Energy Experts discuss key levers for reducing global carbon footprint at Global Energy Conversation

Energy experts and online participants from around the world discussed solutions to energy challenges over the next 40 years at Economist Conferences Global Energy Conversation: Part II

London, 28 November 2011


Energy efficiency, increased use of smart grids and the development of carbon capture and storage technologies will be key tools for reducing the world's carbon footprint said energy experts at Economist Conferences' Global Energy Conversation Part II, supported by Shell on Friday 18th November.

In an event using the latest telepresence technology, 12 energy experts met simultaneously in London, Washington DC and So Paulo in a virtual roundtable to discuss the technological, behavioural, and policy solutions most likely to help the world achieve its long-term energy goals.

Efficiency was a big part of the debate and was unanimously seen as one of the most important levers for reducing carbon emissions in the short term: "It's not sexy, but energy efficiency should be the first energy resource that we look toward," said Ed Whittingham, executive director at the Pembina Institute,. Experts also stressed the importance of smart grids along with carbon capture and storage particularly for gas and containing industrial emissions.

Energy efficiency was seen as a priority to OECD countries, Brazilian energy experts suggested that developing countries should instead "grow with renewables". "I'm very optimistic", said Paulo Puterman, Director of Inovah Energy, "biofuels are renewable and storable, and being smart, putting IT into the grid, that is the direction we should be going in".

Meanwhile, Wim Thomas, Chief Energy advisor to Royal Dutch Shell suggested that gas should be seen as a key means of reducing carbon emissions in the short term. "New technologies will take decades before they really take off but something we can do now which will halve carbon emissions is switching from coal to gas".

In the longer term, public engagement will be critical to changing people's attitudes towards energy consumption: Over 1,300 people worldwide registered for the Global Energy Conversation and in a live poll taken during the event, 65% of respondents said they would support policies designed to combat climate change, even if it meant a 5% reduction in their real income. But an earlier poll by The Economist Intelligence Unit suggested this number was considerably lower with just 26% of the general public supportive of such policies.

Alex Laskey, president of Opower cautioned that while there is a high level of interest among the general public in doing the right thing, there is very low actual engagement: "90% of people say saving energy is important to them, but no one wakes up thinking about it. It is not economic signals that drive people to change their behaviour. The average person spends just 6 minutes a year thinking about energy issues, so the question is how do we get them to think about it and make changes in their everyday lives?"

Governments and policy makers have a big role to play in fixing the energy problem, but in another live poll taken during the event, 56% of respondents felt that democracy currently stands in the way of the world making headway on climate change. "All too often policies are driven by political timescales," said Joan MacNaughton, World Energy Council, "A cultural shift is driven by policy or law – the real concern is that it will take too long. We need to get these changes through quickly and governments need to focus on the engagement issue to accelerate the point at which we decide we cannot carry on the way we are."

Speakers agreed that it has to start with policy and regulation first and if this is put in place then technologies and solutions will be implemented because everyone's interests are aligned. "Business needs to engage with Governments," said Laskey. "Government is at its best when it rewards outcomes not input."

This event was chaired by Robin Bew, Chief Economist, Economist Intelligence Unit. To interview Robin Bew please contact: joannemckenna@economist.com

To view the Global Energy Conversation Part II on demand, please visit: http://www.theglobalenergyconversation.com

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