Shell energy expert: Renewables switch could take 30 years

By Ed King

Increasing energy demand, the flexibility of fossil fuels and the time it takes to deploy renewables means fossil fuels will dominate supply for the forseeable future, according to Shell energy expert Martin Haigh.

Speaking ahead of the Transition Town Berkhamsted Climate Question Time event, Haigh, who is Senior Energy Advisor in Shell’s Scenarios Team, called for realism on renewables and increased research into technologies such as Biofuels and Carbon, Capture & Storage (CCS).

In November the International Energy Agency warned that the world was heading for ‘irreversible climate change’ unless the use of fossil fuels was severely curtailed.

But based on Shell’s projections, Haigh says oil, coal and gas will be an integral part of the fuel mix for the next two to three decades.

“I think it’s difficult to see otherwise – the growth rates of other sources like biofuels and solar have been quite impressive, however it’s questions of order of magnitude,” he said.

“When we have looked at the deployment of energy at a world scale, it typically takes around 30 years when something has been a success, to go from a pilot plant to being 1% of the world’s total primary energy.

“Solar is around that 1% today, so we’ve got a long haul. Fossil dominates our energy system and it will do for quite some time.”

Most energy scenarios focus on 2050 – and Haigh said that by that point the energy mix should have diversified enough to allow consumers to choose from a variety of fuels – especially when it came to driving.

“It’s very difficult to depose oil from its dominance in transport, because it has so many enormous advantages, and to find another energy carrier that can compete as well as petrol and diesel is very difficult.

“Hopefully there will be a choice or biofuels, electricity and possibly even hydrogen, which is coming more into favour in the last few years.”

Shell legal action

In related news Royal Dutch Shell has revealed in its 2011 annual report, published today, that it has faced legal action over its contribution to climate change.

“Shell, together with other energy companies, has been subject to litigation regarding climate change,” the report stated.

“We believe these lawsuits are without merit and are not material to Shell.”


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