The Petroleum Industry in the Next 20 Years: Energy Transition and Security

Please permit me to stand on all existing protocols.

First, I want to thank the IPES for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this very pertinent subject, with your distinguished faculty, today’s graduands and their families, industry colleagues, and others here present at this induction ceremony and 20th anniversary celebration of the Institute of Petroleum and Energy Studies (IPES).

I give my warm congratulations to the Institute on attaining the remarkable milestone of your 20th anniversary. As I reflect on the Institute’s achievements over the past two decades, the impact of IPES on the Nigeria petroleum industry is clear, as well as the impact on the lives of those it has touched. Your contributions have helped shape the landscape of petroleum education, research, and capacity development. Hence, I look forward to the next 20 years of impactful contributions to our industry, our country and the world.

Today, we are here to unravel the complex narrative of the future of the petroleum industry and its critical role in the global energy matrix.

In my discourse, I will be talking about the intricate dance between energy demand and supply, energy transition, the key drivers and trends that will likely dominate the energy landscape of the next 20 years and beyond, what our imperatives should be from a Nigerian/ Sub-Sahara African (SSA) perspective in order to have a more robust energy system, and some of the attributes that will be seen in future industry leaders.

The Role of Petroleum in the Global Energy System

The global energy system has evolved over the past few centuries, with coal forming the bed rock of primary energy supply and transiting to a system that is dominated by petroleum.

With the discovery of petroleum in the 1850s, gas and petroleum products increasingly became the major source of global energy. Estimates from the 2023 Energy Institute Statistical Review indicate that for 2022, petroleum accounted for ca. 55% of global energy supply, followed by coal 27%, renewables 7%, hydro 7% and nuclear 4%.

Petroleum is the lifeblood of modern civilization. The transportation sector, consuming more than half of petroleum products, is the most visible testament to this fact. Roads, railways, air travel paths and waterways crisscrossing continents are the veins through which the lifeblood of commerce flows, fueled by petroleum.

Petrochemicals, comprising 17% of petroleum use in 2022, are less visible but equally vital, forming everything from plastics to chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Petroleum is found in items as diverse as footballs, bicycles, tires, electronics etc. In our homes, we are surrounded by and depend on products that contain petroleum – housepaint, trash bags, roofing, shoes, telephones, hair curlers, clothes and even crayons contain refined petroleum.

Historical and Future Energy Demand

Petroleum has catalyzed revolutions, built economies, and defined geopolitical landscapes. It is woven into our everyday life even though in the past decade, there has been increasing calls for a transition of the global energy system away from fossil sources (petroleum and coal) to non-fossil sources.

Projections into 2050 spotlight a growing energy demand and an evolving energy mix. Future global energy demand is projected to grow by approximately 30% over the next 30 years. The growth in energy demand will be driven primarily by population growth, (currently 8bln, projected to grow to 10bln by 2050), urbanisation (currently at 56%, projected to grow to 70% by 2050), improvement in energy access (49% of SSA currently has no access to electricity) and economic growth. Nigeria, as you all recognise, typifies all these factors.

Given the realities of global energy demand – on one hand, considering the available fossil energy supply sources and infrastructure; and on the other hand, considering the nascency of the non-fossil energy sources, related complexities, capital requirement and technological innovation needed to build up this capacity; it is clear that petroleum will remain a key source of energy for the world for decades to come. Additionally, the non-fossil energy sources, comprising renewables and others, will also grow rapidly to meet this increasing global energy requirement.

So, the emerging energy system will not be fossil or non-fossil, it will be fossil and non-fossil, in a manner that carbon emissions are reduced, eliminated and/or captured.

Energy Transition – Osa’s Treatise

Energy Transition is a subject immersed in a lot of complexities, so I will try and deconstruct the subject in layman terms, in what I have called my treatise on the subject.

Foundationally, we need to ask the question “what is the core proposition of the energy transition that is being discussed today?”. To address this question, we need to consider a few key underpinning perspectives.

Let’s start with the proposition that there is always a transition in any human endeavor, driven by discovery, technology, innovation, availability and other factors. Such is the case with our energy system, it has and will evolve over time. However, what is termed today as “energy transition” is an agenda to accelerate the energy transition from fossil energy sources to non-fossil energy sources. The rationale for this acceleration, as very visibly cited by its proponents, is that the release of carbon into the atmosphere is causing climate change, that would endanger the earth in the future. And this agenda has targeted petroleum as the main source of carbon emissions and hence posits that the acceleration from petroleum as a dominant energy source, must happen quickly. This is one viewpoint. However, what is hardly mentioned, is that this viewpoint is also driven significantly by geopolitics and regional energy security considerations.

There is a second and alternate viewpoint, that states that the issue is carbon emissions and not petroleum, so to deal with the climate change debacle, the world should focus on all sources of carbon release, not just petroleum. It would interest you to know that agriculture (cattle) is another material source of carbon emission, but the proponents of the accelerated energy transition from petroleum are conveniently quiet on this. So, this second viewpoint posits that we need to focus on reducing and ultimately eliminating carbon emissions, and additionally sequestrating carbon from the atmosphere as may be required.

This subject, as many who followed the recent UN climate change Conference of Parties in Dubai (COP28) will know, formed the nexus

of the disagreement around the conference communique that ended with the focus being on carbon emissions, and not a phasing out of  petroleum as an energy source. This was a most important development that will shape and reshape this subject in the coming years.

With this foundation, we can then coalesce some of the key tenets of the energy transition, as follows:

It is anticipated that in the future energy system, our primary source of energy will mostly be from renewables (displacing petroleum) and that our primary form of energy consumption will be electricity (displacing petroleum distillates).

The simplest illustration of this is motorized mobility, where petrol and diesel are the predominant fuels used by cars today and in the future, it will be electricity that will be the dominant “fuel”.

Given all these considerations and a lot more for which time will not permit me to expatiate on, with respect to energy transition, I posit strongly that the whole world will not be on a single energy transition journey, but that different parts of the world will have different journeys, as they have different start-points and will likely have different pathways. And it is possible that they may end at different destinations in time.

Energy Imperatives for Sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria

Our energy scorecard is very stark! ….. between 40 – 70% of our population do not have access to energy. Also, it is important to highlight a fact that is not widely talked about, that Africa contributes only 4% of total global emissions. Further, it is well known that SSA has the lowest energy use per capita in the world, and there is the clear linkage between energy use and economic development. This is our start-point.

Accordingly, for SSA and Nigeria, our top priority must be energy sufficiency. We are rich in all sources of energy – both fossil and non-fossil, and we must harness all these sources to address the energy deficiency in the region.

So, we can see clearly, that from all perspectives – global, regional and country, petroleum is going to remain a key component of the energy system for decades to come.

Nigeria Energy Landscape – An Unfolding Vortex

Over the next 20 years, several key factors will shape our country’s energy system. These include:

  • Global energy transition dynamics and how SSA and Nigeria play in that space. There is a growing positioning from Africa for a just and equitable energy transition for developing countries. This will have an imprint on how the journeys and destinations will evolve globally and locally.
  • Access to capital is going to be a key driver, given that global capital is currently discriminating against petroleum.
  • Gas is going to be key. This is against the backdrop of the global consideration of gas as a “transition” fuel, as well the unfolding geopolitical realities in Europe that sees Western European countries looking to diversify gas supply from Russia. I foresee that as a country we will be faced with the choice of getting the right balance between export vs in-country use of our gas.
  • For oil, focus will mainly be on growing production, and less focus on reserves growth, as the country will push to accelerate oil production ahead of the “global’ energy transition curve. Closely related to this and the access of capital challenge for oil, low-cost brownfield technologies, approaches and capabilities will also become premium.
  • The indigenization of the upstream industry is well underway. By the end of the decade, majority of Nigeria’s petroleum production will be operated by Nigeria independent companies.
  • Enabled by Petroleum Industry Act and market demand, there will be significant growth in the midstream sector for both liquids and gas processing capacities, as well as the product transport infrastructure and systems.
  • And last but not least, I believe that there is going to be a tremendous growth in renewables, particularly solar. This is going to be a gamechanger. The industry is still nascent, challenged and products are expensive, but this industry will gain significant momentum as technology and innovation makes products more accessible to Nigerians and the world at large.

Winning Attributes of the Future

As you can well imagine, the leaders and professionals in the unfolding and future energy system in Nigeria will need to be multifaceted. I believe winners will need to be more value driven, as well as think energy rather than just thinking petroleum as was the case with my generation.

Winners will be skilled and not just educated; they will need to be entrepreneurial, dynamic, innovative and resilient, as the waves of change and complex interactions of the shaping factors will require leaders and professionals with these attributes.

I hope I have been able to share with you today, that the world is more inextricably linked, and that there will be an ongoing interplay between what is happening globally, regionally and locally. So, the energy industry champions of tomorrow will need to have both a global mindset and a solid local anchoring.

So, for the graduands of the IPES joining the energy industry, please know that the industry is not in sunset, but it is the dawn of a new day and there are many new dawns of many new days to come. You will likely see more landscape changes in your career than my generation saw in ours.

Heirs Energies and its contribution to the Nigerian Petroleum Industry

Heirs Energies acquired OML 17 in January 2021. We took over operational control in July 2021. In 100 days, we doubled oil production from 27,000bopd to 52,000bopd, and subsequently, we have also grown our gas production from 50mmscf to a peak of 100mmscf. I am always proud to highlight that all our gas goes into the eastern domestic network enabling power production, and providing feed gas for Gas Based Industries, thereby directly enabling meaningful livelihoods in the eastern part of our country.

We are committed to meeting the future energy needs of Africa, starting with Nigeria, and strongly practice the Africapitalism mantra espoused by our Chairman, Mr. Tony Elumelu, which is to “do well (commercially) and also do good (socially)”.


In conclusion, I want to thank IPES for the opportunity to share these thoughts today.

I look forward to seeing many of our graduands becoming champions of the energy industry in the future. I am confident that with the investment in an IPES education, the foundation for future success has been made.

So, go out there and conquer!

Thank you.

Michael Walter

Author Michael Walter

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