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‘Transition? What transition?’ Ex-BP chief Hayward doubts global renewables progress

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Glencore chairman and ex-BP chief executive Tony Hayward has cast doubt over the worldwide energy transition, arguing that the penetration of renewables worldwide is being outpaced by the demand for growth.

Hayward made the comments during the opening session of today’s FT Energy Transition Strategies Summit, pointing towards figures included within the Statistical Review of World Energy published yesterday by the company he led between 2007 and 2010.

Within this year’s review BP stated that the share of coal in the worldwide power mix stood at around 38%, precisely the same as its share in 1998, hinting towards a lack of global transition towards renewable energy.

The same report indicated that there had actually been an uptick in carbon emissions from energy consumption last year, rising 1.6% after little or no growth during the three years prior.

Speaking this morning, Hayward said that the race for transformation in the energy sector was “failing to keep pace” with the race for demand growth in the world’s biggest growing markets, particularly China.

BP’s statistical review, for example, stated that energy consumption in China rose by 3.1% last year. China has been the largest growth market for energy in each of the previous 17 years.

Joan MacNaughton, chair of the board at NGO The Climate Group was, however, more upbeat, dismissing last year’s China statistics as a “blip” before arguing that the general consensus was that China remains “on track” to meet its own emissions reductions targets.

And Hayward was markedly more upbeat about the energy transition’s progress in other markets.

“There are clearly places where the transition is happening,” he said. “It’s happening in Europe because there’s not much demand growth as the population’s not growing, GDP is not growing and there’s very aggressive government policy.”

“In Europe you can say by the middle of the century 50% of the energy will be from renewable forms. But outside of Europe it seems to me we have a very big challenge in terms of the race for penetration versus the rate of demand growth, and I think that’s something that will be with us.”

This, Hayward added, would cast new importance on the way in which existing fossil fuel generators operate, hinting towards new generation gas plants and carbon capture and storage.

“In my view the transition has to be at least as much about how we burn fossil fuels as it is about new sources of energy. We’ve got to get to the point where there is much more focus and support and policy directed at driving a lower carbon intensity of fossil fuels if we’re going to get anywhere close [to climate targets],” he said. 

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