Supplying enough energy to meet skyrocketing global needs will take unprecedented amounts of capital, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
So how much will it cost? At least $40 trillion in energy spending over the next 20 years...
And the cost to meet global environmental targets will only add trillions more.
For countries that don't have the money to invest in new energy resources, the future looks bleak.
But for American consumers, the outlook is even worse...
To put that amount in perspective, that's equal to the total annual gross domestic product (GDP) of South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Austria combined.
That's 50% more than the world spends now on energy.
"The reliability and sustainability of our future energy system depends on investment," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. "There is a real risk of shortfalls, with knock-on effects on regional or global energy security."
Much of that spending, according to the IEA, won't even add a single kilowatt, therm, or BTU to the world's energy supply.
"Less than half of the $40 trillion investment in energy supply goes to meet growth in demand," the report noted. "The larger share is required to offset declining production from existing oil and gas fields and to replace power plants and other assets that reach the end of their productive life."
Here's Who Will Foot the Bill for Increased Energy Spending
Of course, spending $20+ trillion just to maintain current production means that energy costs will have to rise. While renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power, show promise, the truth is none of them are currently cost competitive.
In fact, the techniques necessary to find and extract oil and gas, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and deepwater drilling, are significantly more expensive than traditional oil and gas wells. Processing can cost more as well.
As the IEA notes, "Annual capital expenditure on oil, gas and coal extraction, transportation, and on oil refining has more than doubled in real terms since 2000."
So where will that $2.5 trillion (or more) of annual energy spending come from?
You guessed it...
Mostly from consumers, especially from consumers in the countries that use and demand the most energy.
And since, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States accounts for nearly 19% of the world's primary energy consumption, that makes U.S. consumers one of the leading revenue sources.
And there's another factor to consider: As energy resources become more risky to develop, and political and regulatory actions add even more uncertainty, private investment has become more difficult. Increasingly, governments in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia are playing a much greater role in energy development and infrastructure.
That, of course, means taxpayers, either directly or indirectly, are footing more of the bill, especially when it comes to energy efficiency. According to the IEA, households will be on the hook for more than half of all spending to improve energy efficiency over the next 20 years.
In 2013, that figure topped $130 billion, or roughly 10% of all energy spending.
Europe faces an even bigger problem. Its current energy-generating capacity falls well short of future needs, but current market rules make developing new energy sources economically unfeasible.
Put simply, Europe needs to invest $2.2 trillion - the second-largest amount after China - to replace its aging infrastructure, and the money just isn't there. The problem is that with current market rules, wholesale power prices are 20% below what it costs to generate.
Either the Europeans have to figure out a way to find, extract, process, and transmit energy for 20% less - virtually impossible - or European consumers will have to pay more. Much more.
A Massive Opportunity for Investors
But there is one bright spot in the report: It's liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
According to van der Hoeven, there are "expectations in some places that new supplies from the United States can transform gas markets by exporting not just U.S. gas, but also by exporting U.S. natural gas prices that are a fraction of those in Europe or in Asian markets."
"LNG from the U.S. and elsewhere," van der Hoeven said, "indeed plays a very important role in our outlook for gas markets."
That's a stunning reversal from just seven years ago, when everyone agreed the United States would be using LNG imports to meet 15% of its gas needs by 2020.
But thanks to the unconventional shale boom, now even the most conservative Russian estimates acknowledge that the United States could be providing between 6% and 8% of all LNG exports worldwide by 2020.
In fact, U.S. companies involved with LNG exports are now set to hand investors one of the best investment opportunities of the decade, led by Cheniere Energy Inc. (NYSE: LNG) - Dr. Kent Moor's favorite ways to play this brewing boom.
Here's why: Cheniere has already garnered no fewer than five huge multi-billion-dollar 20-year contracts with some of the largest European and Asian importers in the world and is just warming up. In fact, Cheniere has been one of Moors' "core holdings" since late 2012, handing Energy Advantage subscribers gains as high as 270%.
And here's the thing: The first LNG exports won't even leave their facilities until late this year at the earliest.
So while the American consumer will have to cough up much more for energy spending in the future, it's not all bad news - especially if you understand the best way to play it.
Today's Top Story: Ukraine and Iraq prove that geopolitical factors are the quintessential wild cards when it comes to estimating energy prices - and the oil "crisis spike" is just getting started. Our Global Energy Strategist breaks down recent events and forecasts where oil prices are headed in the coming months...