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The evolving world of energy economics Stampa E-mail
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Lo scorso ottobre l’Associazione Italiana Economisti dell’Energia ha ospitato a Roma il congresso internazionale della IAEE, l’International Association for Energy Economics (vedi Nuova Energia 6|2014). Questo prestigioso appuntamento si è svolto a due soli anni di distanza dal precedente, che era andato in scena a Venezia nel 2012.
Un confronto tra le memorie scientifiche presentate nelle due occasioni (304 a Venezia e 374 a Roma) ha confermato come il mondo dell’energia sia in rapida e profonda evoluzione; con qualche sorpresa davvero inaspettata! Prima di tutto si segnala una minore attenzione nei confronti delle singole tecnologie (prese come elemento di riferimento della discussione) in favore di un approccio più olistico. Altro elemento interessante riguarda le fonti fossili non convenzionali. Sebbene rappresentino, per larga parte degli addetti ai lavori, la vera novità degli ultimi anni, nell’agenda di Roma hanno avuto meno spazio di quanto ci si potesse attendere. Scetticismo sugli effettivi margini di sviluppo? Realismo sulle opportunità di diffusione, per lo meno in Europa, per le possibili opposizioni in ambito locale e i timori di impatto ambientale? Comunque sia, tra i presenti al simposio di Roma sembra aver prevalso la posizione: Stiamo alla finestra e poi si vedrà.
La geopolitica si conferma un tema di assoluto rilievo. Il vecchio concetto di Stati canaglia sembra comunque essere superato, e si ampliano le zone ritenute ad alto tasso di influenza (almeno potenziale): Paesi MENA, l’area del Caspio, alcune nazioni del Centro Africa...
Sul carbone le posizioni restano aperte.
La necessità di contenere le emissioni di anidride carbonica è tenuta in grande e crescente considerazione. Ma i due principali utilizzatori europei, la Germania e la Gran Bretagna, non sembrano voler rinunciare a questa opzione e spingono quindi nella direzione della carbon capture and storage.
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Su questo aspetto Roma non è stata comunque
in grado di lanciare un messaggio incoraggiante: l’attuale sviluppo tecnologico non è tale da poter garantire il raggiungimento degli obiettivi stabiliti dalla road map sulla CCS per il 2030.
In netto calo appaiono le quotazioni dell’energia nucleare: a Roma ci sono state solo due presentazioni rispetto alle otto di Venezia. Al contrario, le fonti rinnovabili continuano ad animare il dibattito. Anche per questo tema, però, si rileva un significativo cambio di orizzonte tra l’approccio di Venezia e quello di Roma. Nel 2012 ancora ci si domandava se fosse possibile concepire dei sistemi elettrici alimentati da grandi quantitativi di energie rinnovabili non programmabili. Oggi abbiamo la risposta: sì, è possibile ed esistono già esempi concreti di realizzazione. La questione si sposta, dunque, da se a come. Restando in tema, va segnalato lo spazio decisamente maggiore dedicato alle rinnovabili elettriche rispetto a quelle termiche, la netta prevalenza dell’eolico e del fotovoltaico, il modesto entusiasmo espresso nei confronti del geotermico, la marginale attenzione dedicata alle biomasse.
Grande rilevanza, naturalmente, è stata destinata all’efficienza energetica in ambito industriale e nell’edilizia. E qui valgono le stesse notazioni fatte all’inizio di questo commento: più che sulle singole tecnologie, Roma ha acceso i riflettori su aspetti generali e di sistema (il quadro regolatorio e degli incentivi).
Infine, i trasporti. Si tratta di un settore strategico, in Europa responsabile di circa il 30 per cento della domanda complessiva di energia. La Conferenza di Roma ne ha parlato, ma probabilmente la questione meriterebbe maggiore attenzione. Inoltre, spesso, quando si affronta il tema si tende a indugiare su singoli aspetti molto specifici (ad esempio, i sistemi di carica delle batterie dei veicoli elettrici), perdendo un po’ di vista il quadro generale e i macro problemi.
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di Cecilia Camporeale e Ugo Farinelli



A comparison of the papers presented at the IAEE European Conferences of Venice (2012) and Rome (2014) indicates in a strict sense the evolution of the interests and the priorities of the European energy economists, but also - in a broader way - the changes of the world energy situation.
In order to make such a comparison we have considered all the contributed papers approved in the peer review for presentation in the concurrent sessions; the overall numbers are pretty similar (80 concurrent sessions both in Venice and in Rome; 304 papers presented in Venice versus 374 in Rome).
First of all, a very general impression concerns the decreasing role of technological issues in the discussion. The original break-down of the subject matters in these IAEE European Conferences followed closely a classification by technology (e.g. fossil fuel versus renewable energy, PV versus wind, silicon versus multi-junction, etcetera) and then considered the instruments (incentives, regulations, etcetera) necessary to open the way to the desired technologies. The classification by technology has widely disappeared, replaced by a more holistic approach or by a classification by type of instrument. This shift away from a technologic approach is in our opinion positive, in that it diversifies the IAEE Conferences from other events where the technological approach is more in order, and it corresponds more closely to the approach generally followed by energy economists.



There is of course the awareness that fossil fuels dominate the energy market, and they will continue to do so in the next two or three decades. However, the single most relevant change in the last years at the world level has been the rapid and widely unforeseen role taken up by unconventional fossil fuels, shale oil and gas in particular. These new developments have widely changed some of the tenets on security of supply and on competitive markets, with huge consequences on the import dependence of the United States in particular, on the verge of turning from net energy importer to net exporter.
Who reasonably expected this new development to be adequately reflected in the agenda of the Rome meeting may remain unappeased. Apart from the overall increase in unconventional hydrocarbon resources duly taken into account in world-wide scenarios, such as those developed by international agencies and multinational corporations, very few papers dealt with the specific role of these new energy sources in Europe. Pessimism about their perspectives? Or realism about the more fragile environmental conditions and even more the widespread public opposition met in the first approaches and evidenced specifically for instance in France and in Poland? Whichever the reasons, for the time being, the prevailing attitude seems to be one of wait-and-see.



Geopolitics of course remains of great importance and of increasing difficulty. The attention is now shifting to the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries, to the Caspian region, to some Central Africa situations. Even the old-time concept of rogue countries is more blurred (think of Iran or Syria) and finer distinctions become essential (in listening in to some of the very instructive lectures delivered at the Roma conference one wonders whether a degree in theology is more relevant to procure oil and gas than one in geology). Within fossil fuels, oil is losing some of its centrality. Gas prices are less linked to oil prices, and tend to obey their own rules. Market analyses (mostly following classical economic approaches but some employing novel approaches) continue to be carried out at various scales. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is now part of the picture, including its direct utilisation in final energy uses for some applications.
The position of coal is somewhat ambiguous. The necessity of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is taken very seriously by all European countries, the most common response being the substitution of some GTCC power plants for coal plants. However, the two larger energy consumers in the EU, Germany and the UK, also envisage a greater role for coal, coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, the evolution of the CCS technology in Europe, as appeared in the Rome meeting (as already before, in the Venice meeting, one concurrent session devoted to CCS in each) does not seem to respect the roadmap which would be required to make this solution widely available and not prohibitively expensive by 2035-2030. The set of demonstrations that was considered necessary for such a solution appears to lag behind and for several options not to have moved the first step. One might suspect that where coal-based electricity production is really going to proceed on a very large scale - i.e. in the emerging economies like China, India or Indonesia - there appears to be no special hurry to introduce CCS, while the market for efficient and clean (except for CO2) power plants is extremely attractive.



Further declining appears the interest for nuclear power (eight papers in Venice, only two in Rome). Huge delays and increasing prices affect the few nuclear power stations whose construction is still planned or on-going in Europe (not counting Russia). Here, too, some potential for new nuclear power is seen in emerging economies and even in developing countries. But this potential market does not seem to be overly advertised in our events, possibly in response to negative public attitudes or in connection with proliferation preoccupations.
Renewable energy sources (RES) for electricity production, seen in their systems aspects, provided the single most important subject of discussion for the Rome meeting, much beyond their impact in the Venice event. This perhaps requires some words of comment. The main question, not yet fully answered at the time of the Venice conference was - is it possible to have a sizeable and consistent share of electricity produced in a country starting from RES and in particular from non-programmable energy sources, such as solar or wind? Now we have an answer, it is possible and it has been done. It is expensive, it may not be desirable and it certainly is not easy: nevertheless it can be done and it has been done.
Even recent studies concluded that it would not be feasible to use (partly) unpredictable RES in excess of 10 per cent; while field experience has shown batmuch higher shares (20 per cent or even more) and cases have been reported of large-scale systems being fed for some consistent time by RES only.



No technological breakthrough is required, but an intelligent combination of reinforcement of transmission and distribution lines, some electricity storage (or storage of other forms of energy), a smart management of distributed electricity production and consumption (the prosumers). A consistent share of the papers presented tried to explain the results that have been obtained, many others explored possible ways of further improvement. When specific RES were mentioned, the most common case concerned wind energy, followed by solar photovoltaics. Little enthusiasm was gathered for geothermal energy, and very little attention was devoted to the applications of biomass (but here there may be a partial explanation in the large international congress on this subject held in Hamburg a few weeks before the Rome IAEE Conference).
Relatively less interest was expressed in the subject of thermal applications of RES. Even if heat production by solar collectors or by burning biomass is in many cases closer to economic competition than electricity production (or just because of that?), these applications appear less trendy or appealing.



Energy efficiency in industry and in buildings was explored in a number of papers. As was the case for the energy supply, and as we discussed at the beginning, less attention was devoted to the different technologies for energy saving, and more to the instruments employed, such as comparisons of the results obtained by regulatory instruments vis-à-vis incentives, tax reductions, etcetera.
Adequate, client-friendly financial instruments are indicated as priorities in industrial and buildings energy saving; training and adequate infrastructures are receiving due attention. As indicated by the EC directives, public buildings are seen as an occasion for testing, demonstration and show-casing of demand-side management interventions. Much of this activity can be found in the initiatives stemming from the Covenant of Mayors, the engagement of several thousand cities in a number of co-ordinated energy saving projects dating back to Agenda 21, but just now fully flourishing. One of the positive results of this initiative is that systems aspects are often taken into consideration in projects that span beyond energy aspects alone.



We have not mentioned so far the energy uses in transportation. This sector of final energy utilisation would in our opinion deserve more attention than it has received until now in our Conferences, if one considers that in Europe transport accounts for about 30 per cent of energy consumption, that this sector is often the only one in which energy use is increasing, and that transport is not flexible in terms of primary energy utilisation, relying today nearly entirely on oil products. The Rome Conference included two concurrent sessions devoted to energy in transport, one dealing with increasing fuel economy in transport and the other with electric and hybrid vehicles.
It is interesting to note that the aspect of main interest concerning electric vehicles was the role that charging batteries could have on electricity demand, creating an important opportunity for energy storage and of flexibility in the electricity demand side: a most interesting consideration, but somewhat marginal in terms of transport. The substitution of new fuels for petroleum derivatives, or the development of new transport systems for passengers and/ or goods remain mostly under- or nonexplored.



The investigation of the links between energy availability, energy prices and economic development is a subject which is punctually revisited at each major energy economics conference and this was the case also for the Rome meeting. However, interesting as the new points of view may be, there seems to be a gap between theoretical considerations and the reality of the economic crisis. The transition to a green economy of which the new energy paradigm should be a fundamental building block remains mostly as an inviting catchword with little content so far.
More concrete is the investigation on the access to energy in developing countries (a subject only skirted in our European conferences) or on energy poverty, which is present in many sectors of industrialised countries and was discussed in a session in Rome.

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