On Tuesday 5 February, more than 250 energy experts met in Brussels for the World Energy Outlook, organised by Agoria's Energy Technology Club and FPS Economy. As is the case every year, Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) came and presented the prospects on the energy scene. What kind of message did he deliver?
Dr. Fatih Birol: "If we want to take climate change seriously, we need a new sustainable policy. We should therefore invest in new and existing infrastructure with the aim of greater sustainability. Invest in the efficiency of old technologies. Current initiatives in the field of renewable energies will not be enough."
Emphasis on Africa
Let us start with the good news: for the first time, the total number of people not having access to energy has fallen below the billion mark. Whereas India has made huge progress in this area, Africa remains the main problem. That is why the IEA has decided to focus on this region this year.
A growing awareness of climate issues which is not reflected in practice
In Belgium and in the other Western countries, people are increasingly aware of climate issues. This is commendable, bearing in mind the goals of the Paris Agreement or the objectives of the United Nations Convention. But there is a big "but". In 2018, emissions reached a historic record. It is abundantly clear that there is a considerable gap between our wishes and reality.
Investments are the key
The IEA carefully examined all the investment decisions worldwide. The crucial issue was the following: how many are taken by authorities and how many by the private sector? The result is surprising: no less than 70% of global investment decisions were taken by authorities, versus 30% by the private sector.
Now, the choices made by authorities are also of utmost importance. It is not possible to demolish a nuclear power station after three years because someone changed their mind. It is the authorities' responsibility to take the right energy decisions because such decisions will influence the next 30 to 40 years. These decisions are the ones that shape the energy landscape.
A wind of change is blowing through the EU
In Europe, coal, nuclear power and gas production is sharply declining. Within the next seven years, wind power will represent the main energy source in the EU and it is expected that costs will fall rapidly. At the present time, the EU is even the global leader in wind energy production. But Asia is catching up and Dr Birol is anxious to put forward a suggestion for consideration by European ministers: don't make the same mistakes as you did for solar power! Export to the rest of the world, set up suitable infrastructure and take the right investment decisions, so that we do not lose our leading position as we did with solar power.
What happens if the future is electric?
What should be done if digitalisation leads to significantly higher energy consumption? The number of electric vehicles will increase eightfold, but that will not have a substantial impact on oil demand. Electricity demand will progress but that will not have a favourable, short-term impact on emissions. And that will be the case as long as electricity is not produced from renewable technologies. The electric car alone will not make it possible to reduce carbon emissions throughout the world. The solution lies more in the way in which we produce energy.
Here's a little guessing game: which is the better choice: a 1990 Volkswagen or a 2018 electric car? The answer is not to be found on the end-user side.
Let us consider energy infrastructure worldwide. How much CO2 emissions does that represent? And how do we link that to the goals of the Paris Agreement? The answer is alarming. The figures actually reveal that existing infrastructure will swallow up over 95% of the budget of Paris, on the basis of normal life expectancy. Consequently, even if we decide tomorrow to no longer produce anything more, meaning really nothing at all, it would be very difficult to achieve the Paris goals, nevertheless.
Dr Birol was very clear: "If we want to take climate change seriously, we need a new sustainable policy. We should therefore invest in new and existing infrastructure with the aim of greater sustainability. Invest in the efficiency of old technologies. Current initiatives in the field of renewable energies will not be enough."
What do those who attended the conference think?
For the first time, a live vote was organised during World Energy Outlook. The participants were asked a number of questions which they could answer via an application.
Would you like to find out more about Agoria's Energy Technology Club? Contact Pieter-Jan Provoost or Patricia Desmeth.