BERLIN, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- The natural gas industry could experience a "golden age" due to strongly growing demand in Asia and the Middle East, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday.
Global demand for natural gas will surge by up to 44 percent over 2008 levels until 2035, the IEA said in its World Energy Outlook 2010, unveiled Tuesday in London. Natural gas will be the only fossil fuel for which demand will be greater in 2035 than in 2008, the IEA noted.
Most of the growth will happen in Asia, where India and especially China, the world's biggest consumer of energy, are building numerous gas-fired power stations.
"China could lead us into a golden age for gas," the IEA, which advises industrialized countries on energy issues from Paris, said in its new report. "Demand in the Middle East increases almost as much."
The IEA expects overall energy demand to increase by 36 percent until 2035, with most growth happening in Asia, South America and the Middle East.
The group pointed to the difficulty of making long-term predictions in the face of recent market volatility. The forecasts depend largely on whether governments stick to their climate protection plans and implement policies to pave the way into a new energy age based on low-carbon sources, the IEA said.
"Renewable energy sources will have to play a central role in moving the world onto
a more secure, reliable and sustainable energy path," the IEA said.
The group in the report said it expects governments to gradually phase out fossil fuel subsidies and boost support for renewables from $75 billion last year to $205 billion in 2035. Then, the share of renewables in the global power mix would reach 33 percent, up from 19 percent in 2008.
Yet while the IEA says it expects renewable energy sources to become more important in the overall mix, it says oil, coal and gas will remain the dominant energy sources in 2035 -- also because they're readily accessible in quickly growing economies.
China's hunger for energy will rise by 75 percent until 2035, when it will account for more than one-fifth of global demand, the IEA predicts.
China currently satisfies most of its energy demand with coal-fired power plants but gas is expected to play an increasingly important role as a flexible and relatively clean fossil fuel.
The country's gas demand could grow by an average rate of 6 percent per year, making it the fastest-growing market in the world. In the period until 2035, China would account for more than one-fifth of the increase in global demand, the IEA said.
"There is potential for Chinese gas demand to grow even faster than this, especially if coal use is restrained for environmental reasons," it said.
The European gas industry hopes to grab a share of that growing market.
Jean-Marie Dauger, vice president of European gas giant GDF Suez, said his company was worried about stringent regulation of markets and price volatility in Europe.
"We have therefore decided to expand our international position," Dauger said Tuesday at the European Autumn Gas Conference in Berlin. "We have reliable signals that the demand for gas in Asia is starting to grow."
GDF Suez is active in the liquefied natural gas market, which analysts say is to account for large parts of the imports to Asia. India and China have plans to build around 20 LNG terminals in the coming years, with three ports already in operation in China.
Guy Broggi, the head of the LNG division at French oil giant Total, said during the Berlin conference he expected demand for LNG in Asia to grow to 100 million tons per year in 2020.
The prospects for pipeline gas imports to China look less promising, said an analyst speaking at the same conference.
Pipelines to China would be laid from suppliers in Central Asia via Uzbekistan or via Myanmar, both potentially unstable countries, said Michael Denison, a gas expert with Global Risk Analysis.
"There are significant security issues and therefore uncertainties linked to China-bound pipelines," he said.