On March 9 and 10 2016, in Ravenna, a few meters away from the great basilicas of the Byzantine Empire built 1,500 years ago, an equally important future was discussed: that of energy and the sources we will use to cover the growing demand. No better setting to discuss an epoch-making issue, given the central role that energy will have in the attempt to decarbonize the global economy in the coming years. Over the years, Ravenna has become a hub for the energy industry in the Mediterranean. It all began in the 1950s, with the first onshore gas discoveries which then paved the way for the construction of a large petrochemical plant. Many small businesses began to work there, welding pipes or carrying out maintenance to facilities, but then, after several years, these small businesses were followed by major companies in the construction of offshore platforms. So grew an industry of services and plants for the offshore production of oil and gas which, until a few years ago, bloomed. Since the early 1990s, these countries have met every other year in Ravenna for the Offshore Mediterranean Conference (OMC), one of the industry’s most prestigious events in the world. During the middle year, to keep up the pace and the debate, the OMC organizes a conference with an exhibition dedicated to renewable sources, the Renewable Energy Mediterranean Conference. The density of the presentations and the variety of participants always characterizes this event which this year falls just a few months after COP21 in Paris, held in December 2015. From here started the ambitious, but necessary, commitments made by the international community to limit temperature increases to below 2°in the coming years.
A world in need of an energy revolution
All introductory speeches, starting with the keynote speech by Carraro, one of the world’s leading experts in climate mitigation policies, converge in acknowledging that, until now, little has been done and that emissions, since the first COP held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, have in fact increased by 60%. Hence the need to improve, strengthen and even revolutionize interventions, since the new renewables, energy efficiency, or the market of emission permits in Europe have so far been insufficient, and will continue to be so in the future. Those who can be of great help in moving in this direction are the major energy companies, those that are already currently present in the production of traditional sources and which have the skills, resources and power to help, if not lead the transition. Beyond the easy proclamations, which are also, perhaps, slightly rhetorical, the industry of traditional sources, and even that of oil and gas, is effectively undertaking to do more. Many of them, as witnessed in Ravenna, are investing in both research into new technologies, and in the development and refinement of existing technologies, where a lot more can still be done to reduce consumption or improve the environmental impact. Who better than these companies to achieve this, given the experience they have in large plants, in extreme and complex production, in improving and reducing pollutant emissions. Emblematic is what has been done in the development of biofuels, which in 2015 accounted for 2 million barrels a day of total consumption, a production equal to that of the major OPEC countries. Gas has often been discussed as the transitional fuel of choice, given its abundance and low carbon content. Over the last 10 years, its increased use in electricity generation has led to increased efficiency and a fall in emissions, greater than that obtained with the development of all new renewables, photovoltaic and wind power, on a global level. Many other technologies were discussed, among which 2 stand out that are destined to become crucial: the capture and storage of CO2, a solution that has lately almost been forgotten, and the development of systems for accumulating energy produced from intermittent renewable sources, most commonly batteries. The first speeches were those of oil companies, those that have always best known the techniques on fluids, such as CO2, to be re-injected underground. Costs are still high, exceeding €100 per ton, compared with prices for CO2 permits that are currently €5, but these companies are entrusted with hope of reducing them to acceptable levels. With regard to batteries, numerous efforts are being made and it is encouraging to see that the major companies operating in the engines and turbines services for the oil industry are among those that are developing the best solutions. This is a good omen for Ravenna and for its oil service industries, in an attempt to remain the key players in energy for many years yet to come: a bit like its Basilicas.