Allow me to tell a personal life experience. Almost 65 years ago, I was born in a working-class neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland. In the area there was a coal mine, a steel works, other heavy industries and a railway. Coal was used in all of these activities and also to heat our homes. On the most critical days, pollution was so thick that one could not discern objects at a distance of three meters.
In 1964, this changed almost overnight. Natural gas suddenly was installed into our homes and into local factories. Almost simultaneously, trains were electrified. Within a few months, air quality and the quality of life changed dramatically. A few years later, lead was eliminated from gasoline.
Today, in Mexico, a government “of transformation” has placed its bets on oil, on oil refineries and on putting a stop to private investment in clean energy. Those who, without adequate counseling, defend that policy say that oil will still dominate for decades. They cannot imagine a likely sudden shift towards new energy solutions.
It is enlightening to see the analysis published by the consultancy McKinsey & Co. –the same one that for decades was the principal advisor to state-run oil firm Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex)–. It states that medium- and small-sized cars, trucks, vans and minibuses, as well as trains, are candidates to run on hydrogen in an imminent wave of applications in transport that will occur massively by 2030.
“The great intensity of interest in hydrogen globally endorses that assessment”, says McKinsey. In parallel, the use of electric and hybrid vehicles is soaring. Twenty-seven percent of cars in Western Europe are now hybrid or electric. The number is growing fast and is beginning to shoot up in Mexico, too, in recent months. In 2030, it is unlikely that any car manufacturers will still be making vehicles that use gasoline.
News stories appear almost daily that support this thesis. The United States will bet all on a road map to a U.S. hydrogen economy. Chile announced its first green hydrogen production plant and will inject hydrogen into gas pipeline networks. The first hydrogen-fueled taxis will come into service in Madrid, Spain, in 2022. Glasgow –the city that soon will host COP26, the U.N. global forum on climate change– already has its first public-service hydrogen bus fleet.
Today, Scotland has a progressive energy strategy based on sustainability. It generates almost all of its electricity from clean sources and is planning to achieve net zero emissions in 2045. Thus, in about 20 years it will conclude its cycle of energy transition by moving from 100 percent fossil energy to 100 percent clean energy, that is, it will achieve full decarbonization of its energy matrix.
Mexico, like all countries, must go through this same transition cycle. Opposing it and, instead, building a giant refinery with no prospect of profitability, is not “fantastic”, as our energy minister has said. It is pitiful, a historical error. It is contrary to economic logic, to innovation and to the correct use of public funds. It means refusing to recognize and accept the challenges of the present and the future. It is not patriotism, just the contrary.
The road ahead is clear. The energy transition needs the support of everyone, not only for reasons of survival, but because it offers hope to millions of Mexicans caught up in a growing spiral of sadness, poverty and backwardness, that is fostered by a government ready to put the country’s economic future at risk by binding public finances to the slow, but inevitable downfall of Pemex.
I am concluding a life cycle today as a columnist on energy topics. It has been 35 years in many different media and 21 of them in Reforma newspaper, the most outstanding of all editorial projects in Mexico, to which I express my deepest gratitude. Thanks to my readers. It is time for new challenges.