Why the energy transition involves a lifestyle change

For the engineer Maxence Cordiez, it is important to acknowledge the failure of our energy transition policy and to consider an alternative, which could involve reducing our consumption.

wind turbines

Europe is struggling with a heat wave that is causing forest fires from Greece to the Arctic Circle. In the coming years, these events will become more frequent and violent. However, in 2016, greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of climate change, increased in France and exceeded by 3.6% the government’s national low-carbon scenario, which aims to reduce them by a factor of 4 by 2050. Why are we losing this race for the climate on which our future depends?

A little technical reminder. The so-called “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) have the property of causing global warming by preventing thermal radiation from dissipating into the universe. This is the case for carbon dioxide (CO2), which is produced by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and methane (emitted by ruminant animals, among others). Apart from the agricultural sector, man-made greenhouse gases come mainly from fossil fuels. To reduce them, we have two options: change energy sources and reduce our consumption.

Changing energy sources: the carbon transition

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must replace fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) with low-carbon energy sources (renewable, nuclear, geothermal, etc.), first and foremost in the sectors that consume the most: transport and building heating.

In France, the logical priority should therefore be to develop thermal renewable energies, capable of replacing fuel oil and heating gas. However, that is not what we are doing. According to a recent report published by the Court of Auditors, thermal renewable energies receive only a little more than one-tenth of the public subsidies allocated to electrical renewable energies (solar and wind), even though the latter replace nuclear electricity production (low carbon) with a zero climate balance.

If all our efforts are aimed at substituting low-carbon energy sources for each other rather than replacing fossil fuels, we will continue to aggravate climate change.

Reducing consumption

Fossil fuels have the advantage of being easily accessible, cheap, concentrated and storable without effort, unlike electricity, which is poorly stored and has significant losses. Low-carbon energy sources have other disadvantages, such as intermittency in the case of solar and wind power. This is why, in 2016, 80% of the primary energy consumed worldwide was of fossil origin (compared to 6.4% for hydroelectricity, 4.2% for nuclear, 1.5% for wind and 0.5% for solar). An energy transition that would be based only on a simple change of energy source without significantly reducing energy consumption at the same time is thus illusory. This aspect should be at the heart of the very concept of ecological transition.

The mistake is to believe that the energy transition is a simple question of engineering, transparent to the population. In reality, it is mainly a question of society and changing consumption patterns. We must put in place tools to promote energy efficiency and sobriety at national and European level. Some actions are simple (banning fridges without doors in stores…), others less so because they will affect elements of comfort that we imagined we had acquired. For example, the transport sector is the main contributor to climate change in France. This could lead to a decision to limit the fuel consumption of new vehicles by law. For the avoided greenhouse gas emissions to be sufficient to meet our climate objectives, this consumption limit would have to be low enough, but this would affect vehicle performance (speed, payload, etc.). This is why it is essential to involve the population in the energy transition, whose impact on their lifestyle will only be accepted if they fully understand the issues involved.

Climate change is probably the main threat to our survival in the coming decades. It comes from what makes our societies comfortable: the over-consumption of energy, essentially fossil. Coal burned in China gives us access to high-performance computers and telephones at low cost. The essence allows us to move quickly and without effort or constraint. Containing climate change will therefore not be easy and will require a significant effort from all of us. Without it, the energy transition will continue to be a failure, for which we will all pay the bill.

By 2050, the jobs of the future in energy

By 2050, global energy demand is expected to double. Fossil fuels, renewable energies or nuclear energy, these are the sectors that will grow in importance.

By 2050, global energy demand is expected to double. Enough to ensure work and careers in the energy sector. This is, first of all, the case of geological engineers, exploitation or reservoir in oil and gas. They still have a bright future ahead of them. “Recruitment is supported by the current level of oil prices,” says Philippe Pinchon, director of the IFP School, the leading engineering school in the sector. It is unlikely to decline in the short term. This should be the combined result of a decline in demand, despite the economic and demographic growth of emerging countries, the settlement of geopolitical conflicts in some producing countries (Libya, Iraq, Nigeria) and non-intervention by OPEC. »

“The energy efficiency market”

Even in the ideal scenario described by the IEA to reduce CO2 emissions, fossil fuels would still account for 46% of the energy supply in 2050, compared to 80% today. The trades will become more technical. Offshore drilling, unconventional oil or gas, energy sources are and will become increasingly difficult to find and refine. Not to mention the security aspects, the environmental and ethical considerations that are being added, or the digital evolution. The geologist of tomorrow will thus have to know how to use the possibilities offered by Big Data.

For their part, tomorrow’s biochemists and agricultural engineers will work on alternatives to oil in transport by developing biofuels. The first generation (from food products) is already on the market. The second generation (agricultural waste) is close to being so and the third generation (algae) is being prepared.

On the other hand, candidates for positions in wind power or photovoltaics will have to wait. “Hiring and investments are focused on the energy efficiency market, which is profitable in the short, medium and long term. Construction and industrial companies are looking for auditors or technical sales representatives. The key to entry is the thermal diploma,” observes Jean-Philippe Teboul, partner director of the recruitment firm Orientation durable.

“Promising and essential professions”

Finally, there is always nuclear power. By 2020, 14 of the oldest reactors will be 40 years old or older. In 2040, the fourth generation reactor will be built. And then, of course, there’s the grandpa-boom. “Our young employees are trained for 1 to 2 years in our professions,” explains Michaële Guégan, HR Director of the Production & Engineering Department for EDF. This requires us to anticipate early retirement. This year, 2,300 of our 3,000 new hires are in the nuclear sector. The job of nuclear driving field technician alone represents 200 new hires and that of systems operation engineer about 100. These are promising and essential professions.”