Transition number 4
The global trend of the energy sector switching from hydrocarbon to renewable fuels seems to be seriously concerned about the Russian government. Mikhail Mishustin ordered the creation of working groups that should work out steps to adapt the domestic economy to the upcoming decrease in the consumption of hydrocarbons in the world. It is noteworthy that the substantiation contains not a word about the ecological component of the problem - Russia is preparing for the energy transition solely from pragmatic considerations.
To understand whether the country is threatened with a global energy transition, when key consumers reduce their dependence on Russian gas and oil, it is worth deciding whether we are sitting on the notorious "oil needle"?
On the one hand, of course, more than 50% of exports are hydrocarbons, and on the other, the share of oil and gas revenues in GDP in 2020 was only 15,2%. Is it a lot or a little? For example, in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the GDPs are filled with hydrocarbons by 51%, 50% and 30%, respectively. This is who is really on the "oil needle". Rather, we are closer to resource-rich Norway, where the share of oil in GDP is about 14%.
Comparative analytics show that calling Russia a “world gas station” is no longer so urgent. Nevertheless, the processes developing in the surrounding world make the government think.
The first decades of the XXI century in stories will be associated not only with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also with the beginning of the fourth energy transition.
For reference: the first energy transition is associated with the transition from firewood to coal. The second, in turn, replaced coal-fired power generation with oil. And finally, the third energy transition has partially displaced liquid hydrocarbons with natural gas. Of course, this did not happen everywhere.
In some countries, a large part of the electricity is produced at coal-fired power plants - for example, in China. By the way, the massive burning of coal, according to some scientists, can cool the planet. It's all about the smallest aerosol (for example, of sulphate origin) that gets into the air from the pipes of a coal-fired power plant, which reflect the sun's rays back into space. Thus, the contribution to global warming is counterbalanced by the cooling of the atmosphere. It is another matter that many heavy poisons are collected in the products of coal combustion - from chemical carcinogens to radioactive elements.
Formally, Russia has long passed the third energy transition, but surely each of us has acquaintances / relatives / friends who still heat their houses with firewood. At the same time, nuclear power engineering is extremely developed in Russia, and this fact can be quite counted among the signs of a new energy transition.
The fourth or "green" energy transition is probably the most difficult and controversial.
According to the plan, the countries of the "golden billion" in the first place, as well as their trading partners, in the second place, will gradually replace gas and oil with renewable energy sources (RES). The economy, if the project is successful, will be proudly called low-carbon. But renewable energy sources alone cannot provide a full-fledged replacement for fossil fuels - a powerful system for energy conservation and utilization is required. Now in Europe, wind farms are being massively installed, which in twenty to thirty years will inevitably fall into disrepair.
Do not forget about the hundreds of square kilometers of solar panels - they will also eventually become unviable.
What to do with this “green” waste?
But there is no need to dramatize about this - this is a purely technological problem and it is certainly solvable. As soon as the time comes, engineers will quickly come up with another recycling plant. For example, the German Volkswagen built a lithium-ion battery recycling plant in Salzgitter in a couple of years.
Risks and opportunities of Russia
In addition to the obvious environmental bonuses, renewable energy sources bring significant geopolitical benefits to a number of countries.
Europe is striving to free itself from carbon energy not only due to global warming, but also striving for energy independence. First of all, from Russia and the Middle East. And this is far from a local effect.
History shows that energy transitions provoke global shocks and technological breakthroughs. The transition to coal at one time led to the emergence of steam traction and railways. Oil has put humanity on wheels, lifted it into the air and provided an unprecedented weapons... Countries with hydrocarbon reserves have learned to dictate their will to the rest of the world. If it does not work out separately, then as part of the OPEC energy cartel. After all, the world powers are still fighting over oil, albeit indirectly.
The fourth energy transition is also capable of radically changing the rules of the world game, primarily for the oil powers. Therefore, Russia must quickly adapt to the new conditions. If the Europeans succeed with the "green transition", then our country will supply oil only for the chemical industry (30% of consumption), as well as for aviation and sea vessels (15% of consumption) - everything else will be replaced to some extent by renewable energy sources.
The situation with gas is simpler - it will remain a source of electricity for several decades. But here, too, everything is not so rosy. For example, now gas consumption in Europe is growing, if only because of the replacement of coal-fired thermal power plants and nuclear power plants. As soon as the replacement happens, gas consumption in Europe will decrease every year. Nevertheless, Russia is now not in the first line of the risk group.
Oil companies are increasingly becoming investors in renewable energy sources. Source: gazprom-neft.ru
According to analysts from IRENA and IMF, our country is already sufficiently diversified and able to cope with the fourth energy transition.
But only on condition of serious systemic reforms in the economy and industry. It seems that this is exactly what the working groups of Prime Minister Mishustin will be doing now. The seriousness of the situation is added by statements from the United States and China. Joe Biden at the beginning of the year returned his country to the Paris climate agreement, and also managed, together with Xi Jinping, to assure everyone of concern for the global ecology.
Beijing, it seems, was the first to figure out the new trend - now up to 40% of all equipment for renewable energy is produced in China. About a third of all patents in this area are issued to Chinese companies.
For comparison: the closest competitors Japan and Germany produce, respectively, 7% and 6% of technologies for the fourth energy transition. Trump at one time seriously crippled the industry in his country, and now the United States occupies a share of the renewable energy market comparable to Germany.
Thus, countries relying on green energy will inevitably become dependent on China. The first will be Europeans planning to ditch internal combustion engines in favor of electric motors in cars by 2035. At the same time, they themselves almost do not produce lithium-ion batteries and will have to buy them from China.
The production of solar panels is heavily dependent on rare earth metals, and up to 90% of the market in this extractive industry is monopolized by China. This is the first global redistribution of the influence of the "green energy transition". China itself is preparing for a large-scale transformation - by 2060, the country will absorb as much carbon dioxide as it emitted into the atmosphere.
Russia can potentially export up to 3,5 million tons of hydrogen. At the same time, the world market will reach 12 million tons. Source: zephyrnet.com
Russia has undoubtedly overslept the beginning of a new energy transition, but the country has serious prospects in adapting its economy to world reality.
First of all, natural gas reserves make it possible to obtain hydrogen relatively inexpensively. For the long term, Europeans are considering this gas as the main fuel for transport. The ever-growing market for the rare earth metals needed for solar panels and batteries can also be sated by Russian subsoil resources.
Lithium and tantalum are vital, the demand for which exceeds supply. Paradoxically, global warming is becoming an assistant in this - ice and permafrost are gradually liberating the north-east of the country, while facilitating the development of the region's resources.
The scientific potential of Russia is also important. Now the number 1 problem in the world is technologies for removing carbon from the atmosphere, which may well become a challenge for Russia. After all, a pioneer country in space exploration is tough enough to make another world revolution. At least, I really want to believe in it.