In January, TSE received Nicolas Couderc, executive vice-president at EDF Energies Nouvelles for a business talk. He took this opportunity to share with us his concerns about the future of the electricity sector.

Once upon a time, there was a world in which energy seemed to be limitless, a world in which the crude oil was around one dollar the barrel (around $15 in today’s value). However, today people are –slowly– waking up from this dream, and we are –very slowly– starting to understand that we should diminish our consumption of fossil fuels. This will decrease the rate at which CO2 and NOx are increasing in the atmosphere, slowing down global warming.

 

Unlimited energy?

Resources on our planet are limited. However, year after year, the exploitable fossil resources increase. This is mostly due to innovation: today we can dig deeper, extract oil from a larger area around the initial hole, and progress in the chemical industry allows companies to reopen platforms in places they thought depleted in the past. Unconventional oil and gas exploitation will soon allow the United States to achieve energy independence from Saudi Arabia Global warming will also allow us to dig closer to the poles, as they will become warmer.

This increase of the energy reserve is more than welcome. Since the 19th century, the number of people having access to electricity has been multiplied by four; during the same period, the consumption per capita has been multiplied by the same number. At the same time, world population has been increasing at a fast rate. It is estimated that in 40 years people without access to electricity in Africa will be more than those with.

In fact three contradictory issues are opposing today: energy equity, energy sustainability and energy security. Giving access to electricity to the greatest number of people possible will inevitably affect energy sustainability. By seeking energy independence, countries tend to use more and gas and oil extracted from fracking and coal, thereby sacrificing sustainability.

Technology and competitiveness

The main challenge today is to find solutions to make renewable energies competitive. Today it is often cheaper to pollute than not, and it is even worse when most of the countries of the world are still developing.  EDF Energies Nouvelles is trying to develop solar energy all over the world, but with a focus on Southeast Asia where inside an area including 1/14th of the world (with China and India inside it), there is more than half of the world population. For Mr Couderc, there are far too many projects aiming to increase energy sustainability that do not take this part of the world into account.

A perfect world would be a world where technology would allow clean energy to be cheaper than the others. We can’t wait for people to become aware of the issues linked to global warming and restrain themselves. In Mr Coulderc’s own words: “Do not bet on human kindness.”

by Vincent Lim

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