Investment in fossil fuels needed for energy transition, experts say

The challenge for the world will be switching to cleaner technologies while also meeting current demand

Coal demand is surging around the world as demand for power increases. Reuters
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The energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is increasing the world’s motivation to shift to low-carbon energy, but is also creating a near-term scramble for fossil fuels that will drive billions of dollars of new investment.

The US and European countries are planning liquefied natural gas terminals that will be in service for decades. Coal demand is surging around the world and US shale suppliers will be pressed to fill a potential supply gap for nations moving away from Russian natural gas.

The challenge for the world will be pivoting to cleaner technologies while also meeting current energy demand, executives and investors said on Tuesday at BloombergNEF’s annual summit in New York. The transition is going to be bumpy, and it is not going to happen quickly.

“We need fossil energy as part of this transition,” said Keo Lukefahr, head of energy derivatives and renewables trading at Motiva Enterprises. “This is a long transition. This is not overnight.”

The gas market has been upended as nations seek alternatives to Russia, especially in Europe. However, current global output will not be enough and that is going to drive investment in new production, especially in the US shale patch, Anastacia Davies, BNEF’s head of oil supply and US oil said at the conference.

“The days of unchecked US growth are likely behind us,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that shale’s role is gone.”

The war may also help accelerate the green transition, said Bertrand Millot of Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, Canada’s second-largest pension fund manager.

Countries are suddenly sensitive to energy security concerns, and are seeing the advantage of wind and solar farms that don’t require regular deliveries of fuel.

Guyana has substantial oil reserves and is positioning itself to benefit from the crisis. It is considering channelling resources into a national oil company to facilitate efforts to meet demand from industrialised nations, while also seeking to pursue climate goals.

“Demand for our resources is largely from the developed world,” said Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s vice president, at the summit. “We don’t believe we are betraying a net-zero goal if we develop these resources.”

That is hardly a universal view.

Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy for the climate-justice organisation Sunrise Project, said some energy companies are cynically taking advantage of the current European energy crisis by planning costly infrastructure projects that will take years to complete and will not address short-term needs.

“It takes three to five years to build a new LNG terminal,” he said. “Europe needs a new gas supply by the end of the year.”

But, while the Ukraine war has focused a spotlight on the global reliance on fossil fuels, it is also identifying ways to get away from traditional energy sources.

Updated: April 21, 2022, 3:42 AM