"We've seen explosive growth in car ownership in countries such as China," said co-author Adam Millard-Ball, an assistant professor in the Environmental Studies Department at UC-Santa Cruz. "However, those cars will be more efficient than those of the past, and travel demand will eventually saturate as it has in rich countries such as the United States."
Lower oil dependence
Freight and air travel have shown no such break from economic growth. Rich people may not drive more beyond a certain income level, but they do fly more and buy more belongings, as do people moving out of poverty. Even in air travel and freight, though, energy efficiency has begun to improve after decades of stagnation, lowering oil dependence, according to the new study.
"A major uncertainty is whether demand to move goods around the world will eventually saturate, as we've seen in the case of passenger transport," said Millard-Ball.
Price-competitive alternatives to conventional oil are another factor behind the peak in demand. Competition comes from increasing quantities of fuel from oil sands, liquid fuels from coal, natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen and electricity generated from renewable sources.
Technological advances and the high price of oil are helping most such alternatives compete on price. In 2010, the world produced 1.8 million barrels a day of biofuels, six times the amount in 2000. In Argentina, natural gas fuels 15 percent of all cars, due to policies meant to favor the domestic natural gas industry.
The researchers did not try to forecast peak demand's impact on oil prices. But even if oil prices spend much time above the historical upper range of $140 a barrel, the peak in demand will only come sooner than they forecast.
"If prices rise above their current levels for an extended period, we're likely to see even more efforts to improve efficiency and exploit
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|