The challenge is to decrease in order to adapt to the planet's rhythms
The economic transition model is neither unique nor valid.
50 years of the Meadows report. Both Xabier Martínez, head of projects at MUGARIK GABE and Antonio Turiel, specialist on the impact of climate on the ocean and natural resources and author of "Petrocalipsis: crisis energética global y cómo (no) la vamos a solucionar", among other publications, reminded us of this at the start of the course. We are halfway through his announcement of ecological and economic collapse due to "the limits of growth" which established several scenarios, the most negative "is the one we are living in. The worst-case scenario that predicts such a collapse by 2030. "With nuances because it depends on human action. I do not have an excessively mechanistic view of things, it is not true that it is inexorable that certain things will happen". This is what Antonio Turiel, also a research scientist at CSIC, said in his presentation on "Challenges of the global energy crisis... is the proposed energy transition really green and fair?”.
The proposed transition model is not the only one possible, and it is cracking. Maintaining the economy, no matter what remains the motto under which action is taken. "We have not been approached with a transition model with climate change in mind, we have never thought about it".
The continuation of fossil fuels is going to be very difficult. "The proposed transition model has too many problems and is too late. It is not the only conceivable model. Electricity is fine, but the challenge is to decrease to adapt to the planet's rhythms".
We were in an energy crisis long before the war in Ukraine. Oil and gas companies tripled their investment in the search for new fields from 1993 to 2014, but since 2014 they have reduced it by 60%. "There is simply no oil left on the planet that can be extracted profitably". It has not been explained, but that is what is happening and it was perfectly foreseeable. There have been studies on this since 1972.
In 2014 a report of the US Department of Energy already counted among the 127 largest companies in the world losses of 100 billion dollars/year between 2011 and 2014 because despite new technologies etc. the oilfields were no longer profitable. And this at a time when the average price per barrel was around the desirable highs of 120/barrel.
Repsol is investing 90% less than it did in 2014 in the search for new exploitations. They say this is because of green legislation. If they acknowledged the truth, they would have to account for a large depreciation of their assets in their books.
The OECD's International Energy Agency has identified two possible demand and supply scenarios. In the case of the simple maintenance of the exploitations in 2018, they were already announcing a gap of 34 million barrels per day by 2025. A decrease of 24% never seen before in history. The same agency in its 2021 report with a mere maintenance creates a net 0 scenario 2050 with an impressive effort to replace fossil fuels with renewables and electricity. It would mean a 120-fold increase in lithium production. "This is a stupidity that will never happen. In fact, it has cost a lot to multiply it by 3 from 2010 to the current year. Paper can take it all, and Excel much more".
The same report pointed to a peak in natural gas production coming before 2030, "I think it will be before 2025". Oil production peaked in 2018. Higher figures will never be reached again, not least because companies are not investing. Oil production, including that obtained by various processes to convert it to conventional oil, is severely limited. In May OPEC, promising increases of 150,000 bpd, reduced it by 50,000 bpd. Compared to 2018, production has fallen by 50% and will fall by 20%. It will all depend on what governments do. The geological changes that we have never looked at because we have never taken climate change seriously are what they are.
Oil companies have also stopped investing in refineries. Typical conventional oil extraction wells were stopped in 2005. Diesel supply problems have existed since 2015 when the peak was reached and the decline is already 15% since 2018. In some fifty countries there are very serious shortages in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. There is a shortage of fuel for the production of paraffin for aeroplanes, which has already begun to affect the price of flights.
Coal extraction first peaked in 2019 and then started to oscillate. Geologically it could be extended, but there are factors that make this practically impossible. The outlook for uranium is much worse. According to Antonio Turiel, the 2019 peak is not expected to be exceeded. With the IEA's 2014 calculations including the "identified mines" where it is said that there is a lot of uranium but it remains to be seen, production could rise until 2025 but they also calculated a much higher demand. "The reality has been much worse. Production peaked in 2016 and has now fallen by 24%.
Antonio Turiel asked a rhetorical question: Why are the French nuclear power plants 50% shut down because of a corrosion problem? Are they all to be overhauled in three years' time?. Without abandoning irony Turiel stated that "they have problems obtaining uranium from Niger. Why does France have troops in Niger? This is the world we live in! The kind of life we live is based on this kind of thing, but this model is going down the drain. Oil peaked in 2005, coal in 2019, gas will peak this decade and uranium in 2016.
It is not that it will all disappear at once, the declines will happen more or less quickly depending on how things are done. Non-renewable energies are going to be less and less available. The transition has to be to 100% renewables. There is no argument about it. However, that does not mean that 100% of the energy we consume is the same as the energy we use.
Renewables have many limitations. Antonio Turiel said. "It is not expressed publicly because what matters is to maintain the fiction of the system and the rate of energy expenditure. They have a maximum potential; they depend on scarce materials; fossil fuels are still used to obtain them and the problems of electrification are evident".
Electrification is an open debate. "At the beginning it was said that with renewables we would reach 100% of the energy generated in the world, now 4 times what we consume, but others, like me, believe that it would be around 30-40%. But it is clear that we have to stop consumption. We cannot go on like this. "It is worth remembering that 30% of the energy we consume at the moment is simply wasted. 30-40% of the energy we generate would be enough to supply the whole of humanity".
The serious problem with the proposed transition model is that it relies on scarce materials. There are no reserves of these materials for the whole world to make the transition: silver, tellurium, manganese, nickel, lithium or cobalt, not to mention copper. The IEA acknowledged this in a 2021 report recommending that OECD countries stockpile them, in other words, hoard them. "it's that crappy".
Another problem highlighted by Antonio Turiel is the dependence of renewable energies on fossil fuels. In the whole process of production, transport, installation, etc., nobody has managed not to use fossil energy and can turn them into sinks and not into sources of renewable energy. Some authors see it as an extension of fossil energy. There must be something when all wind turbine industries have made losses, as in the case of Gamesa. LG has withdrawn from the photovoltaic panel market.
All the renewable systems we are hearing about use electricity. But electricity accounts for only 20% of the energy consumed. It is not a source of energy but a way of consuming energy. "I don't see electrification of Spain as feasible beyond 40%.
Antonio Turiel recalled that the use of electricity in Spain has never recovered since 2008. Consumption in other countries is stagnating or declining.
How are these energies to be financed?
The investments of this transformation are absurd. Apart from political ups and downs, is all the voltaic energy going to be consumed', is there a market and at what price? Turiel gave as an example that the whole wave of investments of this type in Spain is being made by Next Generation funds. Nor is it known how all this electricity is going to enter the Spanish electricity grid. The problem with electricity is how it is consumed.
And now it looks like we're all going to buy an electric car.
The aim is to maintain consumption levels and a vital manufacturing sector in countries such as Spain or France, but there are many problems: recharging points, the consequent wiring of cities, the reduced capacity of batteries, the prohibitive materials required, etc.
Green hydrogen as a vector.
The problem is that its production cycle is very expensive and has many energy losses. He was not overly convinced by this solution, so Turiel, taking into account that gas production is already very limited and that it is indispensable in the energy distribution networks because renewables go up and down; stability comes only from hydroelectric energy (which goes as far as it goes) and gas. Given that hydrogen will not replace it, he predicted; "There are going to be big problems this year".
Another energy transition is possible.
There are non-electricity based means of harnessing renewables that are more efficient, do not depend on scarce materials, have less impact, work on a human scale and generate local wealth, but... they follow the rhythms of the planet and do not allow for the fiction of continuous growth. Models that have been tested in the past in local companies. Solar energy can be used to melt metal and biomass can be handled correctly. Andalusia or Extremadura could replace the Basque Country in its steelworks. The problem is that it implies moderation. Another society is possible. Spain could produce cereals for its entire population and livestock, not to keep a herd of pigs for export to China.
"We can maintain our standard of living with a different lifestyle by consuming 10% of the energy consumed in Spain". Recycling can be encouraged in the knowledge that the circular economy is a utopia, but the spiral is possible and the population explosion can be contained.