Energy Transitions for Mauritius, from now to 2050: an overview Part 1 (Oil Depletion and Climate Change)
As modern industrial society worldwide stumbles along, dogged by problematic dynamics created by its own excesses, like rampant consumption, depletion of natural and fossil fuel resources, environmental pollution, climate change and gross wealth inequity, a dim awareness is unfolding across human societies that business as usual is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.
On the energy front, it is mainly climate change caused by fossil fuels that has caught the attention of the public and that of policy makers. The depletion of fossil fuels and associated costs are barely registering with anyone.
It is thought by many that a transition to renewable energies will abate carbon dioxide emissions and thus mitigate climate change impacts. This is a simplistic view as CO2 levels are currently high enough for climate change to continue apace due to the momentum already gathered by the world climatic system.
Furthermore, globally, the emission of CO2 has not been much affected; it was a staggering 33,500 million tons in 2015 (BP Yearbook) compared to 31,500 million tons in 2010, a 6% increase over 5 years. There is no reason to believe that the annual world rituals of the Conference of Parties organised by the United Nations to conjure climate change will do much good to anyone.
With Mr. Trump as President of the
The pressing reasons to initiate a transition to renewable energies lie elsewhere. It is common scientific knowledge that fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) are finite and non-renewable resources subject to depletion. It follows that annual production of fossil fuels cannot keep on increasing for ever. A point in time will be reached whereby the remaining resource base will be insufficient to maintain current production. Hence production will decline. It is a normal phenomenon subject to the implacable laws of physics.
Those turning points have yet to be reached for coal and natural gas; however the turning point for oil is either occurring right now or will occur in the coming years. It is not possible to be more precise as there are many different types of oil (such as conventional oil, deep sea oil, oil sands, light tight oil, polar oil), each with its own physical and chemical characteristics and depletion profiles.
But, very importantly, since the nineties, with each passing year fewer oil fields are being discovered whilst production keeps going on unabated. Currently the world burns approximately 4 times more oil than it discovers each year. It is a problematic situation for the global oil industry as it is faced with a declining resource base and fewer oil discoveries. Hence it is forced to rely increasingly on difficult to extract deep sea, polar or light tight oils that require advanced, complex and costly production technologies.
Added to the above dynamic is the constant US, Israeli and
Hence we have two main reasons to begin in earnest a transition out of fossil fuels, especially oil: (1) The finite and depleting nature of fossil fuels and (2) the increasingly volatile oil prices. Such an energy transition is a hugely difficult task as we shall see.
Any energy transition takes time, for instance it took most of the 19th century for coal to overtake wood and hydro-power and become the main source of energy for industrialization. Similarly, oil which began to be used in large quantities during the early 20th century overtook coal only during the Second World War and even so, currently coal still provides 30% of the world energy supply. Hence, from a historical perspective, we can say that any energy transition takes a minimum of 50 years and may be more. Hence it stands to reason that transition to renewable energies shall take many years, decades even.
Furthermore, there are significant obstacles in the way of this
transition. To clarify matters, let us consider what energy is used for in
No renewable energy is used in transport and a mere 23% of electricity
is renewable. Overall only about 10% of our energy consumption comes from
renewables, worldwide it is barely 12%. Clearly the world and
Energy Transitions for Mauritius, from now to 2050: an overview Part 2 Heat and Electricity Generation
We find it very common for people and even experts to address only electricity generation when referring to energy transitions, whilst being oblivious to heat and especially transport energy. It is a lop-sided approach to energy transition.
Energy is used to heat water or other fluids and for cooking purposes
in domestic, commercial and industrial settings. In
Much has been said over the years concerning transition to renewable
energies for electricity generation. For
The other barrier is intermittency of renewable sources like solar and
wind. There are broadly speaking 2 ways of tackling this issue which are
actually complementary. Firstly, excess renewable electricity can be stored
in industrial battery parks and re-injected in the grid on demand. These
facilities already exist across the world. Initially costs were high, but
once more prices have gone down. Other technologies can be used: for instance
hydro-pump storage. It is an old and proven technology, first used in
Another way to tackle intermittency is to couple renewable electricity with natural gas electricity generation. Natural gas turbines can generate electric power in a very flexible manner, on demand. This flexibility can be used to accommodate the inherent variations in renewable energies. In the equation we should not forget demand side management. It is certainly possible to mitigate demand via some common sense and the use of energy efficient lights and appliances. Current efforts in that direction must continue.
The different modes of electrical power storage with natural gas turbines
and demand side management can certainly resolve intermittency of renewable
energies thus enabling transition. Certainly, the introduction of natural gas
Currently, only 23% of electrical power comes from renewable sources,
of this 75% comes from bagasse, 18% from hydro power and about 7% from solar,
wind and landfill gas. It might be possible to modestly increase power from
bagasse or hydro, but it is clear that large increase in solar and wind power
or from other renewable sources shall be needed. Alas, solar and wind
generated only 29 GWh out of the 2996 GWh generated in the whole country in
2015. Barely 1% of electrical power demand. Should
To answer this question we have made a straightforward mathematical model of power demand versus renewable electricity supply increases from 2015 onwards. We then calculated the proportion of our electricity demand that could come from renewable sources by 2035 and 2050. We have assumed a 3% yearly increase in power demand.
From the above, it is clear that even with an annual increase of 20% in renewable electricity, by 2035 the country shall still have to rely considerably on fossil fuels for 66% of its power demand! A mere 3% yearly increase in power demand can absorb all increases in renewable electricity running at 10% annually. The importance of demand side management is clearly established. Furthermore, we can provisionally conclude that our dependency on fossil fuels will remain more or less unabated at least until 2035.
The question that arises now is what type of fossil fuels should we principally rely on for electricity generation? Should we rely on coal, heavy fuel oil or natural gas? We believe that the country should introduce natural gas and phase out coal and heavy fuel oil as it will reduce pollution significantly given that the burning of natural gas generates very little residues, ashes or noxious fumes and releases only carbon dioxide and water vapour.
Furthermore, world wide, sources of natural gas are still abundant and
plentiful, any peaks in natural gas production are still several decades into
the future. The transportation of natural gas is via pipelines or specialized
transport ships that do not rely on oil. It is interesting to note that over
the past decade large resources of natural gas have been discovered in
To conclude Part 2, we can say that although an energy transition for electricity is feasible the time required can easily run into decades. In Part 3 we shall tackle the vexing issue of energy transition and transport.
Energy Transitions for
We have been keeping a close watch on energy issues in
With the concern over climate change and the ever increasing air pollution problems caused by vehicles, efforts have been made to make engines more efficient, less polluting and to promote public transport. These different targets have largely been reached elsewhere, alas this has done very little to abate pollution problems or oil consumption as the sheer number of new vehicles on the road have negated any benefits accrued from improved technology.
To understand the nexus of energy and transport we need to turn to History. The steam engine first revolutionized industrial manufacturing and then ushered in the era of mechanical transport via steam ships and railways. Oil powered engines invented during the late 19th century was a second revolution for transport as it opened the way for mechanized road transport, faster shipping, and air travel.
The 20th century was the era of oil powered machines as they took over nearly all forms of mechanical transport, to such an extent that today 95% of all transport energy is oil. A mere 3 to 4% of transport energy is natural gas, 1% electric and another 1% coal. The supremacy of oil as transport energy is beyond dispute. Note that over 60% of world oil production goes to the transportation system. It is a truism that our modern industrial civilisation and economic system are inextricably dependent on oil for land, air and maritime transportation.
Hence high oil price have significant impacts on world economic
Transportation systems can be divided into land, air and maritime
transport. Lets consider land transport first which itself can be subdivide
into road and rail transport for both goods and people. In 2015,
Electric cars and motorcycles exist and run satisfactorily even in
Given the above, are there other alternatives? A few years ago, Government tested sugar cane alcohol as an additive to gasoline. Although technically feasible, currently there is no interest in the matter. A few individuals tested vegetable oils and biodiesel, but volumes available here and elsewhere are minute. Hence we do not expect bio fuels like alcohol or biodiesel to become significant as a land transportation fuel in the years ahead.
Modern rail transport has been electrified worldwide to over 90%.
Hence it is feasible to run trains on renewable electricity or natural gas.
Currently a few countries actually manage to run their trains mostly on
either wind or hydro power. In that perspective, the introduction of the
However, the current project is still shrouded in mystery as the cost of the project, the price of tickets, the profitability of the system, the additional electrical power demand required and its projected routes are still not known to the public. Those unknowns could derail the project at any time in the future. It would be better should Government publish all relevant studies and begin a communication campaign to explain the rational behind the project. It would be interesting to know if Government considered using the tracks of the metro express for the transport of bulky and heavy goods across the country. It could increase revenues and hence improve profitability.
A major challenge of any alternative public transport is to entice middle class car owners to leave their cars at home and opt for public transport. We do not believe that the metro express can be made cheap and reliable enough to attract the public massively. A different mind set is needed. Currently, Government spends Rs 1.2 Billion yearly on transport subsidises. The private sector too spends at least as much on employee transport costs. It might be possible for Government and the private sector to pool those funds and issue a transport credit card that grants each citizen monthly credit points that are redeemable on any buses, taxis or metro express. Hence, car owners who use the transport credit card would immediately save fuel costs. They could hire a taxi from home to the station, hop on the metro and finally take a bus to their work place and back, all free of charge. The public transport system would then compete with private cars. But this means that the metro, buses and taxis would have to operate in an integrated and regulated system whereby buses and taxis feed passengers to the metro express where appropriate. A modest increase in retail fuel prices might also be needed to fund the system.
Although to some extent, land transport can be shifted to renewable fuels and electricity, for the coming decades, most transportation systems shall remain largely reliant on oil. Even for electricity and heat generation, where realistic alternatives exist, transition to renewable energies can be expected to take decades. Modern civilisation, here and elsewhere, shall therefore remain largely dependent on fossil fuels, especially oil for transportation purposes, at the very least till 2035. The 21st century began with wild swings in oil prices that impacted many countries creating much economic havoc. Our continued dependency on fossil fuel, oil especially, guarantees that further energy crisis will erupt in the future with significant economic, social and political consequences of us all. We are slowly entering an age of consequences caused by our fossil fuel addictions. Expect rough rides ahead.
Institute for Environmental Studies