In spite of occasional reminders in terms of power blackouts and price spikes at the gas pumps, we do not want to trade reliability against affordability

Until we can achieve the vision of an electricity- and hydrogen-based economy, we will have to depend on existing energy sources. With a growing consumption of energy from the finite sources of economically available hydrocarbon fuels, we will need to be more energy-efficient in an increasingly sustainable way. We need ‘energy endurance’ to allow us more time for making the transition as seamless as possible.

The challenge is significant. The US has 280 million people. We consume close to 100 million TJ of energy, but we produce only 72 million TJ. The difference is covered by imports. The US, with just 4.5% of the world’s total population, consumes 25% of the total energy. We import more than 50% of the oil refined to gasoline for our cars. From being self-sufficient in natural gas, we have also become an importer of gas and, even with expanded supplies from Canada, we will increasingly need to import natural gas from overseas.

The US is not alone having an energy deficit. Among the OECD countries only Canada, the UK, Norway and Denmark are presently net exporters of energy. However, in a not too distant future it will be just Canada and Norway. OECD countries consume almost 60% of the world’s production but, looking forward, more regions and countries will demand or want a bigger share of the available energy. The developing and newly industrialized countries’ demand on energy is growing faster and is forecasted to exceed the energy consumption of the OECD countries by 2020.

Oil reserves in relation to production have not grown since 1990. Reserves are now estimated to last about 40 years, with natural gas reserves estimated to last about 60 years. The only fossil fuel in relative abundance is coal, with reserves calculated to last about 220 years. Coal gasification processes may be used for production of synthetic oil and gas with a reduced environmental impact, but not without a cost premium.

If securing affordable energy is not challenging enough, environmental challenges, related to both global warming and air quality, as well as the national security challenges, make the energy equation much more complicated. Without making any claims to present a complete action list for energy endurance, I would suggest attention to seven areas:

The end of the beginning?

Now finally about to become law, the EU Directive on cogeneration has a long history. Here, COGEN Europe’s Simon Minett and Heidi Olli discuss how the final text evolved from highly unambitious beginnings in 2001, and what the consequences of its enactment will be, both for Member States and for Europe’s cogeneration industry.

The European Parliament voted to accept the Cogeneration Directive in its plenary session on 18 December 2003, following a last-minute agreement with the Council of Ministers designed to avoid the prospect of a lengthy conciliation procedure. This means that the Directive has now overcome its last major hurdle and is now almost certain to become law just before the new Parliamentary elections. The last stage, the formal adoption by the Council, occurred on 26 January and now the Directive will become law in early March.

The agreement of the compromise by the Parliament and the Council is great news for the industry and will result in a sound legal basis for cogeneration as a solution to carbon dioxide emission reductions, energy savings and a rational option to meeting the future needs for Europe’s electricity demand. The decision to reach an early agreement means that the Directive will be in force soon – and we can redouble our efforts to improve the European market for cogeneration.

However, at the time of the adoption of the Directive, Europe is at crossroads with its energy policy. Last year saw the electricity industry struggling with a number of unexpected difficulties in France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere. Firstly, across Europe the lights have been going out and the electricity system is under pressure. The blackouts have caused some to question the appropriateness of the current electricity system to face the challenges of 21st century.

Secondly, due to the very hot, dry summer last year, Europe has been faced with huge problems with keeping large power stations operating. At times during the summer there was not enough water in the rivers or the river water was too warm to run the cooling towers for large central power stations. The power industry is very thirsty; to generate a single megawatt-hour of electricity from a central power station with cooling towers requires 80,000 litres of water. Last summer the thirst could not be satisfied everywhere, leading to power stations being stopped, which in turn contributed to the grid problems.