On the COP26 local weather convention final week, activists awarded Norway their “Fossil of the Day” prize. It’s an accolade Oslo’s brand-new authorities might have executed with out at its first international outing. But it surely highlights the dilemma confronted by Norway, as an enormous fossil gasoline producer, and much more so by the EU, whose financial system is deeply reliant on pure gasoline.
In a punchy first interview, Jonas Gahr Retailer, Norway’s new prime minister, advised the Monetary Occasions that Europe’s inexperienced transition required his nation to maintain drilling. A speedy finish to Norwegian hydrocarbon provides, he stated, “would put a cease to an industrial transition that’s wanted” to decarbonise.
It’s, after all, a self-serving argument. It flies within the face of the Worldwide Power Company’s street map to web zero, which requires no extra funding in new oil and gasoline developments. It additionally goes towards the EU’s quixotic demand for an finish to hydrocarbon extraction within the Arctic.
That stated, the argument could also be proper. It’s appropriate technologically, in that substituting pure gasoline for coal and oil is the required subsequent step to scale back emissions. It captures essential truths in regards to the political financial system of oil and gas-exporting international locations. Even a inhabitants as climate-conscious as Norway’s has nowhere close to a majority for phasing out fossil extraction. It displays geopolitical actuality: much less Norwegian gasoline would make Europe much more depending on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s caprice.
Above all, it exposes the political problem of the EU’s inexperienced ambitions. The intention to decarbonise is real. However the continent stays extremely depending on pure gasoline, and would turn into extra so by weaning itself off coal.
And but, the short-term logic comes with a long-term contradiction. If the EU encourages gasoline investments to satisfy short-term wants, it might lock itself into its dependence on gasoline for a very long time. The argument for gasoline as a transitional vitality runs up towards the truth that no person develops a gasfield planning to modify it off in 5 to 10 years’ time. So the EU and Norway are caught in a hypocritical embrace, with North Sea gasoline set to energy European properties and companies for the lengthy haul.
There’s a approach out, as all sides recognise. Pure gasoline needn’t be burnt for its vitality content material. It might probably function a feedstock for hydrogen. If carbon is captured and saved (CCS) within the course of, the ensuing “blue” hydrogen is a supply of carbon-free vitality.
The applied sciences exist for utilizing it to energy heavy autos unsuited for batteries, ships and high-temperature industrial processes corresponding to metal. In reality, some actions are onerous to decarbonise in every other approach, and CCS is a sine qua non if web unfavorable emissions are to turn into doable.
What’s lacking is infrastructure and a market. To change gasoline from a flamable vitality supply to hydrogen feedstock requires transport and storage for hydrogen and CO2, and amenities to sequester carbon. Such investments are onerous to justify except enough demand is anticipated.
It is a chicken-and-egg downside. For there to be sufficient demand, mass adoption of hydrogen-powered applied sciences within the related sectors is critical. That in flip is economically viable provided that customers are assured hydrogen provide can be forthcoming.
It’s within the EU’s energy to create a market. It’s within the reward of gas-producing international locations to make sure large-scale hydrogen provides. However for both to occur, each should soar collectively.
The EU bears the best duty to make this occur. It has a hydrogen strategy. However communicate to private and non-private decision-makers in Norway, and scepticism that the EU means enterprise is near the floor. They query if Europe has the abdomen for the robust decisions web zero requires, corresponding to a carbon value that bites. And does Europe totally endorse blue hydrogen and CCS, or is it wedded to the much less environment friendly “inexperienced” hydrogen created from electrolysing water? That selection could be as self-defeating as Germany’s flip from nuclear vitality, which made it use extra coal.
If the EU have been to decide to blue hydrogen, and put its cash the place its mouth is, it might demand the corresponding dedication to provide from Norway. Reasonably than a ban on Arctic exploration, it might demand a coverage to permit additional gasoline extraction solely with infrastructure that could possibly be swiftly transformed to blue hydrogen manufacturing with carbon storage.
Politically, and even legally binding, devices could possibly be discovered to guarantee all sides that each demand and provide could be forthcoming. For Oslo, such a coverage provides a compromise with these demanding an outright phaseout of fossil fuels. It would even be allowed to return its Glasgow award.