Hashing prices over hash

May 9, 2005
The older guys who frequent the neighborhood breakfast joint have been grousing about gasoline prices.

The older guys who frequent the neighborhood breakfast joint have been grousing about gasoline prices. They know that I work at OGJ, so they ask me to explain it to them.

They don’t really expect an answer. What they actually want is for me to listen politely while they blame the big oil companies. Hence, they don’t have much patience when I start talking about the demographics of global oil demand.

But if they were to listen, I would tell them about rising vehicle ownership trends in Asia.

China and India are home to 2.2 billion people-more than one third of the world’s population.

As of 2002, China had 18 million cars, buses, and trucks, compared with fewer than 2 million in 1980.

According to James S. Cannon, senior energy fellow for Inform Inc., New York, Chinese car sales rose 73% in 2003.

“By 2030, China is projected to have more motor vehicles than the US,” he says in a report entitled The Transportation Boom in Asia: Crisis and Opportunity for the United States. “In India, vehicles totaled 10.7 million in 2000, an increase of 245% since 1984, and there are more than 14 million [vehicles] today.”

Cannon notes that, as of 2000, China had fewer than 50 vehicles/1,000 residents; the US had 850 vehicles/1,000 residents.

“Were the Chinese, who aspire to the US lifestyle, to have a comparable rate of vehicle ownership, as many as 972 million cars, buses, and trucks would travel their roadways-almost 27% more than the entire vehicle population of the world in 2001,” Cannon said.

He cites “an enormous thirst for oil” based upon “the astronomical transportation growth in China and India combined with industrial development.”

Oil consumption

Currently, China is the second largest oil-consuming nation, and India is the sixth. Within 20 years, China and India are expected to see oil consumption growth rates of 4%/year and 3.9%/year, respectively-the fastest rates worldwide, Cannon says.

“While rates of oil use in China and India are steadily rising, their total oil consumption (about 7.8 million b/d) is nowhere close to that of the US. With 5% of the world’s population, the US represents 25% of world oil consumption,” he said.

The US hosts 220 million cars, buses, and trucks, and the transportation sector accounts for much of its oil consumption. The transportation boom in Asia means increasing competition for global oil supplies.

Sensing a need to curtail a growing dependence on gasoline and diesel vehicles, China and India already are among the world’s top users of natural gas vehicles, especially buses and taxi cabs.

“From only a few thousand NGVs 5 years ago, India has 200,000 NGVs today, the fifth largest NGV fleet in the world, while China has more than 70,000 NGVs and ranks seventh,” Cannon says.

The US is sixth with 140,000 NGVs, reports the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles. The group lists 3.3 million NGVs worldwide.

NGVs are seen as a solution because global gas supplies appear to be more secure and geographically diverse than oil supplies, which are concentrated in the Middle East.

“Inform’s research over the past decade has also shown that, because of the synergies between natural gas and hydrogen fuels, widespread use of NGVs can help pave the way to the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles of the future,” Cannon says.

He sees Asia’s skyrocketing use of NGVs as an opportunity for the US to export technology and expertise on gas and hydrogen.

“This country could bolster its own alternative fuel vehicle industry by putting NGVs (and renewable fuel sources) to work domestically while contributing to the creation of sustainable transportation systems in industrializing Asia,” he says.

Cannon advocates a US energy plan that recognizes technologies that can provide near-term petroleum displacement along with environmental and fuel efficiency gains while creating a transition to hydrogen.

Price complaints

Meanwhile, back at the local coffee shop, the guys still are having a good time complaining about gasoline prices. I’ve already triggered rolling eyes and cocked heads by trying to tell them about growing car sales in China.

They might fall out of their chairs laughing if I suggested development of energy technologies with an ultimate goal of depending upon hydrogen made from water.

But it’s unlikely that they will see that development in their lifetimes or mine.