CERAWeek Panel: Fuel mix, regulations key to clean and accessible energy

HOUSTON — The energy industry’s dual mandate of reducing emissions and powering a growing world economy doesn’t have to conflict, an IHS CERAWeek panel told a Huston audience today.

The panel — consisting of a World Bank executive, the head of power generation company and a United Nations special advisor — called for a mix of low-carbon fuels, clear policy objectives and sustainable investments to further both goals. And they pointed to a shift in attitudes that coalesced at the Paris climate accords last year as proof those ends were attainable.

Robert Orr, the U.N. Special Advisor on climate change and a Dean at the University of Maryland, said that Paris was among the first times energy companies were not demonized, but instead brought on as a partner.

“The sense that the energy industry is not that the problem… but that we need to work with these people, that’s brand new,” Orr said. The shift is important, he said, because there’s still a huge need for energy across the world.

For example, added Anita Marangoly George, an energy expert with the World Bank Group, two out of three people in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity. Bringing them access by the stated goal of 2030 will require more than 60 million new customers hooked into the power grid each year. That’s about three times the pace at which the power grid is being expanded today.

The new access will also require tapping new sources of energy, George said. In Africa, it could make sense to use large rivers to generate power, but the sources will vary across the globe.

“The approach that one has to take is a low-carbon approach,” she said. “This will require different mixes… and making sure that we recognize what the reality of each country is.”

Didier Holleaux, an executive at French electric utility company Engin, said that the mix of fuels and rapid expansion needed to both hold emissions low and expand access would best be accomplished in a world where regulations were clear and effective.

“The absence of a clear strategy will lead to waste of investment, of a huge amount of money, that will end up being paid customers,” he said.