Space Press – What energy do we (really) need?

This article is part of an exchange called “Science itself! », organized by CEA and CENTQUATRE-PARIS.

What energy do we need to use and the challenges of energy moderation, which are more relevant than ever, what energies will we still be able to use in the future?

Stephen Sorred : We should reverse the question, asking ourselves first Do we want to make social choices? Before deciding on the most suitable energy mix for this choice. With two factors to consider. The first factor: energy
Access to energy sources At a cost commensurate with our economy. This concept of cost is extremely important! We have clearly seen the unprecedented increase in electricity and gas prices in the European market since September 2021 and, more recently, the war in Ukraine which again caused a very sharp increase in these prices. The war is reminiscent of the first oil shock of 1973 and the subsequent energy crisis. I remember looking for waste, having to save energy, speed limit 130 km/h on the motorway: back then no one believed it was possible! This was an introduction to energy moderation. Because moderation must be associated with cost when talking about accessibility to energy sources.

There are other factors to consider Environmental impact, which is dual. On the one hand is climate change, an expected increase of a few degrees that will have devastating effects. That’s what we need
Decarbonization of our energy use In housing, mobility, industry or even agriculture. Aiming to achieve zero net C0 emissions2 By 2050. And on the other hand there is conservation of resources.

Although we know what needs to be done to decarbonize the energy system, 50% of the technology we need does not yet exist. Whether it is related to generation technology, conversion, storage, flexibility, smart grids, heat networks, electricity networks and interconnections between gas networks…

Rudolf Meyer / The Awakener : 85% of the energy used in the world is fossil fuels. In France, electricity is relatively low carbon, but for many uses, we remain a “fossil country” like others. Climate change, conservation of resources, but also other environmental problems caused by fossil fuels such as biodiversity loss, oil spills or air pollution that kills 40,000 people a year in France. In addition, fossil resources have a cost to individuals and are not extracted from our territory. This hurts the balance of trade very badly: money is sent abroad instead of being used to develop activities in France. The extraction of these energies and the entire chain of production have enormous environmental impacts. The use of fossil fuels creates such problems that we don’t need to talk about the climate to make people aware of the urgency to get out of it.

What is the ideal energy conversion scenario?

Stephen Sorred : RTE, our electricity transmission network, has published a report with the situation raised at the end of 2021
Temperance and questions about our lifestyle. In France, in 2022, we consume 1600 TWh of energy, with a fairly low share of electricity, around 25%. In RTE’s projections for 2050, firstly a 40% reduction in our energy consumption and a significant increase in the share of electricity, which will be 55%. Energy changes, as envisioned in RTE scenarios, are therefore involved
Growth of carbon-free electricity. When we talk about the expected 930 TWh consumption for 2050, it is for a lifestyle that is not very different from ours… with some significant changes, such as mobility or individual housing that will have to be greatly reduced.

Rudolf Meyer / The Awakener : Do not confuse the two axes,
That’s power efficiency and that’s composure. In all cases aiming to reduce final energy consumption, electricity consumption is increased as it effectively reduces the use of fossil fuels. For example, today, traveling with thermal cars requires about 300 TWh of oil per year. If, tomorrow, we use electric cars for our personal mobility, we will need three times less energy! Energy efficiency means, for the same service, less energy is used. while moderation
A change in behavior, an evolution in our lifestyle. Where we ask ourselves what we really need and if it is really necessary to use this energy, this object, about the effects that are produced. Where we adapt our lifestyle and our needs according to available energy. Although currently it is energy production that suits our needs.

How can we create an optimistic scenario for 2050 while maintaining more or less the same way of life as we do today?

Stephen Sorred : RTE’s scenarios are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, they are realistic. These are 6 scenarios, with or without nuclear power, with a fairly wide range from moderation and change in society to more ambitious scenarios, especially in renewables. Because here another social choice also arises: do we want to live in a country that is totally dependent on other states to access energy sources and/or produce them? Or we do
Choice of renewal ? Currently, for example, we buy photovoltaic panels in China. In the context of the energy transition, wouldn’t it be more attractive to have megafactories in Europe to manufacture our panels on site?

Rudolf Meyer / The Awakener : Energy mix scenarios can influence the decisions taken, but they are not set in stone. They indicate that if we have this or that technology working, if we make this or that choice, we will have this or that trajectory. And the more we progress, the more we will be able to specify this trajectory.

When we talk about energy transition, environmental change, we aim for a long-term objective, namely sustainability. However, in a climate emergency, we must act very quickly, all the circumstances are very clear on this. You don’t have to wait for the perfect, absolutely sustainable solution. Power transfer is an incredibly complex project, with everything to rethink. If we fully activate all the levers, in terms of wind, offshore wind, photovoltaic, nuclear, deployment, it is very ambitious. There are a lot of hurdles that we hope to gradually resolve. That’s why you need to start now, to have as many technologies as possible.

Stephen Sorred : We also need to rearrange our two cerebral hemispheres. If we do a quick and somewhat honest introspection, we still have a cerebral hemisphere of a consumer (cars, internet, etc.) and a cerebral hemisphere of a voter concerned with environmental issues. Reconciliation of these two behaviors would be necessary to apply in this situation.

We also need to be very flexible about how we envision population consumption in 2050. It is already clear that the way we live will not be the standard of living in 2050. Personally, I don’t want to live like my grandparents. Did 50 years ago. Projecting yourself to be happy for future generations to live like us in 2050, to me is already wrong. In 2100, it will be even more false. It is the people of 2050 who will dictate society’s preferences and therefore the associated energy systems.

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