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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


The big energy challenge

No State can ignore the importance of energy in the economy good functioning as in the quality of life of its inhabitants and regarding the environment constraints; but the world today is going through a major energy crisis, without any comparison with the two oil shocks during the Seventies, when oil was the most strategic energy source. The population of the planet was twice lower and China, as India, were not yet in their development era. The creation of a cartel by the producing countries which decides to apply an embargo toward Western Countries after the Middle-East crisis and after, the Iranian revolution will provoke a strong oil price increase. It is also thought at that time, as in Roma Club, that we are going to a resource depletion, it is the famous “Peak Oil” theory. That forecast will be by large invalidated but the strategic character of oil and more generally of fossil fuels will become more and more obvious.

The crisis the world is now going through is much more serious and will demand from the states much more difficult choices. Their top priority is the supply safety which must be guaranteed with the lowest possible prices in order to protect the purchasing power and the enterprises competitiveness. The seeking of independence must also take into account the political considerations: the invasion of Ukraine has just reminded it. The sources must also be the less harmful for environment, both regarding production and utilization.

The best way to reconcile all these demands is to improve energy efficiency and to make behaviors evolving. The States must in the same time be able to very quickly react to have at their disposal supply sources and adapted power plants and to elaborate long term policies because the evolution of the consumption modes is slow and by large dependent of the replacement of the stock of equipment which function with energy and the works to accomplish on the homes and on the buildings with professional use for instance. The definition of very long-term objectives corresponds to this constraint but it gives no guarantees regarding their achievements because the governments which elaborate them will not be there for a long time to justifying their results.

Electrification gives an answer to the double objective of self-sufficiency and of the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions to the condition that the production modes are not heavy emitters. The car stock is in Europe the priority target. But it is not yet obvious that it is the best one. After 10 years of heavy subventions, 90% of France car buyers still choose thermal or hybrid engines. The insufficient autonomy and the constraints regarding recharging are dissuading to buy vehicles with which they will not be able to go into vacation with their families. The priority should be given to professional fleets and to light trucks, most of them being very old, using diesel and heavily polluting. A logistic revolution must also be achieved to give back to rail transportation the share it has lost and to reduce the number of heavy trucks which are travelling into the territories.

The choice of electrification must go along with an increase of the power production capacities able to guarantee the supply. The solution proposed until now, the renewables, wind and solar, has shown with the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis in Germany its limits. They are intermittent and no storage technology, existing or foreseeable, is in capacity to remedy to it. Permanent power production modes must always be ready to come into service when renewables stop. The affirmation according to which these energies have become competitive is wrong because, if their operating and investment costs have fallen, we must add the maintenance and investment costs of the power plants which will have to be put into operation when renewables wouldn’t be able to produce. So they always will be more costly than traditional power plants.

The increase of the permanent capacities is indisputable but the share of the very competitive coal plants must quickly be reduced because these power plants which emit much more CO2 than the other ones constitute a heavy damage to local environment with their particle dumping. The “smog” word which characterized air around London during the last century was coming from the merger between fog and smokes generated by the coal power plants which surrounded the city. The United States have succeeded in reducing significantly their emissions for ten years thanks to the shale gas production which is less costly than coal to produce power.

So natural gas and nuclear are the permanent power production sources necessary to satisfy the needs generated by electrification. Nuclear is conceivable only if it is welcomed by the population and if its technology and its maintenance are mastered by the country. France, during a long period has satisfied to these two conditions, which has allowed a power production with competitive prices and to the country to being, among developed ones, the one which is emitting per inhabitant the lowest quantity of greenhouse gas. For ten years, its political leaders are evasive about the extension of the power plants life duration, without saying a word about the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant which had received its operation authorizations, under the pressure of Germany where was exported a share of its production, which was creating a competition with its coal power plants. This lost time is fragilizing the current production affected by heavy maintenance works or by the necessary repairs after the discovery of corrosion defaults in some metallic pieces. Yet, compared with the previous 12 months, thanks to the market prices increase, the power trade surplus has doubled to reach 2 billion euro. The nuclear production has remained stable, around 330 GWh despite the 20% fall observed in April but it is going to decrease due to the stoppage of several power plants which occurs at the worst time.

The other choice is natural gas which has become a commodity as strategic as oil and the stake in the current geopolitical crisis. It was a marginal power source because it created major transportation problems, to the difference of coal and oil. The construction of the pipelines demanded to be profitable, long-term contracts between producers and clients. To that was added geographical constraints because the two parts had to belong to the same continent. Natural gas liquefaction and its transport by sea containers have revolutionized the  sector. It offers a larger supplier choice and has allowed to getting rid from geopolitical constraints as today. That has also allowed the United States to becoming an exporting country and to softening the scarcity threats during crisis. So, France natural gas storage, at the end of April was 68.6 TWh, i.e. a higher level than a year ago (61 TWh), which relativize the risk of a scarcity during next winter.

The answer to the tomorrow energy and environment challenges is possible, the resources and the technologies are available but to an essential condition, that the concerned States adopt the appropriate strategies and that they don’t change them due to momentaneous political considerations in order to give priority to communication instead of action.                  



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