its source ends up as useful heat, light and motion. So there is a very big prize in terms of improved efficiency and that includes everything from the internal combustion engine, to smart electricity grids to enhanced oil recovery. The fourth area it can help with is sustainability. Technology can deliver lower carbon solutions over time.

"Over the past decade, we have studied global technology trends and asked ourselves ‘where is the world headed?’ Often small changes today, when accumulated over time, can make significant differences in the longer term."

- David Eyton

On the future of transport fuels…

BP did a big study in 2009 and we found that if a driver is concerned about his or her carbon footprint, then the most cost effective way of reducing that is to make the internal combustion engine more efficient. This is already happening and the progress is extraordinary. In Europe, in particular, car manufacturers are driven by European Union standards for tailpipe emissions. The second thing you can do is hybridise, by capturing more of the energy of braking. That will make the car more efficient in terms of miles per gallon, but it comes at a slightly higher cost.

The next thing you can do is use biofuels. In Brazil, for instance, 50% of transport fuel is now biofuel. Electrification is also an option but the money spent per unit of carbon saved depends very much on your source of electricity. If you are in France and the source is nuclear, then that clearly is a very low carbon source of electricity. In the US and China, though, it’s likely to be coal. If you are particularly concerned about emissions in very big cities though, then electric vehicles can help, especially relative particulate emissions from diesel.

On the importance of policy and social behaviour…

There is only so much industry can do to influence the debate about genetically modified organisms or hydraulic fracturing or the Arctic, or drilling in deep water. But clearly, in different parts of the world, people remain divided over activities that might be techno-economically attractive. That is the big difference between Europe and the US when it comes to shale gas; the US also has alignment between land ownership and mineral rights ownership which has enabled the shale revolution.

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