In La Tribune 23/10/2019
Three months before the French municipal elections in December 2019, in 70 days, The transit Russian gas contract through Ukraine will end. Without preempting the shape of its renewal, at the same time the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia directly to Germany will be operational.
In anticipation of this relay, to eliminate the risk of disruptions and to prove more than in the past the reliability of its deliveries, Moscow has already full gas tanks in Eastern Europe. The challenge is to ensure that Russia participates smoothly in the lighting, cooking and heating of our continent next winter. Thereafter, European gas will address several historical crossroads.
Competition between russian gas and US shale gas
The first of these hubs is favourable to gas consumption in general. In Germany, the decline in nuclear power continued and the 2038 scheduled shutdown of coal/lignite began. Moscow gas arrives just in time via Nord Stream 2.
The second crossing is unfavourable to Russian gas as it will be challenged by the increase in US shale gas deliveries, particularly in Poland and Ukraine. This gas competition will take the form of price competition, unless a cartelship, and will reopen a cold war in the middle of our continent between Washington and Moscow. Some insiders, in favour of one or the other, will be the different European energy policies and populisms. NATO’s manoeuvres will probably be a barometer of these tensions.
The third crossroads is very unfavourable to gas in general. The first European gas consumer, Germany, outlined at the end of September 2019 that its new energy plan would move the country towards zero carbon emissions by 2050. At the end of its first phase in 2030, it indicates that renewable electricity capacity will have increased from 50% to 75% of total capacity and 65% of the electricity produced in Germany will be green, compared to 40% today. Then the second stage will end in 2050 with climate neutrality.
Already 30,000 wind turbines in Germany… who wants 46,000 more ?
Here we should not confuse talks with reform; it is quite possible that in 2050 a clash between Russian and American gas will still be at the center of German municipalities, because how can more renewables can be put in Germany in 2050?
Of the 209 GW of German electricity capacity available in 2019, within a few years the disappearance of nuclear and coal/lignite will remove 53 GW. At the same time, 80 GW of solar and wind power capacity will be added by 2030. This means that in the next 10 years Berlin will plant the equivalent of 13,000 6 MW giant wind turbines or 6,500 12 MW supergiant wind turbines. Then, the second phase 2030-2050 will see Berlin’s capacity double to 400 GW, i.e. the equivalent of 33,000 new 6 MW wind turbines or 16,500 of 12 MW.
In 2019 there are already nearly 30,000 wind turbines already installed in Germany, I refuse to imagine where and how these 23,000 or 46,000 additional turbines would be installed since they are increasingly rejected by rural populations in Germany, as in France, the United Kingdom, Norway…
Massive urban renewable electricity ?
However, not everything will be wind power, since the Berlin plan also includes solar power. But the problem will remain the same for rural settlement. Since offshore wind energy also has technical and environmental limits, the solution remains in a massive renewable urban electricity production.
This is where we reach the French municipal elections next march. Fortunately, our country will continue to produce at least 50% of its power from nuclear, because what makes energy powerful is its storage. Uranium or hydrocarbons store energy in the stuff itself. It can be consumed on demand. The sun is constantly burning and the wind is inexhaustible, but neither of them provides a miracle solution, as they do not store energy that can be used just in time. It is up to the consumer to adapt by second-hand storage in the form of metal battery, hydrogen, hydraulic dam, etc.
Everyone knows that it will be impossible for us to produce 50% of our renewable electricity in France with the same configuration as in Germany. Our rurality is different and so is our seabed. For these reasons, to avoid the European gas confrontation that would takes place in Germany, our large regional cities and Paris will have to help rural areas wounded by unhappy wind turbine scars by going in massive urban electricity production.
Mathematicians and engineers mayors ?
I do not know if the right urban renewable hypothesis would mean local electricity production locally distributed, bought, sold, stored, saved or consumed by a simple smartphone application. But it seems to me that this and other questions are the ones that come before the mayors of big cities. Here, it is important not to make mistakes in the choices of urban electricity production (solar, wind, geothermal, waste, etc.), urban storage (batteries, hydrogen, etc.) and energy savings schemes. Like the Chinese presidents, all engineers, it seems to me that big cities mayors with solid scientific backgrounds would be of interest because of fully understanding the solutions; and then to make the right choices to set up in the interior of the city such an economic, cheap, bearable and sustainable electrical transition.
Mathematicians and engineers, if you are elected next March, the future will tell whether rurality will thank you for reducing its burden through urban electricity production and storage, and whether your initiatives will be sufficient to keep your cities out of a future gas confrontation in Europe.