Recently, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), along with eight of the world’s leading electric utility companies, released "Powering a Sustainable Future", a report which contains an "agenda for concerted action" to secure future electricity generation, to bring more power to more people and to decrease the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The eight companies warn that unless there is a marked shift in the way electricity is generated and regulated worldwide, increased energy production will have serious environmental impacts.
"With explosive population growth and development, economies are growing ever more dependent on electricity", said WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson. "That should be good news for the head of an electric power company, but the CEOs who have signed this new report are getting very concerned. Today , the power sector generates 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion, and these emissions are rising quickly."
"Powering a Sustainable Future" is a collaborative effort driven by the eight international companies that comprise the WBCSD Electricity Utilities Sector Project. These companies represent around a tenth of the planet’s generating capacity and reach all five continents. The group is chaired by ABB Ltd. (Switzerland), EDF Group (France), and Eskom Holdings Limited (South Africa), and also includes CLP Holdings (Hong Kong), Entergy Corporation from the US, Kansai Electric Power Company and Tokyo Electric Power Company from Japan, and Suez from France.
"Electricity is a critical energy product for development. It is at the heart of the world’s energy challenge," said Thulani Gcabashe, Chief Executive of Eskom. "Eradicating poverty will require electrifying hundreds of millions of households. Political commitment, long-term affordability and the development of local businesses are key in doing that."
The report highlights the huge potential for end-use energy efficiency, which can provide more energy, more securely and sustainably, and at a lower price. Utilities need to work with governments and citizens’ groups to find ways to make it a higher priority, and make sure it is understood and used as a resource option and investment alternative.
"Choices on the fuel mix involve tough trade-offs between cost, performance and impact," said Pierre Gadonneix, Chief Executive Officer and President, EDF. "The debate on nuclear power, fossil fuels and other resources is important and should be carried out. Equally important, however, is the fact that power infrastructures are capital intensive and long lived, carrying energy choices far into the future. Decisions must be made in the near-term on energy mix."
The report recognizes that energy security concerns are currently favoring the use of coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel. It argues that "to significantly curb the growth in GHG emissions from the power sector in the next 20 to 30 years, we must find ways to finance the incremental cost of available lower-carbon technologies. Ideally developers should have a clear incentive to use such technologies whenever a new project is considered."
The group further urged governments to consult all stakeholders on the criteria for the acceptability of nuclear energy as a climate mitigation measure. Business and government alike need to reverse the trend of declining resources for energy research and development, to make sure that carbon capture and storage, fourth generation nuclear plants, solar technologies and new storage systems for electricity, will be ready for deployment in time.
According to Fred Kindle, Chief Executive Officer of ABB, "The good thing about electricity is that it can be generated from any energy source. The power grid is the enabler for this flexibility. Smarter, more energy efficient grids with lower power losses and more interconnection not only help prevent blackouts and increase reliability, but they also bring more generated power to the customer, including power from renewable sources."
The second phase of the WBCSD Sector Project on Electricity Utilities was formed in 2005 to identify the key sustainability challenges for the power sector, and communicate a global industry perspective on technology options and policy solutions.
In addition to the "facts and trends" on key power technologies at the end of the report, the project has also produced more detailed issue briefs on all of these technologies, and on the issues of access to electricity, transmission and distribution and energy efficiency. Please refer to the issue briefs for full references of data cited in the “facts and trends”.