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Beyond the supercycle: How technology is reshaping resources

First came the “fly-up,” the price spike on world markets for oil, gas, and a broad range of natural resources that began in 2003. Then came the abrupt bust, as prices tumbled and global spending on natural resources dropped by half in the course of 2015 alone. Now, even as resource companies and exporting countries pick up the pieces after this commodity “supercycle,” the sector is facing a new wave of disruption.1 Shifts taking place in the way resources are consumed as well as produced—less noticed than the rollercoaster commodity price ride but no less significant—will have major first- and second order effects on both the sector and the global economy. These shifts are the result of technological innovation, including the adoption of robotics, Internet of Things technology, and data analytics, along with macroeconomic trends and changing consumer behavior. We see three principal effects of this technological revolution: Consumption of energy will become less intense as people use energy more efficiently thanks to smart thermostats and other energy-saving devices in homes and offices, and the use of analytics and automation to optimize factory usage. Transportation, the largest user of oil, will be especially affected, by more fuel-efficient engines and by the burgeoning use of autonomous and electric vehicles and ride sharing. Technological advances will continue to bring down the cost of renewable energies such as solar and wind energy, as well as the cost of storing them. This will hand renewables a greater role in the global economy’s energy mix, with significant first- and second-order effects on producers and consumers of fossil fuels. Resource producers will be able to deploy a range of technologies in their operations, putting mines and wells that were once inaccessible within reach, raising the efficiency of extraction techniques, shifting to predictive maintenance, and using sophisticated data analysis to identify, extract, and manage resources. Scenarios we have modeled suggest that these developments have the potential to unlock $900 billion to $1.6 trillion in incremental cost savings throughout the global economy in 2035, an amount equivalent to the current GDP of Indonesia or, at the top end, Canada.2 As a result of lower energy intensity and technological advances that improve efficiency, energy productivity in the global economy could increase by 40 to 70 percent in 2035. We believe these changes will have profound implications not just for companies in the resource sector and for countries that export resources, but also for businesses and consumers everywhere.