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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Once it is accepted that fossil fuels will be phased out in decades, some questions arise,

Skip to 0 minutes and 18 seconds such as: “How do we tackle this transition?”, “Which are the barriers and strategies to follow?” It is clear enough that this is not a linear problem, but rather a complex one. As the great acceleration shows a positive correlation between energy and socioeconomic ratios, when facing the absence of fossil fuels, we have to address questions regarding food supply, international transport or scarcity of raw materials, among others.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds Given the current standards of western societies, that were shaped by the use of fossil fuels, the key question now is how to maintain these standards with another resource or technology. Is it possible? And if so, is it only a matter of switching resource A for resource B? Or on the contrary, is it not possible and the transition towards renewables necessarily implies a deep transformation of our societies and our way of life? To shed some light on the matter, it is necessary to understand

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds how energy transitions took place up to today: from biomass to coal, and later to oil and natural gas.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds This path shows some important facts: Firstly, any new resource does not substitute the previous one. In this manner, the level of complexity of current societies has increased proportionally to the accumulation of primary energy used worldwide. Secondly, the power density of the resource shows an increasing value.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds This is because of the decarbonisation process: each new resource uses less Carbone molecules in favour of Hydrogen. Last, but not least, we have to understand the importance of fossil fuel reservoirs. We can have access to them in a solid, liquid or gas state directly. The related-technology defines the intensity of their use. We increase the supply capacity as much as it is needed. This is possible through a highly complex and mature petrochemical industry that includes the transportation of primary energy and raw materials around the world. Our current economic system works on demand.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 seconds So, the shift towards renewables is not the first transition humans have undertaken, but its particularities make it impossible for us to replicate the functions that defined the energy transitions of the past. First of all, phasing out fossil fuels means to stop using fossil fuels. It represents a total substitution of resources and it means that two thirds of the proven fossil resources must be kept underground in order to maintain global warming below 2ºC. Secondly, renewable energy has a lower power density than fossil fuels. This means that an intensive use of land is needed and that this usage has to be local, for a low power density resource cannot be transported thousands of miles.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds It threatens the international trade system as it is nowadays. Only hydrogen can provide higher power density than fossils as it culminates the decarbonisation process. Total absence of Carbone molecules. But H2 is not a primary energy resource, but an energy carrier, instead. There are no reservoirs of hydrogen, so it has to be synthetized in a manner that total H2 efficiency drops dramatically and the advantage in terms of power density is lost. Thirdly, shifting towards renewables means we are moving from a reservoir of primary resources to a flux of energy and it changes the way we organise our societies. Post-oil era is a must, and it is possible, but it won’t be easy at all.

Skip to 4 minutes and 10 seconds To address the transition towards renewables it is mandatory to identify the main barriers we must jump over. It is not a matter of The Answer, but rather asking the right questions. Methodologically, it is necessary to focus on the main barriers to properly assess the short and medium term decisions we are making. There are some technical problems that have to be addressed, such as all those related to storage, wind off-shore, materials for energy transition, among others. But non-technical barriers, deserve even greater attention. From a financial perspective, if 2/3 of fossil fuel remains underground, the value of oil companies can drop down very fast. Besides, a non-fossil fuel system changes the economics of energy.

Skip to 4 minutes and 58 seconds The marginal cost of any MWh produced by renewables is getting close to 0. Furthermore, only with high power density resources we can keep an intensive economy that goes faster and faster. On the contrary, renewables threaten the concept of productivity due to a lesser power availability. This is fundamental. It is not a matter of total energy produced/used on a yearly basis, but rather a matter of total energy delivered at any time to keep societies as they are today. Is it a problem? Or an opportunity? We must frame our activities within the limits of the resources at hand, as well as the technological state of the art; otherwise, the system cannot be viable, nor reliable.

Skip to 5 minutes and 49 seconds Another barrier is regulation and, specifically, the lack of legal framework securing the required investments to shift the energy sector towards a low carbon paradigm. The problems that Spaniards are facing for self-consumption based on Solar PV are a clear example of this kind of barrier. Last, but not least, social barriers also have to be addressed in order to enable the transition. Using cheap fossil fuels has provided a lot of energy privileges, so it is not easy to give them up now. What will happen around the globe? Will all societies coordinate for a fair transition? Are global institutions, such as the UN, strong enough? Or, on the contrary, will each region follow its own path?

Skip to 6 minutes and 40 seconds Global governance is an issue and the development of the Paris agreement will become an important precedent.

Skip to 6 minutes and 52 seconds An Era beyond oil is not a hypothesis, but a reality. And the process has already started. There is a technical dimension based on storage, smart grids and renewables. But there are other non-technical aspects to take into account, such as energy economics, regulation and social acceptance. Are you ready?

Power and energy transition impact in the world economy

An Era beyond oil is not a hypothesis, but a reality. And the process has already started. There is a technical dimension based on storage, smart grids and renewables. But there are other non-technical aspects to take into account, such as energy economics, regulation and social acceptance. Are you ready?

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Smart Grids for Smart Cities: Towards Zero Emissions

EIT InnoEnergy