‘The future of electricity is going to be hybrid’

The COP21-driven transition to a low carbon energy landscape was debated at a London conference yesterday.

A panel at the Economist Energy Summit told delegates how the global power sector was heading towards a convergence of four strands: an over-arching global trend of decarbonisation coupled with electrifying those regions with no energy access, and this would be delivered by both large-scale, grid-connected power plants and onsite energy.

“The future of electricity is going to be hybrid – decentralized and centralized,” said Lawrence Jones, vice-president of international programmes at the Edison Electric Institute.

Massoud Amin, director of the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, sad that “we are in the midst of a transition, not a revolution”.

He said that the smart grid “is at the heart of energy, from electricity source to the plug in the wall. The smart grid can reduce the cost of outages by $49m a year.”

Mel Kroon, chief executive of Dutch transmission system operator TenneT, said that “in the energy of the future, solar is the big winner – and wind will be the second part of the solution”.

And Felix Lerch, country chairman of Uniper UK, said: “Security of supply must go hand-in-hand with emissions reduction.”

On the COP21 agreements made in paris last December. Sir David King, the UK’ Special representative on Climate Change, said that “these are the objectives that we have to attempt to achieve. We need to persuade oil, gas and coal companies to see their futures in clean energy.”

King was keen to point out that “the transition from a fossil fuel economy is a massive commercial opportunity” and added that soon “it’s going to be cheaper to install clean energy than it is for fossil fuels”.

But he warned that “we are rapidly running out of time – we need to be at net zero emissions by about 2035”.

Eirik Waerness, Statoil’s chief economist, said the future energy landscape would be “a fight between global economic growth and energy efficiency – on a global scale we are going to have to be twice as energy efficient as we are today”.

However, he added that “we cannot speed up the solution if we do not have a price on carbon”.

Kirsty Gogan, co-founder of not-for-profit organization Energy for Humanity, said that “the reality is that at the moment, people without electricity will realise their energy ambitions through coal”.

But she stressed that it was wrong to deprive regions of the best-available electricity just because it was fossil-fuelled: “Lots of NGOs lobby the World Bank against coal or even hydro, which I find morally indefensible.”

She added that “when you look at the scale and the urgency” of electrifying parts of Africa, “we cannot exclude nuclear”. She advocated the use of small or medium-sized reactors to bring baseload power to energy-starved countries.

Gianfilippo Mancini, chief executive of Italian energy firm Sorgenia, said that “the old model of large, vertically-integrated utilities has been broken by technology – we are looking at a complete redesign of the power industry”.

Jim Long, of Greentech Capital Advisers, said that “not everything nuclear needs to look like Hinkley Point – there is a medium-sized solution”.

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