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 US and his blatant disregard for climate change, it is even less likely that a voluntary or legally binding reduction in CO2 emissions will ever be achieved. At least Mr. Trump has the merit of clearly exposing his position, unlike the Obama Administration that promised a lot but achieved little in that respect. Hence the dynamics of climate change will continue unabated fuelled by the millions of tonnes of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by us all.

 

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 UK military-political interference in the oil rich Middle East that directly fuels wars, unrest and terrorism. The overall resultant is widely oscillating oil prices since 2000 that rock the world economy and most probably contributed considerably to the economic and financial crisis of 2008-2009.

 

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 Mauritius. In broad terms, energy usage can be broken down into 4 uses: (1) Transport, (2) Heat, (3) Electricity generation and (4) Others (note that some overlap exist in between those 4 main uses). From the following table we see that in Mauritius the total final consumption of energy was 913 kilo tonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe) in 2015 of which 51% went for transport alone and 26% for electricity.

 

 

 

Final Consumption of Energy (Mauritius)

Ktoe

Percentage of energy from renewables

 

Transport

 

463 (51%)

 

0%

 

Heat

 

172 (19%)

 

22%

 

Electricity

 

239 (26%)

 

23%

 

Others

 

39 (4%)

 

0%

Total Final Consumption of Energy

 

913 (100%)

 

10%

 

 

 

 

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 Mauritius have a very long road ahead. Each of these usages present particular challenges to any transition to renewable energies as we shall see in part 2 and 3 of this series of articles.

 

 

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.

 

Heat Generation

 

Energy is used to heat water or other fluids and for cooking purposes in domestic, commercial and industrial settings. In Mauritius, space heating of buildings is unnecessary and space cooling is done via electricity. The sources of heat energy can be liquid petroleum gas (LPG), electricity and coal from non-renewable sources. Renewable heat energy comes from solar, bagasse, fuel wood and charcoal. Currently, only about 22% of the heat energy consumed is renewable and all of it is biomass. There are no estimates for the amount of solar energy used for heating purposes in Mauritius. May be it is time for Statistics Mauritius to make such calculations and amend its otherwise excellent publications. Solar water heating is a well established technology that is well disseminated here for domestic purposes but there is probably scope for further use. In some industries solar water heating is used and most probably that can be extended significantly too. For cooking purposes, solar cooking technologies can be used and could displace to some extent the use of LPG. The use of biomass can be sustainable and renewable if the resource is carefully managed. In brief, for Mauritius it is certainly possible to increase the proportion of renewable energy for heat generation. However, it is difficult to estimate how much of it can be shifted to renewable energies. It is thus reasonable to expect LPG to remain important for that sector.

 

 

 

Electricity Generation

 

Much has been said over the years concerning transition to renewable energies for electricity generation. For Mauritius, our renewable options include solar photo-voltaic, wind (onshore and offshore), biomass, hydro power, and wave and sea current energy. Geothermal may be too expensive. The main barriers for penetration of renewable energies are prices and intermittency. Costs of renewable energy equipment have tumbled down over the years and price differentials between renewable electricity and non-renewable electricity have narrowed down significantly. We do expect price differentials to become a fairly minor issue now in investment decisions.

 

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 Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century to store excess electricity generated from hydro-power stations driven by melting glaciers in summer. Very briefly, excess electricity is used to pump water in storage tanks or lakes in altitude and when required this water is used to drive turbines to generate electricity.

 

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 in Mauritius will require careful study. The Central Electricity Board (CEB) had initiated such studies which appear not to have been made public.

 

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 Mauritius embark on a transition to renewable energies for electricity, how fast could this transition take place?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Percentage of electricity demand met by renewable energies

 

Year

2035

2050

10% annual increase in RE

17%

18%

20% annual increase in RE

34%

200%

 

 

 

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 Mozambique and Tanzania. Both countries should begin export fairly soon. Natural gas sourced in the region will boost trade significantly for it will open up new business opportunities between Mauritius and those countries.

 

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 Mauritius, from now to 2050: an overview – Part 3 – Energy and Transport

 

We have been keeping a close watch on energy issues in Mauritius and elsewhere for 20 years now. We have always been struck by the curious tendency most experts and lay persons have of assuming that for transportation there shall be no future shortfall in energy and that issues involve demand side management only. To some extent this short-sightedness is understandable as in nearly all countries Governments have had to deal with ever increasing air, land, maritime traffic.

 

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 systems. Mauritius is a case study as our mathematical models indicate that oil prices above US $ 100 per barrel of oil on average during the year tend to slow down economic growth. Above US $ 140 and economic growth grinds down to a halt. Needless to say, actual physical shortages of oil are crippling to any economic system as the world experienced in the seventies and eighties. As we argued in Part I of this article, there are good sound reasons to initiate a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energies and these are (1) oil depletion issues, (2) price impacts, (3) pollution and (4) climate change. Now let us see what alternatives to oil there are.

 

Transportation systems can be divided into land, air and maritime transport. Let’s consider land transport first which itself can be subdivide into road and rail transport for both goods and people. In 2015, Mauritius consumed 163,036 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) of gasoline and 169,187 toe of diesel and 3445 toe of LPG for transportation. We can safely assume that nearly all of gasoline, diesel and the 3445 toe of LPG went for land transportation. The 3123 toe of fuel oil probably went for Mauritian maritime vessels. This means that for land transportation Mauritius consumed about 335,668 toe of fossil fuels. Assuming that we can electrify gradually ALL of land transportation and making some rather simple conversion calculations, we estimate that about 1000 GWh of electricity yearly would be required to power our current land transport system. Note that we generated 2996 GWh in 2015, thus electrification of transport would require a 30% increase in power generation at least. As we showed in part 2 of our article, any transition to renewable electricity will be decades long; to disengage land transport from oil dependency by electrification will significantly lengthen transition times.

 

Electric cars and motorcycles exist and run satisfactorily even in Mauritius. However for heavy goods vehicles, the matter is different as very few manufacturers of electric lorries exist worldwide. Electric buses run in large cities in Europe and China but they tend to operate on level roads with limited climbs. It remains to be seen whether electric lorries or buses can be satisfactorily deployed in Mauritius where roads link coastal lands to highlands with steep inclines along the way. Limited battery capacity restricts range, load and traction. We therefore believe that for the foreseeable future heavy goods vehicles and most buses will remain heavily dependent on oil.

 

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.  

 

Should Mauritius switch over to natural gas, it might become feasible to run part of our fleet of busses on compressed natural gas. It already exists in certain major cities and it improves air quality. Once more costs and technical feasibilities will have to be studied before hand.

 

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 Metro-Express in Mauritius goes in the right direction provided the country manages to increase its production of renewable electricity to cater for the extra power the metro will require.

 

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.

 

In 2015, Mauritius imported 279,551 toe of aviation fuel both for local and foreign aircrafts. Worldwide there are virtually no substitutes for oil as aviation fuel. Very small quantities of vegetable oils or coal have been used to manufacture aviation fuel on an experimental basis. Although successful, it is clear that these alternative fuels are incapable of substituting more than a token fraction of oil based aviation fuel. For the foreseeable future aviation will remain solidly dependent on oil. Exactly the same rationale stands for maritime fuel oil of which Mauritius imported 160,160 toe. We do not expect to see much change in the dependency of maritime transport on oil.

 

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.

 

Karim Jaufeerally

 

Institute for Environmental Studies