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Introducing a fourth aspect of the energy trilemma – interview with Helge Haugane, Senior VP, Gas and Power at Equinor

Attitudes towards energy security, energy affordability and environmental sustainability, the core dimensions of the so-called energy trilemma, have shifted since the start of the year due to geopolitical turmoils and global energy crises.

On the sidelines of the Flame conference, which took place in Amsterdam on 3-5 May, CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Helge Haugane, Senior vice President for Gas & Power at Equinor about what the possible solutions to the trilemma will be and the introduction of a fourth aspect of the trilemma which is probably more important to take into account than ever.

Surely, following the record-high energy prices and the tensions arising in the energy industry since the Russian aggression on Ukraine, energy security has jumped to the top of the agenda. However, as pointed out by Mr Haugane, this doesn’t mean that we are forgetting about the other two dimensions.

“Over the last three years we have put an emphasis on each one of the three elements of the trilemma at different points,” he begins. “It is difficult to make regulations to keep the whole trilemma afloat, but even in a time when the security of supply has jumped to the top of the agenda, the climate part and affordability will always be there. Now, of course, we are focusing on energy security, but in the long term, policymakers must deal with all three of them. Managing the transition in a way that ensures the security of supply at affordable prices towards a future of net-zero emissions will be crucial for the transition to succeed.”

Mr Haugane underlines that we have to address challenges here and now which means not going back to coal just to cope with an emergency situation. On the contrary, we should create a robust system that can deliver on the security of supply and affordability without resulting in increased CO2 emissions.

Indeed, just like the trilemma is multidimensional, so are its solutions and Helge Haugane begins with the affordability aspect.

“Blue hydrogen will be a part of the future energy mix because it is cheaper and will deliver clean molecules and help build a robust energy system,” he points out. “The cost of energy is going to be much higher if we want to have a system that is carbon-free, so we have to find a way to combine carbon and affordability.”

Regarding the security of supply, he underlines that we cannot have a system that is dependent on a single source of energy, whatever that is.

“On the climate side, we need something that adds up and backs up renewable energy sources and this should not be coal,” he continues. “Nuclear could help but not really in a short time frame as the amount of nuclear needed to replace coal and gas is enormous. We would need like 240 new reactors in Europe to cope with this lack. China is building four of them in one year and even at this pace it would take forever. Obviously, this is just a thought experiment to realise the challenge and the solution that we need should focus on diversification of energy sources as well as of supply sources.”

As reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), digitalisation is helping improve the safety, productivity, accessibility and sustainability of energy systems around the world so it could be part of the solution to solve the energy trilemma.

“It will be part of the solution, particularly in areas where we waste a lot of energy,” Mr Haugane agrees. “In the richest part of the world, like in Western Europe, we have to take away the overconsumption and make smarter use of power. However, this is true just for a small part of the population as the larger part of the global population is way below the average consumption. So, for other countries digitalisation will be a mean to fight energy poverty.”

That’s why he insists that a long-term solution must be both affordable and competitive for consumers.

“The whole point is that we must solve the trilemma, not a part of it,” he continues. “So there is no the perfect solution, but we have to remember that the price will be higher if we go for a solution that doesn’t care about the carbon.”

He mentions building new regasification facilities in Europe as part of the solution for the security of supply. And, also carbon capture and storage technologies as an enabler for blue hydrogen to help with the volatility of power supply from renewables.

“When looking at all of these solutions, this is the time to bring the fourth aspect and create a quadrilemma: is all of this doable?” Mr Haugane asks, introducing the feasibility angle.

“If we think about how the gas market worked in the old days when it basically didn’t exist, we will remember that companies needed to go for long-term agreement and think and cooperate together,” he concludes. “It is hard when you don’t have a market to get started because you need cooperation across the whole value chain. But that’s why we cannot rely on one single answer: one single technology will not be perfect for the future energy world, rather a combination of several solutions.”

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