The roundtable “Rethinking Energy Policy” was the GES2011 session in which I was most interested, given my professional background. High expectations generated by the caliber of speakers’ profiles (Petrobras CEO Sergio Gabrielli, Wintershall Board Member Gerhard König, Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and several other significant names in the energy business) were met, unfortunately, by a non-negligible level of disappointment. Rather than provoking new ideas for global problem-solving, the discussion resembled a dialogue of the deaf. The turf defense continued unabated for at least three-quarters of the conversation. We heard from the expected players: that our entire societal setup is addicted to petrol, and that further exploration can ensure reserves for at least another 200 years at reasonable prices, given that renewables account for less than 1 per cent of primary energy generation; that wind energy is the fastest growing form of energy and that it is THE solution to our energy dilemmas; that we have limitless “free sun” that is readily accessible if equipment is installed in proper places; that reaching the German target of renewable energy sources would involve an investment of EUR 75 billion and the creation of about 500 off-shore wind parks – while gas of course is abundant and relatively clean.
The Pitfalls of the “New Green Deal”
On a side note, the most instructive GES 2011 panel sessions discussed how “The New Green Deal” in the developed world, i.e. the rush for deploying renewable energy sources, risks provoking a renewed resource curse in the developing world. New technologies that make the renewable business go round are consuming finite mineral resources (e.g.: lithium, rare earths, etc.), which are found almost exclusively in the poverty-stricken, badly governed developing world. Since – as it was agreed – not ALL multinational corporations out there follow ethical and sustainability principles (less than 40 joined Transparency International‘s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), there is a real danger that free markets will not protect limited pool resources. Should we create a global regime for resource exploitation? Or should we approach this more modestly, by creating national regimes first?
Solutions, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Adding this further layer to the roundtable “Rethinking Energy Policy”, speakers there seem to abandon the turf war towards the end of the conversation and concede that balanced, country-specific energy mixes need to be found. Had they done that earlier, perhaps they could have elaborated more on what I view as the obvious solutions:
1. energy efficiency – by 2020 US alone could save $1.2 trillion by investing in energy savings, cutting the country’s projected energy use by 23 per cent (Source: McKinsey); the EU, in turn, has achieved less than half of the necessary progress towards its 2020 energy efficiency target, and it doesn’t seem to be moving in the right direction (Source: Euractiv).
2. regional market integration – as I argued earlier for Future Challenges, it’s a dangerous illusion to believe we have a single European energy market; we don’t, and it’s costing us billions!