War in Ukraine spurs 'rapid deployment' for renewables, energy chief says
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent energy costs surging, European leaders scrambling for alternative suppliers of gas, and redirected flows of Russian oil toward Asia. Some European countries also burned more coal in response to the energy shock. But the most transformational long-term change will be in increased investments in renewable energy, according to International Energy Agency chief energy economist Tim Gould.
Wind turbines turn behind a solar farm in Rapshagen, Germany, Oct. 28, 2021.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent energy costs surging, European leaders scrambling for alternative suppliers of gas, and redirected flows of Russian oil toward Asia.
Some European countries also burned more coal in response to the energy shock.
But the most transformational long-term change will be in increased investments in renewable energy, according to International Energy Agency chief energy economist Tim Gould.
Gould spoke with The World's host Marco Werman about the war's longlasting impacts to energy markets.
Marco Werman: It's been more than a year and a half since many Western countries vowed to stop buying Russian oil and gas. Has Russia been able to find other buyers or are they just producing less oil and gas than they were before the war?
Tim Gould: So oil is much more easy to move around the world. And so by and large, Russia has been more successful in finding new buyers for oil than it has for gas; 80% of Russia's crude exports now go to China and to India. But gas is different. Gas, you transport by pipeline. And if your buyer at the end of that pipeline is no longer taking that gas, it's much more difficult to find alternative markets. So the effects on gas markets have been larger and I think they will have a longer-lasting effect on Russian production.
Overall, what kind of impact has a war had on the consumption of fossil fuels, across the board? I'm thinking of those European countries that started burning more coal once the war started.
So global oil demand is reaching some record levels and global gas demand is back to where it was prior to the crisis. And coal consumption worldwide has been at a close-to-record highs in recent years and setting new highs. But I think that picture of continuity misses some important things that have changed in markets. Because what's happened as a result of these very high fuel prices that we've seen is that many countries have doubled down on clean energy technologies. So, something dramatic has started to shift in the energy system. And a lot of that has to do with the with the strains, with the bruises, with the difficult market conditions that we've had during the crisis.
Your details on the rise in coal and other fossil fuels makes me wonder about greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector last year as a result of the war. Did they tick up more than expected?
They ticked up, but I don't think they ticked up more than expected. They did reach a new high, but if it wasn't for the increase in renewables, the increase in efficiency, that rise in energy related CO2 emissions would have been three times higher.
So, you at the International Energy Agency, make projections about what the energy mix will look like in the future. What's your prognosis for the war's impact on the transition to renewable energy long-term?
We see a peak in overall fossil fuel demand before the end of this decade, and it's I think it's quite an important moment in energy history. The aggregate picture is one where the fossil fuel demand starts to flatten out and then starts to decline.
You kind of referred to this moment as a really important one in energy history. How big of a long-term impact do you think the war in Ukraine will have on the world's energy mix, Tim?
We think at the International Energy Agency that when you look back in 2030, at the events of the last two years, this will be seen as an important turning point in the world's reaction to climate change. We are not reacting fast enough, but some important things have changed. Policies have become stronger, Deployment of important technologies has become stronger as well.
Are you saying that without the war in Ukraine that the move to renewables would have been slower?
I think it's undoubtedly true that if you look at the policy response in Europe, this has been an important spur for rapid deployment of a range of renewable technologies. Policies elsewhere have have reacted as well. And I think the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States is a good example. But there are examples in other countries too, of how high fossil fuel prices have spurred greater interest in cost-efficient, clean technologies as an answer to people's energy needs. We need a balanced range of technologies across a complex energy system. We need to ensure reliability, we need grids, we need all sorts of other infrastructure. And but I think action in many of those areas has received a boost as a result of what we've been through over the last two years.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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