Session 4

The Energy Big Picture


Session 4 is mostly run by students: 6 duos present their Energy Big Picture projects.

Each project present for one source of energy: top producing & consuming countries, industrial processes, CO2 emissions & other risks associated, and analyse critically the arguments of the sector companies to promote that source.

The Focus Module Urban Planning & CO2 illustrate how some choices of society determines dramatically CO2 emissions.

Course Outline

Quiz on Session 3
Student Projects: Oil, Gas and Coal
Student Projects: Hydro, Nuclear, PV
Focus Urban Planning & CO2

Key Learnings

General observations:

1. No energy is clean:

  • Each source risks & pollutions: their nature and intensity vary greatly from one source to another.

2. Remain critical on the words used:

  • Renewable energy: sunlight is renewable on our time horizons, not the materials to produce solar panels.
  • Green energy: what does green mean?
  • Energy transition: the reality fast increase of energy consumption with a relatively constant mix with 80% fossil fuels

3. Always analyse the bigger picture and avoid the "Myopia Syndrom"

  • Myopia Syndrom: comparing two elements on a too narrowed perimeter,
  • Example #1: consider natural gas as a "cleaner energy" because emitting marginally less CO2 than oil when used, but emitting massive CH4 over the value chain because of leaks.
  • Example #2: calculate wind turbine carbon intensity without integrating CO2 and CH4 emissions coming for the necessary use of natural gas to compensate wind.
  • Example #3: focus too much on the offer-production side of the energy market, without considering the demand side.

4. Complexity: integrate as many constraints as possible to develop realistic analyses.

Assembled Energy Big Picture

Multiple Constraints:

National Energy Resources:

  • Non-renewables: which reserves?
  • Renewables: geographic and climatic potential.
  • Energy infrastructures: value chain, technical knowledge, investment capacities?

National Demand & Uses:

  • Volume: how much energy is used today? In 20+ years ?
  • Mix: what type of energy do we need ?
  • Developing countries: which aspirations for development to improve basic living conditions (and so increase energy consumption)

Environmental Objectives:

  • Climate: how much CO2 do we emit? Which carbon intensity? Aligned with the Paris Agreement?
  • Other pressures on environment : raw materials, water consumption, land-use, air and water pollutions, waste…

Geo-strategic Situation:

  • Sovereignty: by how much do we depend on other countries? On which countries do we rely?
  • Risk exposition: how exposed are we to disruptions on the logistic?
  • Reliability: which back-up options do we have? how interconnected are we? 
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Pedagogical Note

The pedagogical advantage of this method is that a 3h top-down course developing all the content would be both boring and inefficient.

Instead, asking students to work first at home on one source of energy have them “dig” into the structuring parameters of that source of energy, the in-class presentations providing them afterwards with the corresponding parameters of the other sources of energy.

Warning: the documents above have been prepared by students with important time constraints. They might contain lacks & mistakes.

During the course, the teachers provide corrections and complementary elements when necessary. We chose to publish these documents to provide a better overview of the pedagogical approach of the course.