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Editorial comment

Sustainability was the central theme at the 2019 European Refining Technology Conference (ERTC), which recently took place in Warsaw, Poland. Indeed, the ERTC has already committed to making sustainability the central theme for its conference in the years to come, as the refining sector faces the challenge of the energy transition, upcoming regulations and competition from across the energy space.

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The focus on sustainability is a sensible long-term policy. In its recently released ‘World Energy Outlook 2019’, the International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights the deep disparities that define the global energy system. It focuses particularly on the gap between the promise of energy for all and the fact that almost 1 billion people do not have access to electricity; the gap between the need for rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and the rise in energy-related emissions; the gap between expectations of a renewables-driven energy transition and the reality of fossil fuel reliance in today’s energy systems; and the gap between the calm in well-supplied oil markets and growing political tensions and uncertainties.1

As ever, the IEA presents three scenarios for the future. Its Current Policies Scenario presents a (rather bleak) outlook if the world continues along its current path without any additional changes in policy. Its Stated Policies Scenario incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets. And its Sustainable Development Scenario maps out a way to meet sustainable energy goals in full, but this requires rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. In the Stated Policies Scenario, the IEA sees energy demand increasing by 1% per year to 2040, with low carbon sources supplying more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounting for a third. Under this scenario, oil demand is likely to flatten out in the 2030s.

Energy security will remain paramount for governments worldwide, alongside attempts to put emissions on a sustainable trajectory. The IEA’s Executive Director, Dr Faith Birol, notes: “What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s ‘World Energy Outlook’ is there is no single or simple solution to transforming the global energy systems […] Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy.”

The IEA notes that a “sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements” is the single biggest factor to bring the world towards its Sustainable Development Scenario. Worryingly, the Outlook states that efficiency improvements are slowing, with the 1.2% rate in 2018 approximately half the average seen since 2010.

The downstream sector has its part to play in continuing to improve energy efficiency to ensure that it remains competitive in the future energy mix. As we stand on the brink of a new decade, Hydrocarbon Engineering will continue to provide a platform for the latest technology innovations, best practices and success stories to ensure the long-term success of our sector. If you have a case study or technical article that you would like to share, please drop me a line using the contact details to the left of this page.

And for all those interested in learning more about the renewable fuels that will stand alongside our industry as we attempt to shape a sustainable and secure energy future across the globe, please visit our sister website – the new home for the latest renewable energy news.

  1. ‘World Energy Outlook 2019’, International Energy Agency (IEA), (November 2019).

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