Energy transition focus only on wind and solar can lead to significant problems
Energy Transition 4.0 is traditionally associated with development of solar and wind generation, but such a rather narrow approach can lead to a number of problems, said Irina Ananich, Head of the International Cooperation Department of the Federal State Budgetary Organization Russian Energy Agency (REA) of the Energy Ministry of the Russian Federation, at the round table organised by the Global Energy Association and the Energy Policy magazine.

“One of the main challenges – energy transition – is very expensive. According to OilPrice, the global energy transition will cost the world an estimated $40 trillion by 2050. Economists even use an ingrained term ‘greenflation’ – the inflation increase due to the rise in energy prices caused by transition to a low-carbon economy,” the expert said.

As part of energy transition, the emphasis is made on solar and wind energy development. “Hydropower is not considered as a universal tool anymore because the developing world is facing a massive freshwater scarcity, and hydropower resources of developed countries have already been exploited,” she added.

The trend toward wider use of wind and solar energy in developed countries began in the early 2000s with big subsidies to renewable energy sources (RES). Today the RES share in the EU energy balance, without taking into account a big hydro energy, is about 11%, USA – 7%, Japan – 7% and Australia – 8%. At the same time, these types of energy resources require huge areas, complex and expensive systems of energy storage, and, as a consequence, a large amount of non-ferrous metals,” I. Ananich said.

Mining and production of non-ferrous metals is concentrated in developing countries where it makes a serious negative impact on the environment, requires large amounts of water and often entails social problems. For example, over 60% of the global cobalt (a toxic metal) mining is in the Democratic Republic of Congo where no safety standards are observed during its mining, and even child and forced labour are often used, the expert said.

The issues of recycling the RES components and electric cars batteries still remain unsolved.

In general, construction of RES facilities is largely more material-intensive than construction of conventional generation facilities. “Building of 1 TW of gas, coal, or nuclear generation capacity requires a lot less such materials as cement, steel, and glass than building of 1 TW of wind, geothermal, and solar generation capacity. For example, construction of 1 TW of solar power requires over 16,000 tons of materials. Currently, coal is mainly used for production of steel and cement in the world. Production and installation of a 2 MW wind turbine requires about 150 tons of coal, and thousands of such turbines need to be built … So, considering a full life cycle of an RES plant, the electricity it produces is far from being carbon-free and environmentally friendly,” I. Ananich said.

Yes, almost all the world countries have adopted the energy transition concept and have been developing national strategies for reduction of CO2 emissions and achieving climate neutrality, but the first place still belongs to the problems of their own socio-economic development on a sustainable energy basis.

Today, the world relies mainly on fossil fuels, and in the foreseeable future, there is no real adequate replacement for them: first, hydrocarbons allow provision of a stable energy supply, and second, fossil fuels provide concentrated energy the industry requires,” Ananich added.

Since a large part of the world with a high population density needs large amounts of energy, we can expect rethinking of future approaches to the energy transition problem and a general shifting of the focus from climate to ecology. Strong preference seems to be given to closed-cycle technologies. We can also predict that all sources of energy will be in demand, without exception, when improving the technologies of their use, both in terms of increasing the efficiency of plants and equipment, and in terms of reducing the environmental burden,” the expert summarised.


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June 2022