The Best Allies for Generating Power - Gas and Renewable Energies

Demand for electricity is growing faster than primary energy demand overall. To square with the history-making target set by 195 nations at COP21 in Paris in December 2015 to keep global warming below 2°C, gas and renewable energies will have to gain ground in the power mix. The International Energy Agency expects gas to make up 22% and solar and wind power 8% of the global energy mix in 2035, compared respectively to 21% and 1% today.

Through our affiliate SunPower, we rank among the top three globally in the solar industry and want to keep growing across the photovoltaic value chain, by designing and manufacturing cells, building utility-scale solar power plants and marketing integrated solar solutions that combine solar energy, storage, digital optimization tools for distributed power generation. All told, SunPower has deployed more than 6 gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity worldwide.

“If renewable energies are to be developed on a large and profitable scale, we must address the challenges associated with their intermittency”

But if renewable energies are to be developed on a large and profitable scale, we must address the challenges associated with their intermittency, and consequently connecting them to grids at a cost that local communities can afford. The availability of solar and wind energy varies greatly depending on the weather and the time of day and does not always match demand, which itself fluctuates. But consumers have every right to expect to have power when they need it, which means that it always has to be available.

Storage is one solution to offset the intermittency of renewables. What's more, we just recently acquired Saft, an industrial flagship recognized globally for its technological know-how in batteries. Saft will allow us to add electricity storage solutions to our portfolio, absolutely necessary to the profitability of renewable energies.

“The main priority is to switch from coal to gas for power generation”

When it comes to generating power, gas is the best fit for renewables since it can offset the intermittency of solar and wind energy thanks to its flexibility. Gas also has the advantage of being the lowest-carbon fossil fuel, since it emits only half the amount of CO2 as coal, which is still far too widely used to generate power. That is why it's crucial to send a strong price signal to energies that curtail CO2 emissions, and therefore global warming, while adding flexibility to the system. Steering private sector investments towards low-carbon technologies is vital if we want to keep global warming under 2°C. Putting a price on carbon is one of the most efficient mechanism to achieve this. The main priority is to switch from coal to gas for power generation. A carbon price of USD 30 to USD 40 per ton would be enough to promote the switch and encourage R&D in low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture, use and storage. This is why we have campaigned with five other oil and gas companies for the prompt introduction of carbon pricing mechanisms in the world’s main regions. At Total, we have applied an internal carbon price to all our capital spending decisions since 2008. It currently varies from USD 30 to USD 40 per ton of carbon, depending on oil prices. And to walk the talk, by the end of 2016, we will no longer be involved in any kind of coal businesses.

Gas now accounts for 50% of our production, up from 35% ten years ago. We want to develop it, by investing in the gas midstream and downstream to speed the growth in demand for gas. As we actively promote gas, we are closely tracking and reducing methane emissions. We are also curtailing routine flaring at our facilities, which we cut by 67% between 2010 and 2015, which we want to reduce by 80 % over the period 2010-2020 and want to eliminate outright by 2030.

Electricity will not be able to meet all energy requirements, particularly those related to transportation. Electric cars will continue to gain ground, particularly in urban areas, but it will take some time before they account for a significant share of passenger cars worldwide. We too often overlook trucks, aircraft and ships which still rely on fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency's 2°C scenario for 2035 predicts that oil will still account for around a quarter of the energy mix and that fuels made from biomass will make up a larger share than today. We've been producing biofuels for over 20 years, are a leading biofuel marketer in Europe and plan to step up our leadership in biodiesels and biojet fuel. By next year, our La Mède refinery in France will have been transformed into a world-class biorefinery. We also invest in second-generation technologies which will complement traditional biofuels in the future.

“The 2°C goal can only be achieved if we better target how we use energies”

The 2°C goal can only be achieved if we better target how we use energies. Gas and renewables coupled with energy storage are expected to be the power-generation base, replacing coal. The use of oil will have to be concentrated on transportation and petrochemicals, where they're still necessary, but where other energies, mainly gas but also biofuels, will also play an increasingly bigger role.

This article was initially published in the magazine « The European Files » : http://www.europeanfiles.eu/?portfolio=november-2016

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