‘It’s solely doable, and it’s doable quick’: Consultants on the best way to navigate the power transition


Steam rises from the Niederaussem coal-fired energy plant operated by German utility RWE, which stands close to open-pit coal mines that feed it with coal, on November 13, 2017 close to Bergheim, Germany.

Lukas Schulze | Getty Photographs Information | Getty Photographs

LONDON — The deepening local weather emergency underscores the pressing want for policymakers to supervise a speedy transition away from fossil fuels.

How international locations navigate this change, nonetheless, is fiercely contested.

The burning of power sources resembling coal, oil and fuel, is the chief driver of the local weather disaster. But, whereas politicians and enterprise leaders routinely tout their dedication to the power transition, the world’s fossil gas dependency remains on track to get even worse.

Local weather scientists have repeatedly harassed the most effective weapon to sort out rising international temperatures is to scale back greenhouse fuel emissions as shortly as potential.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, an settlement reached on the COP26 summit earlier this month, marked the primary time ever that a world local weather deal explicitly talked about fossil fuels. The ultimate settlement referred to as for international locations to “section down” coal use and “inefficient” fossil gas subsidies.

This language has done little to inspire confidence, nonetheless, significantly within the wake of analysis that implies the overwhelming majority of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground if the world is to have any hope of stopping progressively worse and probably irreversible local weather impacts.

It’s solely doable, and it’s doable quick, however it’ll include a price ticket which can then be repaid without end after in a affluent and wholesome society. So, that is what it’ll take.

Julia Steinberger

Ecological economist on the College of Lausanne

The U.N. has mentioned international fossil gas use is “dangerously out of sync” with local weather targets and activists have pushed for governments to dismantle the fossil gas economic system.

Right here, consultants assess the challenges of decarbonizing the worldwide economic system, how shortly it may be achieved and a number of the potential interim options.

‘We’ve got to get off fossil fuels’

“I come from Kentucky, I labored tobacco rising up,” Carroll Muffett, chief government on the non-profit Heart for Worldwide Environmental Legislation, advised CNBC. “I do know what the texture of the tar in my nostril is, I do know what the choking feeling of the tar in your lungs is while you’re stripping tobacco in winter. And the reality is the U.S. started regulating cigarettes extra aggressively as a result of it wanted to be accomplished.”

“Sure, there are numerous individuals employed in these areas however that was true of asbestos earlier than. These are merchandise that must be moved out of our economic system.”

Muffett mentioned a “basic prerequisite” to a simply transition could be for policymakers to explicitly acknowledge {that a} transition must occur. He cited the U.S. authorities and the coal trade pledging “again and again” to search out methods to make use of coal regardless of the local weather and well being impacts.

“We’ve got to get off fossil fuels, we all know that. So, a simply transition for international locations depending on fossil fuels begins with the popularity that now we have to get off of fossil fuels and then you definitely commit the sources to assist their economic system, to assist their employees transition to sustainable options,” Muffett mentioned.

“We see photo voltaic and wind being the most cost effective supply of latest power for greater than two-thirds of the world’s inhabitants now and quickly accelerating. They’re more and more cheaper than new-build coal and fuel crops, however they’re additionally cheaper than fossil fuels in present infrastructure. And I feel one of many actually essential issues about these renewable energies, significantly photo voltaic, is that they’re scalable. They are often deployed at very small scales, together with in distant areas, the place you do not have to attend for the grid to reach.”

What transition?

Earlier this yr, the influential Worldwide Vitality Company revealed the world’s first comprehensive roadmap to constructing a worldwide power sector with net-zero emissions by 2050.

The world’s main power group said in Might that there may very well be no new oil, fuel or coal improvement if the world is to achieve web zero by the center of the century. It added authorities pledges at the moment fell “properly quick” of what could be vital to achieve web zero.

To place the full dimension of the power market into perspective, international markets for coal and pure fuel are each larger than all steel markets mixed — and the oil market is sort of double that dimension, based on an evaluation by Morgan Stanley.

The large problem is guaranteeing our power system storage isn’t diminished within the transition.

Alan Thomson

World power chief at Arup

Fossil fuels accounted for greater than 80% of worldwide power consumption in 2019, based on data compiled by Our World in Information, whereas renewables resembling wind and photo voltaic accounted for 11.4%.

What’s extra, whereas the full quantity of renewable power that is out there is rising, it’s still lower than the rise in international power demand general.

“Taking into consideration that your entire power system is growing as well, the change from fossil fuels to renewables isn’t a fast one,” Martijn Rats, chief commodities strategist at Morgan Stanley, advised CNBC by way of electronic mail.

“The power transition won’t be realized with start-ups alone,” he added. “We want the key power corporations of the world to make the trillions in investments which are wanted over the subsequent few a long time. Right this moment’s fossil gas corporations have a role to play in this. With their engineering and venture administration experience, and international attain, they’re able to realizing these massive infrastructure initiatives.”

An funding right into a livable future

Oil producer group OPEC has mentioned the narrative that the power transition is from fossil fuels to renewables “is deceptive and probably harmful to a world that can proceed to be thirsty for all power sources.”

In remarks to assembled delegates at COP26 on Nov. 10, OPEC Secretary-Normal Mohammed Barkindo said a failure to take heed to all voices on points resembling lowering emissions, power affordability and safety might result in unintended penalties. These embrace market distortions, heightened volatility and energy shortfalls.

To make sure, all of those examples are already evident — and at a time when the worldwide power combine continues to be dominated by fossil fuels.

A coalition of main fuel exporters, in the meantime, has warned about persistent “reductionism and cancel tradition” on hydrocarbons. In an announcement to the U.N., the Gasoline Exporting Nations Discussion board mentioned it believed fuel provided “an entire and balanced” answer to the transition.

“That is what we name the discourse of local weather delay,” Julia Steinberger, ecological economist on the College of Lausanne, advised CNBC. “That is a basic one. We name it fossil gas solutionism, which is that despite the fact that they’re the issue, it’s nonetheless additionally purported to be the answer.”

In a paper published within the journal World Sustainability final July, economist William Lamb and several other different co-authors, together with Steinberger, sought to establish the most typical messaging from proponents for minimal local weather motion. These “discourses of local weather delay” fall into 4 important teams: “Redirect duty” (another person ought to take motion first), “push non-transformative options” (disruptive change is pointless), “emphasize the downsides” (change will likely be troublesome), or “give up” (it isn’t potential to mitigate local weather change).

Fossil gas solutionism, Lamb’s group says, is categorized as “push for non-transformative motion.” It refers back to the messaging that promotes ineffective options and attracts consideration away from more practical measures.

“One of many important arguments right here that is being made is like: ‘Oh, properly in the event you transition in a single day then you’re going to be in bother,'” Steinberger mentioned. “We might like to transition in a single day and clearly we won’t, however now we have to transition as quick as humanly potential and we’re not making an attempt that. And one of many causes we’re not making an attempt that’s precisely as a result of these industries place themselves as: ‘You are still going to wish us transferring ahead.'”

“We principally must make it express, which is once more one thing that hasn’t occurred at COP, that each authorities is making an attempt to keep away from fossil fuels. That appears like electrification, it seems like producing renewable power. All of this stuff, that are extremely technically possible and cost-effective, it’s simply that the ramp-up of them goes to be financially painful as a result of it has been ready so lengthy.”

Steinberger mentioned the decarbonization transition would require “huge” public funds that may possible incur public debt, however this shouldn’t be seen as an issue as a result of it’s an funding “right into a livable future the place we do not destroy the planet and the economic system and everyone’s technique of life.”

“It’s solely doable, and it’s doable quick, however it’ll include a price ticket which can then be repaid without end after in a affluent and wholesome society. So, that is what it’ll take.”

‘Inexperienced energy hole’

“Governments might want to decide the tolerance to fund the transition, which in the long run will result in cheaper power. Little question over the transition interval, [prices] are going to go up,” Steve Varley, international vice chair for sustainability at administration consultancy EY, advised CNBC by telephone.

“All governments will likely be extremely centered on [avoiding] energy cuts and the costs being charged for electrical energy accelerating — it is a powerful name,” he mentioned of the transition.

EY analysis suggests there’s a “inexperienced energy hole,” with an extra $5.2 trillion wanted to fulfill IEA’s eventualities for renewable power improvement, and there may be additionally a divide between developed and growing nations.

“Particular trade sectors additionally face a ‘burning platform’ of restricted capital and shifting client preferences, leaving infrastructure and jobs stranded,” he mentioned.

“If growing international locations can not license, import and scale inexperienced know-how at a viable worth, the motivation to extract and use fossil fuels will stay,” Varley mentioned in an October submit on EY’s web site. Oil and gas-producing international locations resembling Angola, Iraq and Libya are more likely to endure, per the Worldwide Renewable Vitality Company.

Alan Thomson, international power chief at engineering agency Arup, mentioned hydrogen may very well be a part of “low-carbon clusters” within the shift away from fossil fuels.

These are “smaller models of inexperienced power that may be related to different options in time – that unfold, multiply after which dominate, more and more delivering worth as they turn out to be an increasing number of interconnected,” he advised CNBC by electronic mail.

That may imply utilizing inexperienced hydrogen to gas a fleet of buses, Thomson mentioned. Clusters may be scaled up, too. “For instance, if a number of neighboring areas of a metropolis had been to develop clusters changing home fuel provides to hydrogen, they may then be joined collectively,” Thomson added.

“The better scale of demand might then make it price growing the subsequent piece of the jigsaw – as an illustration, changing tanker shipments of hydrogen with a pipeline to a bigger manufacturing facility close by.”

Will we see power shortages because the transition occurs? For Thomson, power storage goes to be the difficulty.

“The large problem is guaranteeing our power system storage isn’t diminished within the transition. The storage of molecular fuels – for instance petrol, pure fuel – is comparatively easy, now we have the infrastructure in place, and it has excessive power density,” he mentioned.

Hydrogen might present a part of the reply, he added. “Electrification comes with storage challenges – significantly guaranteeing there’s a buffer to make sure that provide and demand are steadiness. That is why we predict hydrogen, together with electrical energy is essential to power resilience – to verify there may be an simply storable type of power out there, that works with the infrastructure we have already got,” he added.

— CNBC’s Anmar Frangoul contributed to this report.