Report

IANAS WORKSHOP ON ENERGY

Oct 30-31, 2008
Buenos Aires, Argentina
 

Report

On the invitation of the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) and the InterAcademy Council (IAC), the Interamerican Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS), in partnership with the National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Argentina and the Argentinean Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, organized the IANAS Workshop ?Toward a Sustainable Energy Future?, which was held at the headquarters of the Argentinean Center of Engineers, in Buenos Aires, on 30-31 October 2008.

The main objectives of this workshop were to present to key stakeholders in Latin America and the Caribbean region the conclusions and recommendations of the IAC Report ?Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future?, to review the energy-related issues and challenges for the Americas, and discuss the strategies and mechanisms needed for regional implementation of the actions needed to effect a transition to a more sustainable way of life.

The workshop brought together 130 high-level experts from 15 different countries, covering North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean region. The Special Advisor on Sustainable Energy to IAC Co-Chair, Dato Lee Yee-Cheong from Malaysia was also present. The rich mix of participants from academia, multilateral organizations, government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations allowed a particularly comprehensive discussion on the challenges of achieving a sustainable energy future for the Americas .

The world is already seeing a range of serious impacts on natural systems due to climate changes, and much more grave damage will occur unless there is a major decrease in the currently projected emissions of greenhouse gases. It is also true, however, that basic energy services are still unavailable to thirty percent of the world population, and that significantly more energy will be needed in future as the population increases. The challenge, therefore is to find a basis for more inclusive, equitable development that must at the same time be globally sustainable. These problems are compounded by the uneven geographical distribution of current energy resources, and now being exacerbated by the increase in the price of energy since 1999.

Global problems demand global solutions, but these must still be applied locally. The IAC ?Lightning the Way? Report raises challenges that have to be discussed; solutions must be found, adapted and implemented both regionally and locally.

This Report concludes that:

•  Science and Engineering provide critical guiding principles for economically viable and environmentally sustainable energy systems;

•  Building these energy systems will require an intense effort to build capacity, which will in turn require the participation of many diverse institutions and individuals;

•  This will be a long-term effort, and requires the urgent and simultaneous implementation of a number of key actions.

These conclusions were endorsed by the workshop, which emphasized the following immediate actions:

•  The poorest of the region must have access to modern energy services

•  It is essential that the region increase the efficiency of production, transport, storage and use of energy.

•  It is essential to develop and deploy new energy generation technologies with very substantially lower carbon emissions; this includes the use of carbon capture technologies.

•  It is vital to accelerate the development and deployment of environmentally-sound renewable sources (RSE) for energy production.

To achieve these goals, it is essential to develop public and political awareness of the importance of simultaneously lowering the energy intensity of human activity (LEI) and expanding renewable sources for the production of energy (RSE). This will require appropriate policies at all levels of society in order to engage the citizens of each country. For developing countries, it is important to have consistent and coherent national energy policies that take into account local circumstances within the volatile energy framework regionally and globally. To achieve this, every developing country should establish a national centre of energy economics and policy study that continually updated data and statistics on the national energy scene.

This must be a long-term, sustained effort, because the energy sector is characterized by its long lead times and the high costs of policy mistakes. This means that it is inherently conservative, with a high level of inertia. Governments must make energy efficiency and renewable energy a very high priority, and they must remain consistent in this regard for many years so that they give the energy sector clear signals as to the way forward.

The needs of different countries of the region, with very diverse levels of development, political governance, and energy resources, vary widely. Although some of the countries of the region already have energy policies, it is necessary to reassess these policies to ensure that they are adequate to deal with the profound energy challenges of our time.

In the short-term, government action can be severely constrained. For example, a government may not be able to wait for the best solution to become available, even one that is near-market, when there is an immediate risk of an energy crisis. However the design of a national roadmap towards developing a sustainable energy future, based on renewable and low-carbon sources of energy and energy efficiency and conservation, would help governments to overcome these limitations.

Sustained support for research and the development of markets for new electricity generation and storage technologies such as hydrogen, and for energy serives that encourage greater energy efficiency for end users (in sectors such as industry, buildings, and transport) will require significant shifts in policy, away from current energy use technologies that rely on hydrocarbons (coal, oil and gas). In each country these shifts will give rise to new local technological capacity, business opportunities and creation of jobs. Meeting energy needs is a multi-disciplinary challenge and requires a broad range of individual and institutional capacities with the participation of different sectors, while Government must lead and encourage this through the formulation of relevant laws, regulations, economic incentives and national targets.

Estimates suggest that about two-thirds of economically feasible hydro-generating capacity and almost ninety-nine percent of wind energy remains untapped and most of these resources are in low-income countries. Renewable energy sources such as wind and geothermal are already developed in some countries of the region, which would facilitate transfer to countries that have the potential but lack the technology. The problem here is usually the lack of finance, management, and technical capacity. It is therefore important to look at models of public-private partnership that could help to overcome these obstacles. It is important that such plans are based on realistic assessments of both supply potential and demand.

In South America and the Caribbean (SAC) some ninety percent of the population are connected to the grid, but this average conceals a large disparity. In the main urban areas essentially the entire population is connected, but in rural areas less than two-thirds of the population has access to electricity. The cost to grid-connect those in rural areas is in many cases prohibitive. It is therefore vital to find creative and economically viable alternatives to grid supply for meeting the need for electricity and other forms of energy in rural areas. In some cases, it will also be necessary to do so in ways that are consistent with traditional cultural patterns of behaviour. Different business models and government policies must be devised for this purpose.

Governments also need to operate with multiple policy objectives. They might give a high priority, for example, to the creation of employment opportunities, especially in economically depressed areas. Thus, a more labour-intensive energy solution may be seen as preferable to a more technologically-intensive option, provided that the costs are comparable.

There are also cases where sub-optimal outcomes are actually the result of government policy. These include subsidies for fossil fuels, and the failure to reflect health and environmental costs in energy options. For example, the quickest and cheapest way to develop economically and environmentally-efficient supplies and infrastructure for biofuels might be to remove tariff barriers that keep competitive external suppliers out of local markets, rather than to subsidize inefficient domestic production.

The Academies of Science do not possess all the expertise required to solve these large and complex problems; part of the necessary knowledge and skill resides in the private sector, part in government. The Academies therefore need to become the hubs of networks, assembling, collating and analyzing information, and making coherent and balanced policy recommendations. The Academies also need to strengthen their understanding of the policy process, and of the social, political and economic factors that can constrain the choices available to governments.

A stronger role for the Academies of Science and the scientific community in policy decisions is therefore urgently needed. Governments need access to informed, impartial advice as to the costs and benefits of each policy option, and of the different kinds of risk that may be involved. Researchers, Scientists and Engineers have a special responsibility to assess the risks as well as benefits of the different technological directions.

Expanded use of nuclear power may be practical in some areas of the region. This depends on a high-quality culture of safety, solutions to the radioactive material disposal problem, and ways to address proliferation and security concerns. Nuclear energy, while requiring large initial investments, is competitive at current and expected oil and gas prices, helps to reduce CO2 emissions and may therefore provide the base-load capacity component of long-term energy security.

Research, development and deployment of energy systems can benefit greatly from cooperation among different countries. Capacity building is essential in such programs, with a particular focus on technicians, engineers and scientists at all different levels, as well as on the professionals and technicians in economics and other social sciences, in particular those working on energy systems and the development of the associated markets.

Brazil has a successful thirty-year history in manufacturing ethanol from sugar cane. The key factors were local and global S&T cooperation, governmental policies and the strong participation of the private sector in all phases of the S&T process; this combination has made ethanol a viable alternative to gasoline for cars in Brazil . The incorporation of S&T solutions in the processing of sugar cane created an environmentally friendly process that reduces carbon emissions and produces electricity. These results have been obtained using less than 2% of the available arable land, alleviating concerns about biofuel/food competition, as none is observable in Brazil . The lessons learned in this case can be transferred to other tropical countries with, of course, proper allowance for local technical, land, water, food, and societal differences. It was agreed that the production of ethanol from plants using first generation technologies (i.e., those that use sugars or starch as fermentable feedstock) is only recommended when the production costs, energy inputs, net emissions, and social impacts are favorable, and that it is important to encourage the development of second and third generation biofuel technologies.

The importance of cooperation in the areas of information, science and technology within South America, the Caribbean Region, the US , Canada and outside the region is already recognized. It is also clear that multilateral agencies, such as the OAS and international funding institutions such as the IADB and World Bank, play a vital role with regard to regional energy policies and practices.

There was consensus that the S&T community must contribute to capacity building at four different levels: (1) general public engagement, (2) school education, (3) university and other higher education to produce a new generation of engineers and scientists and (4) providing technical and analytical inputs to increase the national capacity to make well-informed energy policy decisions.

IANAS, through its members, and as an organization, has an important role to play in each of these important contributions of the S&T community.

Responding to this challenge, the workshop considered a number of cases in different countries in the region, including energy efficiency in Argentina and the challenge facing its future direction, the role of S&T in Canada , Jamaica 's proposed move into ethanol production, and the successful development of an ethanol industry in Brazil . These examples illustrated that it is very important for the S&T community to actively participate in the generation of a national vision in terms of possibilities and opportunities for pursuing a sustainable energy future. This must be based on a rigorous scientific analysis of the magnitude of the problem, the different components of the problem, and each of the possible solutions for each country.

Societal sustainability can only be reached with the use of RSE. It is essential that this be achieved at the highest possible level of economic efficiency and the lowest practicable level of environmental impact. This must form the basis of a national vision for clean, affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy.

Recommendations

•  IANAS should work with the S&T community of South America and the Caribbean Region through the Academies (and/or other representative institutions in countries that do not have Academies of Science) to provide the best available evidence-based advice to Government regarding energy policy;

•  Energy efficiency, from generation to final use, and the development and deployment of renewable and low-carbon energy sources must be the core aims of all future energy policy;

•  A technology roadmap of renewable energy technologies must become a key part of the development strategies in all countries of the region;

•  A vigorous capacity building program, addressing all levels of education, from primary school to advanced professional science and engineering focused on energy is urgently needed; this program should start immediately;

•  It is essential to engage citizens of each country in this transition. An energy information and consciousness-raising program is urgently needed.

•  Multilateral agencies, such as the OAS and organisms, such as the IADB and World Bank must intensify their focus on energy policies, technologies and practices.