If we want to secure the world’s energy supply and mitigate climate change, there is no time to waste. That was the strong message of Fatih Birol’s presentation to the Strategic Forum on Energy Supply in the 21st century (Brussels, 19 December 2006). Fatih Birol is a chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) and lead author of the World Energy Outlook 2006.
In Birol’s opinion, there has never been such a large need for investments in energy infrastructure as will occur over the next ten years. Both China and India will build the new infrastructure necessary to support their economic boom. And in Europe and North-America, a large part of the infrastructure is near the end of its useful life and it will need to be replaced. This has two primary consequences for policy making:
1) We need to create the right policies now. If we wait to introduce the required new policies only over the next ten years, a large part of the investments will have been completed and locked-in.
2) We absolutely need to get China and India on board.
Which targets are realistically achievable by energy policies? With the current state of technology, the IEA has calculated that by 2030, the best we can hope to achieve is stagnant growth of CO2 emissions at -16% compared to the baseline scenario. This can hardly be called enough effort, so technology breakthroughs will be necessary. The only technologies that Birol considers to have a real chance for a large scale breakthrough by 2030 are ligno-cellulosis (derived from biomass such as wood chips, switchgrass, and poplars) and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). He argued in favour of changing the governmental investment frameworks to support those technologies more intensively.
As for the nuclear option, Birol welcomes the contribution it can make and he encouraged the countries where public acceptance is high enough and enough financial means are available to continue developing the nuclear technology of the future. He doubted however that the share of nuclear power in the world’s energy supply by 2030 could be much larger than it is today, given the high initial investments it requires.Log in to post comments