Francesco La Camera: “You can’t have everything in this life, the alternative is 7 million deaths from air pollution” | Economy

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is defined as an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition towards a sustainable energy future. Among its objectives is to promote the widespread adoption of all forms of renewable energy, but the entity defends that its guidelines not only seek to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate environmental impact, but also guarantee that the energy supply is safe and fair.

Ask. The exorbitant prices of gas, electricity and oil, and supply uncertainties due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have exposed the weaknesses of the system. Is it a new problem or did it already exist and now we have realized it?

Response. Obviously, we already had the problem. What the crisis in Ukraine shows is that we cannot trust a system based on fossil fuels, because it is outdated and unreliable. 80% of the countries in the world depend on fossil fuels and price fluctuations have been a constant, because the supply has been in the hands of a few suppliers.

P. Should we fear that this energy crisis will upset the order of priorities and relegate the commitment to sustainability and renewable energies to a secondary level?

R. We cannot afford to relegate the challenges we have in terms of sustainability. From IRENA we publish the World Energy Transitions Outlook, a document that outlines the panorama for the energy transition and, if there is not a drastic change in the way we produce and consume energy, the objective of limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade. They will even exceed 2 degrees.

P. The UN has already predicted that global warming will be 2.7 degrees by the end of the century if nothing is done. Are we not doing things right?

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.


R. In the tables of our executive summary we reflect it clearly: we do some things very badly and others badly, but we are not fulfilling any of the established points well. And we’re running out of time.

P. It does not invite optimism.

R. We rely on facts, not opinions. The market is leading us towards a new energy system, and this new system must be based on renewables and complemented by hydrogen and sustainable biomass. There is no question about which direction we need to take, the question is whether we are taking it fast enough and with measures that are of the right scale.

P. Twenty years ago, in “The Hydrogen Economy”, Jeremy Rifkin already alluded to an energy system “with the capacity to radically reshape civilization”. Is hydrogen still a prediction of the future rather than a reality of the present?

R. I know Jeremy Rifkin’s book, of course, and I’m not going to argue with its content. It has something of the prophetic, but it also contains substantial errors. The real revolution comes from the hand of renewables, because without renewables we cannot have the clean hydrogen that we need for a sustainable system.

P. Hydrogen, what role does it play in the energy model?

R. Provide energy where electrification does not reach, as is the case of large cargo ships, transport or heavy industry. A second function of hydrogen has to do with its role in energy storage. We estimate that in 2050 hydrogen will represent 12% of global energy consumption.

P. It attributes to renewables a primordial weight in the energy transition. Is there enough space to deploy so many wind farms and photovoltaic installations?

R. Space is an issue to consider, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle. It is necessary to think about offshore wind farms, they give us a large part of the answer. In addition, there are technical solutions for photovoltaics. It has been shown that its implementation is compatible with farms.

P. Both the mills and the large solar farms often generate opposition in the territory that has to receive them.

R. It is a communication problem, because it is evident that this is the correct solution. It is much better than having contamination.

P. Tourism or sectors such as the wine industry allege that they suffer damages due to the proximity of large wind or photovoltaic infrastructures.

R. Precisely, wine producers know that each year they have to anticipate the harvest because global warming advances the ripening cycle of the grape. Renewables are there to solve problems, problems that also affect these sectors.

P. The information is known and is not new, but the rejection does not refer. What is the strategy to reach consensus?

R. Each territory has its different realities, there is no single way to approach it. But you can’t have everything in this life. The alternative is to have 7 million dead from air pollution.

P. In Spain, last year nuclear energy contributed 20.8% of electricity generation. Is that a percentage too high at this point?

R. It is a decision of each country to configure what its energy mix is. What I can say is that we all agree that this decade is decisive for climate change, so installing new nuclear capacity is not going to be useful for the fight we have this decade. A nuclear power plant takes twelve or fourteen years to be able to supply energy to the grid.

P. Is nuclear sustainable?

R. In our scenario, we forecast the global contribution of nuclear power to be 2% in 2050.

P. How do you assess the Spanish proposal to put a cap on the price of gas seeking to limit the price of electricity?

R. I represent an international organization and I cannot enter to evaluate the decision of a State, but Spain is showing strong leadership in the energy transition.

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