The discussions of the second meeting of the "Energy Club", which took place in Minsk in March 2010, centred around strategies for the use of alternative energy in Europe and Belarus. The meeting was organized by the Office for a Democratic Belarus (Belgium) in partnership with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (Lithuania) and the Delegation of the European Union in Ukraine and Belarus, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.
Gas and oil are not promising for all
According to Professor Phillip Peck of the University of Lund (Sweden), classic terms of energy security are made up of several components: the diversification of sources, reliability of supplies and good infrastructure. Energy efficiency has also been acquiring increasing importance.
Unreliable supplies and rising energy prices are perceived to be the main problems in countries where traditional sources of energy are prevalent in the overall energy balance. In addition, the world’s oil and gas reserves are dwindling. Unsurprisingly, Russia has already been undertaking attempts to explore the shelf of the Arctic Ocean.
The environmentalists raise alarm over the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of natural gas. However, one may wonder whether more harm is being actually caused by plants that burn coal, resulting in greater levels of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.
Natural gas was regarded as an excellent source of energy before the problem of climate change became apparent throughout the world, explains Philip Peck. Over the past 20 years the development of technology that uses peat and brown coal to produce substitute natural gas, as well as energy generation from agricultural and industrial waste, reached the level that allows to replace traditional energy sources.
Today, the EU and the USA place great emphasis on developing techniques to produce synthetic liquid fuels. However, these could only be regarded as a promising alternative when their price will be not more than $60 per barrel. While at the moment there are only demonstration plants producing synthetic liquid fuels, it is expected that by 2015, a demonstration plant in Gothenburg will be converted into a commercial plant. Professor Peck believes that to produce gas Belarus could use its vast brown coal and peat resources. This has been a successful practice in Germany since the 1930s. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the GDR produced more than 300 million tons of brown coal, which was used for solving its energy problems, even though the USSR had always supplied it with cheap oil and natural gas.
Scientists believe in our ability to opt out of expensive oil in the future. According to Peck, this will lead to a thousand-fold increase of biomass in the production of alternative sources.
Biomass as a potential
Scientists argue that the production of gas and synthetic liquid fuels from biomass will be a commonplace reality in Europe in 2020. This may well be the case, since biomass is a natural material derived from wood, waste, garbage or other living or recently living organisms. One therefore naturally thinks of vast quantities of fallen trees after hurricanes or the waste produced by plants. Trees, however, may also be planted in areas not suitable for agricultural production. For example, in Poland there are about three million hectares of farmland with soil that contain high levels of heavy metals. These grounds may well be suitable for planting willow, which has shown potential for use in the phytoremediation of soil contaminated with heavy metals. It could then be used to produce electricity.
Using straw as biomass, according to Peck, allows obtaining very cheap electricity. And the European experience should be of interest to Belarus. At least half of the straw that remains on fields after harvesting of grain could be used to produce electricity. In Denmark, there are regions where 25% of consumed electricity is produced from straw collected within a radius of less than one hundred kilometres from the station.
Phillip Peck believes that Belarus has an enormous potential to use biofuels for energy production. Although the major energy sources for the country are the traditional oil and gas, in the overall energy balance they constitute slightly more than 60%.
Private business is ready to participate
In Belarus there is no law regulating private business opportunities in the energy sector. Although the fact that the Belarusian business community and, in particular, small and medium-size enterprises are ready to follow the example of the Europeans.
A barrier that hinders the development of alternative energy is the lack of regulatory instruments for the system of economic incentives to attract private capital into this area. Meanwhile, the state today is not able to finance all interesting projects for the country that aim to develop alternative energy and energy efficiency.
Such a development requires significant financial resources and new technologies, notes the rector of the Sakharov International State Environmental University, Syamion Kundas. According to him, Belarus, together with some countries in Africa, South America, Asia, does not have the means necessary to develop such projects and is in need of assistance and investment.
Kundas recognizes that the transition to alternative energy necessarily requires the will of the state. However, it is equally important to disseminate information about alternative energy among the masses and acquaint them with the potential benefits on their everyday life, and we should start with the students. Belarus’ leading institution in the field of environment, the Sakharov College has developed various educational programmes on environment for students of different ages and professions.
Choosing the best
Choosing and developing a programme of transition to alternative energy sources, Belarus should
take into account local conditions and the reliability of existing techniques and technologies. For example, the use of solar energy, according to Phillip Peck, is inefficient in the Nordic countries.
Syamion Kundas believes that Belarus should not flatly reject the solar industry, as the technology for producing solar energy develops very fast. Today, it costs much less to install solar energy systems than 30 years ago, and it is going to be even cheaper in the future. However, as long as Russia delivers relatively cheap energy, developing solar power in Belarus could not be profitable, notes the rector.
By Alena Daneika (the translation from the “Novaya Europa” PDF-magazine a joint project by the www.n-europe.eu and the ODB. Translated by the ODB)
“Energy Club”: Prospective Strategies for Development Alternative Energy Sources
Mon, 2010-03-29 12:22