Historical Continuities Shape the World of Tomorrow
Considerable historical continuities have shaken the balance established previously. The world we live in today has already undergone several major transformations. As always, these changes are difficult to perceive as they take several decades to fully realize. When immersed in the daily actions of human life, it is often difficult to take some distance and look at the historical changes happening before one’s eyes. These changes however will what will be remembered from our time, and it will become obvious, when looking at this period from far in the future, that these continuities have shaped the new world we are entering.
The speed at which these changes occur has increased considerably. This is a new reality. In less than a century, in the twentieth and midway into the twenty-first century, the world’s population will have increased from 2.5 billion people to more than nine billion. Global GDP will have been multiplied by 40, completely disrupting what humanity has experienced for centuries. The blooming of the world population and its living standards are due to industrial revolutions and to the fantastic development of health services, which pulled mankind out of a subsistence economy.
This prodigious development created considerable needs in terms of energy. The world that shaped up after the Second World War based its progress upon the massive use of fossil fuels. Oil and natural gas from the Middle East or from Russia complemented coal, which had been the main source of energy that powered the first industrial revolutions in Europe and North America during the nineteenth century. Superpowers such as the United States or the United Socialist Soviet Republics ensured their control over these resources and their procurement in order to maintain their status and the domination they exercised over the rest of the world.
Energy consumption is increasing today at breakneck speed, but paradoxically there have never been so many resources available. Actually, unconventional fossil © Springer International Publishing AG 2017
V. Petit, The Energy Transition, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50292-2_6
fuels changed completely the situation. The American continent is now independent from an energy standpoint. China, which is on the verge of exhausting its coal resources, could find in shale gas an alternative to ensure the security of its energy supply. Possible historical changes could occur: evolutions in the United States foreign policy with regards to the Middle East, new partnerships between countries surrounding the Arabian Sea, or on the eastern borders of Russia are all new possible historical pathways.
The colossal growth of energy consumption has also become a threat to global climate sustainability. The world’s economic development is based on fossil fuel consumption. Our energy needs are already considerable, and keep increasing. Already, drastic climate changes seem to be irremediable. These historical continuities will weigh heavily in the twenty-first century.
Mitigating these changes will require in the coming twenty years a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. On the flip side, energy demand is set to increase 35% over the same time period. The world is thus facing an impossible equation. Our generation needs to solve this equation in order to prepare a sustainable future for the generations that follow.
Thankfully, it is possible to reduce our energy footprint. First of all, the potential for improving energy efficiency worldwide is considerable. Around 21% of primary energy could be saved by the effective deployment of energy efficiency measures. Here, the issue is not so much discovering new technologies as deploying efficiently existing ones. The gaps between what can best be done and what generally exists is colossal in all sectors. Upgrading each sector (Industry, Buildings, Transportation) to what can best be achieved in terms of energy consumption would lead to significant savings. One main hurdle to such achievement is inertia. The multitude of players, each with its own set of interests it wishes to defend; the divergence and sometimes opposition of nations’ interests; the unwillingness to replace existing energy-inefficient assets. All these lead to a global lethargy that could delay the realization of a smaller collective energy footprint.
Renewable energies, in particular photovoltaic solar, present a historic opportunity to deeply modify the energy mix for electricity production. Associated with energy storage, renewable energies could substitute fossil fuels to a very large extent in the coming years; the substitution rate (not counting hydro power) is less than 10% today. Using renewable energies for electricity production could also help solve the massive issue of waste from electricity generation. The potential adds up to around 29% of total primary energy consumption. Finally, the deployment of renewable energies, in particular rooftop solar systems, could push the various end- use sectors to massively switch to renewable energy. This would represent an additional potential of 20% of primary energy savings. In the end, up to 70% of total primary energy could either be saved or be produced with renewable energies; only 19% needs to be saved to fully realize the 450 scenario, which aims to limit the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to 450 ppm. The world’s energy equation can thus be cracked, and a renewable and sustainable future is possible.
One must believe in the ability of humankind to control its fate and overcome the challenges it creates for itself. This book had no other intention but to shed light on these challenges, and list out the variety of existing solutions that could be deployed.