Ep 191: Jean Louis Ricaud - Senior Advisor, Assystem
John’s 35 years in energy (1:27)
1:27-6:17 (John discusses how he transitioned from being a mathematician to an engineer and how he has applied what he learned in the automotive industry to the energy sector.)
Q. Where did you grow up and how did you get into the nuclear space?
A. John Louis Ricaud has worked in the energy sector for 35 years. He also worked in the automotive industry to develop new transportation solutions. John is originally a mathematician but switched to engineering because he wanted to understand what was going on in the world. In the automotive industry, John had to think globally and listen to what his customers wanted. This is the same for the energy sector where engineers must ensure that proposals are positively perceived by people. During John’s university years, he began working for the energy sector after the head of a French electricity company invited John to work with them. John is now Senior Advisor at Assystem.
Different nuclear perceptions around the world (6:18)
6:18-13:18 (John explains how nuclear perceptions have shifted over the last 40 years and the need for politicians to take on long-term energy solutions in Europe.)
Q. Did you have an understanding of what nuclear was and did you have any sort of opinion on it?
A. When John began working, nuclear energy was perceived to be the solution. But 40 years later, there is a specific mindset about nuclear energy in different countries. John finds it interesting to ask what has caused the changes is perceptions. John thinks this is because there is no political support and no political ability to advise on long term issues on developing new nuclear power plants. In some countries, such as China, India and the UK, they are able to think farther into the future compared to other countries that rely on importing energy from other countries. We therefore need to be careful when considering the nuclear issues in France, Belgium and Italy, for example, that have very specific nuclear issues. The issue is understanding how much energy Europe will need in 2050. Some believe decreasing energy needs is the solution, but John does not agree with this because decreasing consumption will create a social pushback and global growth means energy needs will continue to increase. Countries developing nuclear understand that they need to address long term energy needs and mitigate climate change.
Shifting towards carbon-free electricity generation (13:19)
13:19-20:21(John discusses why a reduction to energy consumption is not a practical solution and how cities will need to switch to using carbon-free electricity generation.)
Q. I would think it would be impractical to just reduce consumption because we will still need energy to desalinate water and cool rooms, right?
A. When thinking about energy, we must do so from both the main uses of energy: transportation and heating homes. For transportation, we need to move towards electric cars because of pollution. John believes in 30 years, all large cities will use electric transportation. From the heating perspective, many cities would not have developed if cooling and heating systems did not exist. Global warming will cause an increase in the number of cooling and heating systems installed around the globe. Heating and cooling will also see a switch from oil and gas to electricity over the next 30 years. This is a step by step process where cities will adopt electricity first and then switch to electricity that is generated without emitting CO2.
Carbon emissions vs carbon footprint (20:22)
20:22-28:49 (John explains why solutions will be different for each country. He also discusses why Europe should focus on each country’s carbon footprint rather than their carbon emissions.)
Q. Why not reverse this and first get government and publics to support nuclear and then electrify everything?
A. This is a specific situation for each country. France has the ability to produce electricity for 20 to 30 years. In Germany, they plan to stop nuclear plants in 2022 and have no other option but developing coal or gas plants, which will increase their CO2 emissions. Belgium also plans to stop their nuclear program and plans to import energy from other countries. This supports the not in my backyard mentality where a country may be considered green because they are not producing CO2, however they may be importing energy produced by coal plants in another country. The current focus is on CO2 emitted by a country but not on the CO2 emitted by products or energy imported to a country. We need to take into consideration a country’s carbon footprint. For instance, France emits 400 million tons of CO2 but their carbon footprint is 750 million tons of CO2 . China is not constrained by COP 21, meaning many countries import goods from China instead of producing in their own country, which reduces their carbon emissions but increases their carbon footprint. A carbon tax may be a way to reduce European country’s imports.
Being realistic about Europe’s increasing energy demands (28:50)
28:50-39:18 (John explains why Europe’s demand for energy will increase and why politicians must be realistic about this when making decisions.)
Q. Have we looked at the balance between implementing a carbon tax versus disincentivizing production in Europe?
A. Macron said that a carbon tax is necessary but there will be backlash from industry. In 30 years, will industry be global or will it become more regional? The US is becoming more regional, for example. John believes relocalization will occur, meaning the needs for energy in Europe will increase. Energy production will be transferred from China and India back to Europe. Additionally, Europe will need non-intermittent energy. Thinking about zero carbon energy in 2050 requires many points to be taken into consideration. Nuclear is not a target by itself, but it is a way to solve the needs of people between 2050 and 2100. John believes we must be realistic about what 2050 will be like in order to make critical decisions now. We can not deny possibilities, such as the need for cooling systems in European houses.
Making energy as strategic as military defense (39:19)
39:19-49:14 (John explains that nuclear power must be adopted to keep global warming under 2 degrees as the world’s population increases to 10 billion people. He states that this should be achieved when politicians make energy as strategic as military defense.)
Q. So step one is to educate people?
A. At least for politicians, they must be responsible for what will occur in 20 to 30 years. We have to face the future as it is, not as we may dream it might be. Decisions must be based on the realistic vision of the future, including the increasing human population to 10 billion people. Half of this population will be below the age of 30. If the future 10 billion people uses the same amount of energy as we use today, the world temperature will increase by 3 degrees. If energy consumption per person decreases by 30%, the global temperature will increase by 2 degrees. We must stabilize world energy consumption, however 90% of the world’s population wants to see more economic growth, meaning global energy consumption will increase. Internet energy consumption, for example, is forecasted to represent 10 to 20% of total electricity consumption worldwide in the next 40 years. It is therefore important to recognize climate change and move towards energy sources that do not emit CO2. The International Committee About Climate Change said last year that in order to keep global warming under 2 degrees, we need to increase the number of nuclear power plants by 5 times. The International Energy Agency also said that nuclear energy must be developed to mitigate climate change.
To do this, we need to copy what is underway in the UK and Finland and make people confident that nuclear energy is completely safe. All organizations that manage safety are conscious of their strategy and responsibilities. The politicians should not just advise short term issues, but must advise long term issues, too. Energy is not yet perceived as an issue as strategic as military defense, but this must change moving forwards.
A future of low cost nuclear power (49:15)
49:15-57:39 (John explains the dangers of promoting fast neutron reactors and the necessity of returning to simple designs to keep nuclear power costs low.)
Q. Do you think, in terms of long term solutions, that we should push forward with reactors that we have already developed or new designs, such as small modular reactors?
A. John thinks we must be cautious. The main asset of nuclear energy today is the years of operations of existing power plants. Advanced reactor designs are different, but the physics is the same. John does not believe, however, that fast neutron reactors will be put into operation in the next 30 years and believes we must be careful when promoting this type of new technology.
The focus for the future of nuclear energy is on Belgium and Germany that need to import energy. These countries will be critical to the future of nuclear and decreasing climate change impacts. The price for electricity will also be a focus as energy costs continue to increase. The price must be kept under control because energy is a fundamental cost that families must pay. This means that nuclear energy must remain cheap. We have to ask ourselves why nuclear development costs more today than it did 40 years ago and we need to understand the added value of the more expensive designs. John believes we should return to the more simple nuclear plant designs of the past to keep costs low.