He also discussed Norway’s successful renewables sector, climate change, and trade – but was less forthcoming on what a post-Brexit UK could learn from his non-EU country.
Tord Lien is Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy. Norway is a major supplier of natural gas to the EU, which views it as a bridge fuel towards a low-carbon future and an important part of its efforts to bolster the bloc’s energy security.
Lien spoke to Deputy News Editor James Crisp. You can listen to the SoundCloud clip below, or read the transcript that follows.
Norway is a major natural gas supplier to the EU. Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said he wants each EU country to have three energy suppliers. Does that worry you? Isn’t that going to generate more competition for Norwegian gas?
I think that to have many suppliers and many different consumers is good for us all in the long term. We have been competing with gas suppliers from Africa, from Eastern Europe, from Arab states, for decades already, so we are more than ready for the competition.
You have said that Norway and the EU are interdependent.
We have chosen to develop our gas resources in close cooperation with Europe, based on a gas pipeline system, and that has been a success for Norway. I strongly believe that that has also been a success for the northwestern European markets and consumers.
After the Paris agreement, which is potentially going to lead to much higher energy efficiency and a greater dependence on renewables in the future, do you expect to see a drop in the demand for gas?
I think it’s fair to say that you can’t see a future global energy system within the framework of the Paris agreement that does not rely more heavily on renewables, and that does not use energy more efficiently than we do today.
But looking at the decline in production in gas production within the EU28, we believe we have a strong market in Western Europe for decades to come.
Germany is working on a programme to shut down huge parts of their electricity generation from coal and nuclear power, and there are various schemes for that. In the UK, Amber Rudd, the minister for energy, has said that they will reach their climate targets by replacing coal with gas. These measures, of course, increase the demand for gas in some of the northwestern European markets. Replacing coal with gas is a very efficient way of reducing CO2 emissions.
But natural gas also gives off methane emissions, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, isn’t it?
Methane is also a driver for climate change, yes. But what was your point?
My point is that people have described natural gas as a bridge fuel, but they generally fail to mention that it causes methane emissions, which are actually more powerful than carbon emissions, when it comes to global warming.
We have a very strong focus on reducing all emissions, not only CO2 from the production of oil and gas, for which we have very strong fiscal measures in place – a high tax on CO2 emissions – but also measures to measure and limit methane emissions. And since the very beginning, we have had a ban on flaring.
Norway is very much a world leader, domestically, in renewable energy. What is the share of renewables in Norway’s domestic energy production?
We produce ten terawatt hours more in renewable power than we use.
But do you also use your natural gas reserves domestically in Norway?
Yes, for shipping. We also use a small amount in the various kinds of energy-intensive industries, but we only have one gas-fired power generating facility.
So the gas reserves are principally for export.
Some critics would ask why you are giving Europe the fossil fuels, and keeping the clean energy for yourselves?
That’s really not correct. We are currently expanding our export and trade capacity towards the European Union. We are building a 1400 megawatt cable to Germany and a 1400 megawatt cable to the UK.
We have established interconnectors to the Netherlands, to Denmark. We have a fully integrated system with Sweden, and we have interconnectors with Finland. So it is just not correct to say this. If you look at what the IEA say, they point to the Nordic model as a shining example of how to develop energy systems.
You mentioned in your presentation this morning that the last third of Norway’s natural gas reserves would begin to be exploited in 2035. I know it is hard to predict the future, but what happens when this runs out?
When it runs out, we stop producing. We have already produced one third. We will produce another third in the next 20 years, and then we will have one third left.
Does this plan involve drilling in the Arctic?
We have already established a pipeline system to the Arctic region, and many of the remaining resources will be in our very northernmost territory.
Obviously Norway is doing very well outside the EU. But regarding your intergovernmental agreements and your interconnection with the UK, what effect do you think Brexit would have on the energy market if it happened? And what lessons could a Britain outside the EU take from such a successful example as Norway?
Did you ask me about Brexit now? We have outstanding cooperation with the EU, we have outstanding cooperation with the UK. We will continue being energy partners with the EU and the UK, both on a political level and a market-based level.
What I was getting at was that you are a successful trading partner, particularly in energy…
I won’t comment on that. I have to go now anyway, so thank you.