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Seb Kennedy's picture
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I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

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  • Sep 10, 2021
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Natural gas prices are soaring across Europe and Asia, propelled by resilient demand and patchy supplies. This demonstrates how deeply gas has become entrenched in the global economy – and how poorly equipped the gas industry is to provide the affordable ‘bridge fuel’ it says the energy transition needs. The partially commoditised nature of gas trade complicates pricing, exacerbates volatility, fuels supercycles and deters investment – heaping uncertainty onto long-term gas demand. And then there is the small question of emissions.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 10, 2021

Seb, that gas is some kind of "bridge" fuel was recognized early on as a cynical marketing ploy by fossil fuel interests.

From a historical perspective, fossil fuel interests have always put profit above every other consideration. That its purveyors would someday recognize solar and wind necessary for the planet's health, declare bankruptcy, clean out their desks, and lock the door behind them is preposterous.

Solar and wind can never replace gas when they require it. That's the point - to build a bridge with no end.

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Seb Kennedy on Sep 13, 2021

Bob,

Profit motive drives the world, it is not unique to any subsector of the energy economy. To that extent, you could even argue marketing is by definition an exercise in cynicism.

The idea that the technological race is a competition between companies is to me a bit preposterous. The energy system won’t change until the incumbents let it, and that happens only when the new technology is making them money.

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Bob Meinetz on Sep 13, 2021

Seb, I'm confused by the point you're trying to make. For example:

"The idea that the technological race is a competition between companies is to me a bit preposterous."

Since the dawn of the Enlightenment every technological race has been a race between companies, and the idea there are "incumbents" is imaginary. The largest energy companies in the world are in a constant and bitter fight over profits - and whether a new technology shows the most promise for fighting climate change has little bearing on its profitability.

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Seb Kennedy on Sep 16, 2021

Yes, you are right that the pure-play technological companies are the ones in competition. 

 

The companies that produce, process, distribute and supply many varied types of energy and energy-related products to millions of people, companies and industries all over the world are the incumbents I was referring to. And their entrenched positions across energy value chains and market segments mean they are uniquely positioned to influence and prosper from any new supply-side technologies that come along.

 

"whether a new technology shows the most promise for fighting climate change has little bearing on its profitability" <-- over what timeframe are we talking about here? Month-ahead energy markets are doing crazy things right now, but in the 2030s I suspect *any* technology that shows promise for fighting climate change will be financed to the hilt and fast-tracked to the moon by governments and regulators.

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Bob Meinetz on Sep 18, 2021

Seb, nuclear energy shows promise for fighting climate change right now. But it produces so much clean energy, from so little fuel, in power plants that are capable of lasting up to a century, it's just not that profitable.
 

Profit is driven by consumption - whether it's selling natural gas or coal, solar panels or wind turbines, gasoline, bunker oil, grid-scale batteries, biomass, plastic-from-waste, refineries, kerosene, hydrogen-from-methane, fuel cells, biofuel, offshore drilling rigs, etc etc etc.

What does nuclear have to offer, once the plant is built? Not sales of uranium, that's for sure. Global sales of the uranium that fuels all the world's plants, and produces a full 10% of electricity worldwide, are approx. $5 billion/yr.
 

Global sales of coal are $890 billion/yr - two orders of magnitude more money to be made.

Viewed in that perspective, it's easy to see why relying on free market investment to solve climate change has been, and will continue to be, a losing battle.

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Seb Kennedy on Sep 20, 2021

Interesting points Bob. Instead of free market investment, what do you propose?

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Bob Meinetz on Sep 20, 2021

Public problems are never solved by private solutions. At best, they're translated to different public problems - ones that serve the interests of private investors, first and foremost, with dire implications for  the least fortunate members of society. But fortunately, there's reason to believe a public solution for climate change is possible.

France, which had generated 100% of its electricity by burning oil, was brought to its knees by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Determined to achieve energy independence, Prime Minister Pierre Messmer conceived a plan to generate 100% of his country's electricity with nuclear power by 1990. In the face of considerable opposition, the "Messmer Plan" was instituted  by parliamentary decree - an unprecedented step in France's postwar political environment.

By 1986, 58 nuclear reactors were providing over 80% of French electricity affordably and without an ounce of carbon emissions. Most historians believe if it weren't for the Chernobyl disaster, Messmer's 1990 goal would have been achieved.

So, yes - fast, complete decarbonization is possible. Nuclear power isn't a great job creator or moneymaker, and contrary to popular perception, it isn't even that expensive. But it does require leadership - something money can't buy. Whether independent leadership is possible anymore remains to be seen.

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