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How energy companies can combat climate change

October 27, 2020, 2:33 AM UTC

Energy companies today face a central dilemma: providing consumers with a reliable energy source without exacerbating climate change.

“Energy is your access to a decent life,” Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman and chief executive of multinational energy company Schneider Electric, said at the Fortune Global Forum on Monday.

Tricoire laid out Schneider’s challenge—how to increase global access to energy while resolving “the deadlock” of climate change.

“On the one side, more people must have access to energy, which means energy consumption will increase in the next 20 years,” Tricoire said.

At the same time, he added, we need to cut emissions in half to combat climate change, “and climate change is about carbon emissions, and carbon emissions is about energy.”

For Tricoire, shifting from fossil fuels to electric power is a large part of the solution. “The future of energy is electricity,” he said.

One of the biggest drivers of energy migration from fossil fuels to electricity, Tricoire said, will be electric vehicles.

“Electricity is the only vector of energy consumption that allows decarbonization,” Tricoire said. “From a solar panel to a motor you’ve got no losses, and it’s carbon-free.”

Another sector that will drive the switch from fossil fuels to electric, which Tricoire says is discussed much less, will be the heating and cooling used for buildings. And rather than constructing new projects, a lot of the work will consist of retrofitting existing infrastructure to make it more sustainable.

“The problem is not the new construction. The problem is to retrofit 99% of what creates issues, which are existing buildings, existing manufacturing,” Tricoire said. He gave the example of the destructive wildfires in California, which in previous years have been sparked by power lines in electrical networks that Tricoire said needed retrofitting.

Globally, Tricoire expects that “we’re going to invest as much in electricity in the next 20 years as we’ve done since the beginning of electricity.”