It is clear that how consumers interact with and use energy offered by the downstream oil sector will likely undergo a fundamental shift in the coming decades. Passenger and light commercial vehicle manufacturers are already adapting to the low-carbon transition and this trend can be expected to continue with major changes to the overall composition of vehicle fleets, primary feedstocks of fuels and how people interact with the fuel retail sector.
The future of mobility
Changes will likely include:
Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles - Growth in EV and PHEV numbers in the coming decades, along with an increase in grid capacity supplying zero or low-carbon electricity and 'smart' grid management to accommodate the increased demand for charging vehicles.
Connected and autonomous vehicles - The development of CAVs will execute more efficient driving patterns - such as minimising aerodynamic drag or avoiding unnecessary acceleration and braking - and enable optimised routing and vehicle right-sizing. It is likely that the earliest adoption will be for HGVs in the form of 'platooning'.
Heavy goods vehicles - The intense duty cycle of HGVs necessitates the use of high energy density fuel sources such as liquid or compressed gas fuels. More efficient engines for HGVs could be supported by advanced exhaust after-treatment (to also minimise non-CO2 emissions) and increased levels of hybridisation. These measures could ensure HGVs of the future maximise the miles they get from the energy they use and are compliant with urban air quality measures when necessary. By 2050, however, this requirement will likely be rapidly diminished as urban areas address the challenges of the 'last mile', for example by introducing consolidation centres.
Mobility as a Service - Consumers will likely increase participation in ride-sharing networks or participate in car club or shared ownership schemes, reducing the number of vehicles required on UK roads and challenging the traditional concept of personal car ownership.
Changing consumer interactions - Non-transport related changes in consumer interactions with fuel retail will include greater use of technology (i.e. wearable technology to speed contactless payments) and forecourts offering a greater range of non-fuel products and services such as Amazon Locker® locations.
Low Carbon Fuels – Fuels that consumers fill-up with will continue to increase in renewable content, reducing the net carbon emissions of transport whilst utilising existing infrastructure and expertise. A change consumers may notice in the short-term is likely to be the introduction of E10 petrol, with the renewable fuel content of road fuels continuing to increase – and enable further carbon emissions savings – in the coming decades.
The future forecourt
As a result of these changes, by 2050 forecourts may be very different.
Forecourts may need to feature a combination of charging and liquid fuel offerings to varying degrees, depending on the availability of real estate. The number of liquid fuel products may be similar to today, but with locsal demand considerations and a much greater proportion of low-carbon fuel in the products themselves.
There will also likely be a difference in the fuel retail experience in both urban and non-urban environments:
Urban forecourts - Cities and major towns will likely feature the highest proportion of EVs and PHEVs. Urban forecourts will therefore likely feature rapid charging points either exclusively or existing alongside a limited liquid fuel offering. With an expanded retail experience, consumers might make use of on-site cafés or shopping, with payment for both fuel and non-fuel products completed by personal devices or wearable technology.
As a result of increased ride- or car-sharing schemes in urban areas, there may be dedicated chargers with high throughput to maximise vehicle utilisation. Urban forecourts may also be able to signal to nearby vehicles with low charge or near empty tanks when they have a charger/pump vacancy to minimise queuing.
Non-urban transport hubs - In non-urban areas, forecourts could diversify into a local mobility hub where a larger suite of liquid transport fuels and charging points are available, catering for a range of energy needs in one location. These hubs might offer a more diverse range of food and other consumables, with facilities for on-site mobile working and rapid meal offerings.
Changes in aviation and marine transport are unlikely to be as rapid as surface transport due to more limited options for these sectors. This is coupled with predicted growth in both aviation and marine activity to 2050 in order to satisfy global demands of economic growth.
Continued reliance on liquid fuels in both these sectors means that the downstream oil industry will play an integral role in their decarbonisation.
Shipping - International shipping carries approximately 90% of world trade by volume. Up to 2050, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions will continue with increased renewable fuel content, likely decreases in sulphur limits and more sophisticated exhaust after-treatment systems being adopted or retrofitted.
Aviation - As the most energy density demanding sector of mobility, it is unlikely that any viable alternative to jet fuel-powered engines will be identified in the near term. However, international efforts to reduce and mitigate carbon emissions from air transport have been identified – for example, CORSIA. As aircraft and engine manufacturers seek to improve fuel efficiency and aircraft operations and traffic management improves, sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) will need to be adopted to reduce the net greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.