Can the Future Economy Develop Without Increasing in Energy Consumption?
On April 3, 2017, the traditional HSE and International Energy Prize “Global Energy” joint foresight session was held at the Higher School of Economics, marking the announcement of the Prize. Its participants discussed structural changes in the energy sector until 2050, in particular, global trends in this sector, conservative and visionary scenarios for its development and proposals for politicians.
|Igor Lobovsky, Alexander Sokolov, Ozcan Saritas, Alexander Chulok|
Development of world energy: asymmetric approaches
By 2050, the world will need to meet the demand for energy for 7-10 billion people. This can be achieved through continuing use of hydrocarbons, the transition to renewable energy sources (RES), the discovery of new types of energy resources, as well as increasing energy efficiency.
The leading countries that determine the global political agenda are accustomed to the constant availability of energy resources. This causes a shift in the development of goals and priorities for financing research and development in the energy sector. In particular, developed economies are striving to increase energy efficiency and introduce energy saving models on a global scale. However, this may result in the conservation of the problem of “energy poverty” (the low level of energy security) that many developing countries face.
Developing countries can meet the growing demand for energy either through the cheapest and “dirty” energy technologies or through the transfer of advanced technologies from developed countries. Meanwhile, not all the leading countries are ready to share their know-how. Another option is demonstrated by China, which repeats the path of development of post-war Europe and can become a model example of an accelerated transition to “green” energy for other developing countries.
In addition, the common problem for all countries is the contradiction between short-term political interests and the principles of long-term planning. According to Frederick Bordry, CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology (Switzerland), “because of the complex nature of energy, its planning horizons often exceed 20 years (more than a selective cycle!), therefore investment in technology and new energy sources should be more sustainable and insistent, and information about them should be disclosed to the public.”
Among the participants of the foresight session, there were proponents of the predominant development of hydrocarbons as the basis for the future energy until 2050. Other participants were of the opinion that the share of RES could reach 30-60% in the world energy balance in 30 years. The third group of participants focused on the possibilities of discovering new sources of energy that could have a revolutionary effect on world energy.
Fossil sources: 100% CO2 capture
Energy, especially traditional (based on the combustion of fossil fuels) is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases and pollution. At the same time burning the most “dirty” fuel — coal — to receive energy for the enterprises of the fuel and energy sector represents only a small part of the emissions. A larger source of them are households that use coal and firewood, as well as agriculture sector.
To address these problems, the session members recommended to switch to accelerated electrification in developing countries, their transition to safe, renewable sources of energy and usage of new technologies in agriculture. Supporters of fossil energy resources came up with an unexpected proposal to transit from cars with an internal combustion engine to electric cars and hydrogen-powered cars — this measure is close to the set of recommendations of the proponents of renewable energy.
At the same time, experts who rely on hydrocarbon resources propose to develop them exclusively in view of environmental protection requirements, capturing and storing 100% of carbon. This was enunciated, in particular, by Rodney John Allam, chairman of the international committee on awarding the Global Energy Prize, technical director of NET POWER LLC (UK): “The major share of world energy production will be provided by fossil fuels, at least up to the 2050 year. If we really want to reduce global emissions, using fossil fuels, then we should offer a 100% CO2 capture.”
Renewable energy sources: growth due to “carbon tax”
Transition to a future with a predominance of renewable energy and a long-term agenda for low-carbon development can be provided only by political will and support, says Rae Kwon Chung, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Water (Republic of Korea).
As a key measure, proponents of accelerated development of RES offer to introduce a “carbon tax” (for carbon dioxide emissions) by 2025. This will, in their opinion, equalise the conditions for the use of fossil and renewable fuels. The collected funds are proposed to be used to increase the efficiency of various technologies for the use of RES. By 2030, it is proposed to double or even triple investment in research and development of energy systems on renewable sources, including energy storage systems, the development of smart networks, energy generation and transportation technologies.
Meanwhile, when scaling up renewable energy technologies, it is necessary to take into account their negative impact on the environment in the full cycle, including the extraction of silicon, production and utilisation of equipment. Applied energy technologies should also be socially acceptable.
New energy sources: “energy eBay”
Among the new types of energy participants of the foresight session discussed, for example, the possibility of using nuclear fusion technologies, the heat of dry rocks and the energy of dark matter. Energy efficiency experts also viewed it as an important “source of energy” which allows to save other energy resources.
The foresight participants, who analysed the future of new types of energy, pointed to the need to transform the global, national and local government system by 2030 to move towards a harmonious development of the economy, energy and the environment. They suggested that all subsidies for all types of energy resources should be eliminated by 2025, so as to equalise development conditions: among the energy technologies, those that are most technologically and economically superior should win. For such technologies, only market-based support mechanisms should be created. For example, one can use smart systems of financial crowdsourcing of innovative power systems. This group of participants proposed within eight years to create an innovative system of distributed generation, storage and payment of energy resources, a kind of “energy eBay”.
William Bean, Managing Director of “Asia Renewables” (Singapore), stressed the importance of more active participation of the society in the reorganisation of the energy system. In particular, in his opinion, “in the sphere of distribution, an approach should be applied where the market system is formed taking into account the contribution and preferences of each individual.”
Regardless of which of the described approaches becomes dominant on the horizon of 2050, it is to be expected that citizens will be increasingly involved in solving the issues of the development of the energy sector.
In order for mass consumers to make informed decisions, it is necessary to conduct educational programs and support initiatives to promote new energy technologies.
Participants in the foresight session recommended that governments of all countries, large companies and the public join forces to not miss the moment of changing the paradigm of energy development. Kenji Yamagi, Director-General of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (Japan), also called for “breaking the interdependence between economic growth and energy consumption, and between rising CO2 and energy.”
Detailed results of the discussion at the foresight session will be presented in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Text: Liliana Proskuryakova, Elena Gutaruk
The photos are provided by the Global Energy Association