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The Energy Trilemma

The Energy Trilemma - CCT2017 (10 May 2017 - Cagliari)

Environmental sustainability, economics, and energy security. In discussions of energy policy, the key issues remain the same. The need to find the best compromise between these often conflicting goals is known as the Energy Trilemma.

According to Lauri Myllyvirta, head of Greenpeace’s global campaign for carbon and something atmospheric and co-author of the recent report ‘Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline’ from Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and CoalSwarm: “China alone is housing the largest power market investment bubble the world has ever seen. Even after announcing the suspension of new permits in 13 provinces, the country could still bring over 500 new coal-fired power plant units online while power generation from coal is falling precipitously on clean energy growth and slower power demand.”

A key feature of the China’s plans for 2016-2020 is to promote the burning of byproducts of agriculture in coal power stations. In the vision of the National Energy Commission, supplementing the coal fuel with sustainable biomass can prolong the life of existing power plants while reducing their environmental impact.

From having subscribed to a bilateral agreement on climate change with Beijing in 2014 and being in the process of signing the Paris agreement less than a year ago, Washington is now marching in the opposite direction.

Three months after coming into office, Donald Trump has signed an executive order that ‘ends the war on coal’ and ‘job-killing policies.’ Initiatives that block around a dozen measures adopted by the previous administration and that, according to the White House, will bring back jobs and relaunch the national energy generation. Warning of a long struggle ahead, opponents of the President’s energy policies maintain that “there will be work only for lawyers.”

In a statement in the Economist, Rolando Fuentes of Saudia Arabia’s Kapsarc think tank explains the vicious circle effect of the green economy – subsidies have encouraged the deployment of renewables, but this growing capacity also decreased wholesale power prices and deters further investment: “The more successful you are in increasing renewables’ penetration, the more expensive and less effective the policy becomes”.

These arguments don’t seem to concern the Scandinavian countries, which are making concerted efforts to achieve a ‘zero-fossil fuel’ future. However, not all countries in the region are blessed with the same natural resources. While Iceland can now meet all its electricity needs thanks to geothermal power and hydroelectricity, Sweden has reached 57% and aims for 100% by 2040. The increased efficiency of wind turbines will also allow the reduction of the proportion of nuclear power in Sweden’s national energy mix. And yet, last year Sweden’s coalition government reached an agreement for the construction of ten new nuclear reactors in place of the oldest, guaranteeing the country’s energy security during the transition phase intended to carry it to 2040 and 100% renewable power. The financing of these new reactors – seen as a backward step by some, as a necessary evil by others, should allow this transition to be achieved without repercussions either on the national economy or its carbon emissions. GS/TL


“The Energy Trilemma” – (Cagliari, T Hotel, 10th May 2017, 15,40-17,20)
8th International Conference on Clean Coal Technologies (CCT2017)

Nick Butler is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and a regular blogger on energy issues for the Financial Times. Prior to 2006, he worked at BP for 29 years, including five years as Group Vice-President for Policy and Strategy Development, and has also served as Senior Policy Adviser to the British Prime Minister.

Benjamin Sporton was appointed Chief Executive of the World Coal Association in June 2015, and has since worked to improve the WCA’s presence as the global voice of the coal industry. He is also a member of International Advisory Committee to the Energy and Environment Foundation of India, a member of the Coal Industry Advisory Board to the IEA, and regularly attends UN climate negotiations.

Alessandro Lanza is an acknowledged expert in energy and environmental markets, economics and climate change policy, experience gained from over twenty years involvement with OECD, IPCC, Eni, Enea, Sotacarbo in a wide range of senior roles that give prof. Lanza a wide theoretical and technical expertise in this field.

Charles Soothill is Vice-Chairman of the Zero Emissions Platform, a coalition of companies and researchers which advises the European Commission on carbon capture and storage. Having served as Vice-President of Technology at Alstom until 2016, Charles Soothill has worked on developing more efficient, cleaner fossil fuels for over 25 years, and in 2013 was named ‘most influential person’ in the European power sector.

Chandra Bhushan is Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment – an environmental NGO based in India which conducts research and lobbies for sustainable and equitable development. Head of CSE’s Industry and Environment Programme, Chandra is an expert in the field of natural resource management, envrionmental geo-politics and industrial pollution.

Craig Morris is a Senior Fellow at the the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. Craig is a leading expert on Germany’s transition to renewable energy or ‘Energiewende’, having authored a number of books on the subject and worked as a lead author and blogger for ‘The Energy Transition’ website. In 2014, he won the International Association of Energy Economists’ prize for energy journalism.