Samuele Furfari: "Use of fossil fuel inevitable in medium term"
By Marie-Martine Buckens | Friday 31 August 2012
There is no getting away from the facts, notes Samuele Furfari in his latest book, 'Politique et géopolitique de l’énergie'. An engineer, adviser to the deputy director-general of the European Commission's DG Energy and lecturer at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Furfari presents figures in support of his view that the global energy situation is nowhere near as disastrous as the gloom mongers claim. Demand for oil and gas will continue to rise, he admits, which will lead to an unprecedented geopolitical revolution. However, demand for oil is expected to stabilise over the longer term, along with population growth, he told
Europolitics in his personal capacity in an exclusive interview.
Furfari referred straight away to the Rio+20 declaration, 'The future we want', adopted in late June 2012 by the heads of state and government of the entire planet. "Eradicating poverty is in a priority position, in the second paragraph of the declaration, whereas climate change is not mentioned until Paragraph 17." An energy specialist and man of faith, Furfari places man at the heart of his concerns. "Presently, more than 1.32 billion human beings do not have access to electricity and 2.4 billion cook with traditional renewable energy, breathing in very harmful substances in the process." The needs of the emerging countries are also on the rise. Can all these needs be met by renewable energy? "Let's look at the facts first. From 2000 to 2010, the rise in global coal consumption was equivalent to the rise in consumption of all other forms of energy. The facts do not always concur with the wishes of policy makers…"
Today, continued Furfari, growth is on the agenda again, although it was taboo only a year ago, especially in Europe. But if the world wants growth, it needs energy. All the charts show the decline in consumption since growth came to a halt in autumn 2008. "Of course, we have to be efficient. But being efficient with costly energy sources like offshore wind farms and photovoltaic is not necessarily easy." That said, the adviser to DG Energy does not reject renewable energy. "It will take on a growing role in Europe, even greater than our projections. In any event, it is for member states to choose, and Article 194.2 of the EU treaty is very clear on this point."
From politics to geopolitics
Alongside these policies, "which have to be politically correct," stands geopolitics, a subject on which Furfari has strong views. "The public is surprised that we are concerned about ensuring a secure supply, particularly for gas. Yet this is a fundamental aspect of our energy policy." In the EU, it is not always easy to speak with one voice, because member states tend to defend their champions, but the Union is moving in the right direction, he observed. The Commission has been mandated to try to prepare the trans-Caspian pipeline that will deliver gas to the EU. But there is more than just the Caspian, added Furfari, mentioning the memoranda of agreement signed with Iraq and Azerbaijan and the one being drawn up with Algeria. He also referred to Israel's need to develop its gas market in the wake of the discovery of reserves equivalent to 120 years at today's consumption rate.
Paying attention to heat
What are his projections for the EU? "I am wary. The scenarios are contradicted too often," he said. "European gas reserves are declining and coal mines are closing. Renewable energy is growing but there is still this state of tension. Alongside electricity generation, I find that we have tended to neglect heat production: not from electricity, which would not be very astute, but we should be attentive to gas. Fortunately, the new energy efficiency directive has strengthened the role of combined heat and power generation and relaunches the matter of insulation of buildings." Asked about nuclear energy, Furfari said he believes in it: "Although nuclear energy is less and less popular in Europe since Fukushima, it is continuing to develop worldwide, especially in Asia".
To conclude, Furfari commented: "In Europe, renewable energy is destined to expand, probably more than we expect. But this progression will not limit rising use of fossil energy either in Europe or in the rest of the world. This growth will nonetheless be limited, particularly because of energy efficiency. You know, it is a pipe dream to believe in linear growth. Energy growth, like all phenomena, will peak. As the population stabilises, rising demand will tend to stabilise over the longer term. But that does not mean that all is well. The energy transition will take 20 to 30 years, during which we will need fossil energy. Today, thanks to unconventional gas, we estimate gas reserves at 250 years. Not using these reserves is inconceivable. With renewables, the EU might achieve this energy consumption asymptote faster than other regions. The fact remains, though, that in many areas of the world, the use of fossil fuel is still necessary to ensure this famous growth, which will maintain or even worsen geopolitical tensions."
Asked about energy in relation to the environment, Furfari stressed the importance of observing the rule of law. "Corruption is synonymous with pollution. The rule of law helps improve living conditions and the environment. I would like to stress the priority here. By taking care of people, we take care of the environment, not vice versa."
'Politique et géopolitique de l'énergie' is published by Editions Technip in Paris. See