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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


From oil to electricity

Energy has always been at the core of the transformations which have affected societies. It is the coal which has allowed the industrial revolution and which has offered the possibility to the countries where were located the deposits to developing and to increasing their influence in the world. The 20th century has been, in many considerations, the oil century as much by the huge possibilities it gave as by the crisis it has been at the origin. The access to the Caspian Sea resources had incited Germany to invade the south of Russia, an attempt which has failed in Stalingrad, which has marked a turning point in the war in Europe. And the oil crisis in 1973 and in 1979 has had for the developed countries major economic consequences. The climate and geopolitical challenges will lead the countries to rethink their relations with energy in order that it fulfills the demands of the fight against climate warming along with granting the safety of the supplying.

The reasons of the oil success and of its putting into question are full of lessons for the future. At the origin there is plenty of that new raw material, even if the deposits, to the exception of the United States, are not localized in the main consumption zones. But, to the difference of coal, oil is easy to transport through pipe lines or with tankers when it is necessary to cross an ocean and it is what will generate its success. It makes easier the new travel modes, the car and the truck first and after the railway. It allows, in much better conditions than coal, to providing heating in buildings and in homes. It can also be transformed and it is at the origin of the appearance of new materials, plastic for instance.

But the economic importance it acquires along the decades and especially the fact that developed countries, despite the major discoveries in North Sea and in Sahara, became importers, will make it to progressively become a political stake. That will appear in the Seventies with the embargo after the Kippur war and the OPEC creation, whose mission will be to ensure to the producers a high price. At the same time, non-governmental organizations as the Roma club, start, wrongly, to alert regarding the depletion of the resource. A production peak of 83 billion barrels per day is announced before the end of the century. In 2022, the production has overpassed 100 million b/d because if in theory the resource is limited, the man ingenuity to get it is unlimited. The putting into operation of new exploration and extraction techniques has allowed to increasing, notably in the United States, the production with the shale oil and gas revolution.

But the waking up to the consequences of the fossil fuels utilization on the air quality and on climate will make the relation with oil evolving. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the Hamas attack against Israël are going to reintroduce in the national priorities the energy independence and so the localization of the production in safe zones. Natural gas had known, as oil, a strong progression thanks to increased production capacities and liquefaction which made its transportation easier. Its lower greenhouse gas emissions than oil and especially than coal ones, had allowed to envisioning it gives an answer to environment constraints. But the concentration of its production in Russia and in the Middle East did not allow to providing the safety of its supplying as it has been shown notably with the German energetic crisis. In the coming years, it is so electricity which will progressively become the central element of the energy mix.

The electrification of energy consumption has started with the expansion of the electric car, first in China and then in Europe. Several other countries will follow as the U.S. where the first producer in the world Tesla will at the end finish to get the adoption of rules which will support its sales on the American market. Electrification will continue with the progressive abandon of coal and natural gas heating systems and their replacement by heat pumps and by electricity.

In order the power use develops with the replacement of the fossil energies, it is necessary its production mode corresponds to availability and proximity exigences of its customers. The renewables development and the incentives to sobriety will not be enough. The progressive extinction of coal and natural gas power plants will have to be accompanied with the constitution of storage capacities and with investments in power production plants which are not intermittent, which do not emit greenhouse gas and which will be localized in politically safe areas and close to consumption centers. So are the challenges the countries, in the coming decades, will be confronted with.

France, with its mastery of nuclear energy, have at its disposal a real advantage. The progress realized in the reform of the European power market constitute a positive step but it must be validated by the European parliament and by the governments. It must also be protected against the attempts which through technical provisions risk to restrain its scope and to reduce the advantages the country would take from it when its enterprises profit of an improvement of their competitiveness through the energy costs much lower than their European competitors.

It is also necessary France renounces to its habit consisting in criticizing everything which works well as nuclear in the past or today high-speed trains and highways with tolls. It is not new. Alexandre Dumas, the French novelist, in 1842, about his trip in Tuscany wrote: “France, as a prodigal mother, doesn’t take into consideration its children genius, undervalues all the things it has and exalts all it has not” in showing the contrast between our behaviors and these he observed in Italy. France so must be proud of its success in nuclear power production which, during near forty years, has allowed to delivering power to household and to enterprises with good price condition, to strengthening the energetic independence and even to becoming every year a power exporter of several billion euro. The concept of a ‘nuclear guaranteed income”, with its negative connotation, must be abandoned and the government must strongly commit itself in order that in the future European provisions, the connection with the natural gas price or the obligation to sale to competitors its electricity at prices under production prices, will be abandoned.

But to produce electricity will not be enough. It will also be necessary to transport and to distribute it to the new consumption places, the vehicles recharging points, the plants whose energy has been converted into electricity and the big cities where power demand will strongly increase. Important investments will be necessary: increase of the life duration of the existing power plants, construction of new plants, development of the transportation and distribution networks. These are other reasons for the national producer not to be penalized by a tariffication and by rules which are unfavorable and to have access to privileged national and European financing conditions. France supply safety and respect of its objectives of reduction of greenhouse gas emission will depend of that.

A new era in the energy domain is opening itself, the electricity era. It is essential to measure its full importance. It is necessary after to convince ourself that it can be profitable to the country to the condition to valorize its know-hows instead, as it has been the case in the past, to denigrate them.     




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