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Energy has a role to play in achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation

Molly A. Walton

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The world has a water problem. More than 2.1 billion people drink contaminated water.  More than half the global population – about 4.5 billion people – lack access to proper sanitation services. More than a third of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated, adding to already problematic levels of water pollution.

These statistics make for uncomfortable reading but energy can be part of the solution.

The linkages between water and energy are increasingly recognised across businesses, governments and the public – and have been a major area of analysis in the World Energy Outlook. Thinking about water and energy in an integrated way is essential if the world is to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water: to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

The connection works in both directions. The energy sector accounts for roughly 10% of total water withdrawals and 3% of total water consumption worldwide. Water is essential to almost all aspects of energy supply, from electricity generation to oil supply and biofuels cultivation. Energy is also required for water treatment and to move water to where it is needed; in a first-of-a-kind global assessment, the World Energy Outlook found that, on aggregate, the energy consumption in the water sector globally is roughly equal to that of Australia today, mostly in the form of electricity but also diesel used for irrigation pumps and gas in desalination plants.

With both water and energy needs set to increase, the inter-dependencies between energy and water will intensify. Our analysis finds that the amount of water consumed in the energy sector (i.e. withdrawn but not returned to a source) could rise by almost 60% to 2040. The amount of energy used in the water sector is projected to more than double over the same period.

This challenge will be especially acute in developing countries. This is where energy demand is rising fastest, with developing countries in Asia accounting for two-thirds of the growth in projected consumption. This is also where water demand is likely to grow rapidly for agriculture as well as supply to industry, power generation and households, including those getting access to reliable clean water and sanitation for the first time. This growth will lead to higher levels of wastewater that must be collected and treated, and will require that water supply is available when and where it is needed. As such, how the water-energy nexus is managed is critical, as it has significant implications for economic and social development and the achievement of the UN SDGs, especially SDG 6 on water.

Technology is opening up new ways to manage the potential strains on both the energy and water sides, with creative solutions that leapfrog those used in the past. For example, building new wastewater capacity that capitalizes on energy efficiency and energy recovery opportunities being pioneered by utilities in the European Union and the United States could help temper the associated rise in energy demand from providing sanitation for all and reducing the amount of untreated wastewater (SDG Target 6.2 and 6.3). In some cases, achieving these targets could even produce energy:  WEO analysis found that utilizing the energy embedded in wastewater alone can meet more than half of the electricity required at a wastewater treatment plant.

Summary of SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

6.1: Universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

6.2: Universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls

6.3: Improve water quality by reducing pollution, halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increase recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4: Increase water-use efficiency across all sectors, ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply for freshwater to address water scarcity and lower number of people suffering from water scarcity

6.5: Implement Integrated Water Resource Management at all levels

6.6: Protect and restore water-related ecosystems

6 A/B: Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries and strengthen participation by local communities

Source: United Nations, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

Smart project designs and technology solutions can also help to reduce the water needs of the energy sector (thereby helping to achieve SDG Target 6.4). The availability of water is an increasingly important measure for assessing the physical, economic and environmental viability of energy projects, and the energy sector is turning to alternative water sources and water recycling to help reduce freshwater constraints. There is also significant scope to lower water use by improving the efficiency of the power plant fleet and deploying more advanced cooling systems for thermal generation.

Moreover the achievement of other energy-related SDGs, including  taking urgent action on climate change (SDG 13) and providing energy for all (SDG 7), will depend on understanding the integrated nature of water and energy.

Moving to a low-carbon energy future does not necessarily reduce water requirements. The more a decarbonisation pathway relies on biofuels production, the deployment of concentrating solar power, carbon capture or nuclear power, the more water it consumes. If not properly managed, this means that a lower carbon pathway could exacerbate water stress or be limited by it.

Many who lack access to energy also lack clean water, opening up an opportunity to provide vital services to those most in need, provided these connections are properly managed. Pairing renewable decentralised energy systems (off-grid systems and mini-grids) with filtration technologies can provide both accesses to electricity and safe drinking water (Target 6.1).  Similarly, linking a toilet with an anaerobic digester can produce biogas for cooking and lighting.  Replacing diesel powered generators with renewables, such as solar PV, to power water pumps can help lower energy costs. However, if not properly managed, this could lead to the inefficient use of water, as was the case in the agricultural sector in India.

As such, the IEA’s new Sustainable Development Scenario, which presents an integrated approach to achieving the main energy-related SDG targets on climate change, air quality and access to modern energy, will add a water dimension to this analysis this year. The aim is to assess what the implications of ensuring clean water and sanitation for all are for the energy sector, and what policymakers need to do to hit multiple goals with an integrated and coherent policy approach.

The WEO’s work on water as part of the Sustainable Development Scenario will be part of WEO-2018, to be released on 13 November, 2018. For more on the WEO’s work on the water-energy nexus, visit iea.org/weo/water

The IEA’s Experts’ Group on R&D Priority-Setting and Evaluation (EGRD) will host a workshop on Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus through R&D Planning and Policies on 28-29 May, 2018.

IEA

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Economic value of energy efficiency can drive reductions in global CO2 emissions

MD Staff

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Ambitious energy efficiency policies can keep global energy demand and energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO₂) emissions steady until 2050, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency shows that despite a near-tripling of the world economy and a global population that increases by nearly 2.3 billion, end-use energy efficiency alone can deliver 35% of the cumulative CO₂ savings through 2050 required to meet global climate goals.

Global energy demand grew by 2.1% in 2017 according to IEA estimates, more than twice the growth rate in 2016. At the same time, global energy-related CO₂ emissions increased for the first time in three years, as improvements in global energy efficiency slowed down dramatically to 1.7%.

“Among all energy trends in 2017, the one that worries me the most is the slowdown in energy efficiency improvements,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. “The rate of improvement that we saw is around half of the rate that is required to meet clean energy transition goals.”

IEA analysis in Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency demonstrates that on top of a wide range of benefits including cleaner air, energy security, productivity and trade balance improvements, there is a compelling economic case for energy efficiency. But, without further policy efforts, these benefits are unlikely to be realised as less than a third of global final energy demand is covered by efficiency standards today.

Realising the full potential of energy efficiency will require a step-change in investments on the demand side of the energy equation, rising to USD 1.7 trillion per year through 2050, the majority of which is for energy efficiency and the electrification of transport. On the supply side, the focus is on reallocating investments towards renewables and other low-carbon technologies such as nuclear and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

While the scale of the demand-side investment required may appear challenging, fuel cost savings over the lifetime of most technologies are larger than the investment required, which implies a strong economic benefit that arises from energy efficiency investment. Although there are still many low-hanging fruits that can pay back their initial investment quickly, payback periods are often too long to attract investment from consumers and businesses. Effective policy frameworks are needed to overcome economic and non-economic barriers to energy efficiency and to incentivise adoption of more efficient technologies.

Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency demonstrates a compelling economic case for energy efficiency as being essential to make the energy transition affordable, faster and more beneficial to all. The IEA recommends that governments adopt a strategic approach to energy efficiency, supported by well-designed efficiency policies and a strong focus on implementation and enforcement.

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Report: Powerful New Policy Options to Scale Up Renewables

MD Staff

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A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, is an unprecedented collaboration that sheds new light on the policy barriers to increased deployment of renewables and provides a range of options for policymakers to scale-up their ambitions.

Since 2012, renewable energy has accounted for more than half of capacity additions in the global power sector. In 2017 alone a record-breaking 167 GW of renewables capacity was added worldwide. 146 million people are now served by off-grid renewable power, and many small island developing states are advancing rapidly towards targets of 100% renewables.

One of the main rationales behind the call for a higher share of renewables in the energy mix is the urgent threat posed by climate change. Of the 194 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 145 referred to renewable energy in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and 109 included quantified renewable energy targets. Air pollution is also a pressing issue, with an estimated 7.3 million premature deaths per year attributable to household and outdoor air pollution. Energy security is another influencing factor, with small island states particularly affected by security issues and resilience in the face of natural disasters. Finally, countries looking to expand energy access in rural areas are increasingly turning to renewables as the most cost-effective, cleanest and most secure option.

But the pace of the energy transition needs to be substantially accelerated to meet decarbonisation and sustainable development objectives. As outlined in IRENA’s recently-released Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, to achieve the two-degree goal of the Paris target, the share of renewables in the primary global energy supply must increase from 15% today to 65% by 2050. Gains in the electricity sector must be matched in end-use sectors such as heating and transportation, which together account for 80% of global energy consumption.

Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition provides policymakers with a comprehensive understanding of the diverse policy options to support an accelerated development of renewables across sectors, technologies, country contexts, energy market structures, and policy objectives, to scale up renewable energy deployment. An updated joint classification of renewable energy policies to illustrate the latest policy developments around the world.

Key areas of focus:

Heating and Cooling

Heating accounted for over 50% of total final energy consumption in 2015, with over 70% of that met by fossil fuels. To increase the use of renewables, a range of policy instruments are required. These include mandates and obligations, which can offer greater certainty of increased deployment; building codes, which implicitly support renewable heating and cooling from renewables by setting energy performance requirements; renewable heat and energy efficiency policies that are closely aligned to leverage synergies and accelerate the pace of transition; fiscal and financial incentives, which reduce the capital costs of renewables; and carbon or energy taxes, which provide important price signals and reduce externalities.

Transport

Transport is the second largest energy end‑use sector, accounting for 29% of total final energy consumption in 2015, and 64.7% of world oil consumption. With the exception of biofuels, there is little practical experience of fostering renewables in transport. Policies and planning should help overcome the immaturity or high cost of certain technologies, inadequate energy infrastructure, sustainability considerations and slow acceptance among users as new technologies and systems are introduced. They should also build improved understanding between decision makers in the energy and transport sectors, so as to enable integrated planning and policy design. Removal of fossil fuel subsidies is also essential, especially in shipping and aviation.

Power sector

Although the power sector consumed only about a fifth of total final energy consumption in 2015, it has received the most attention in terms of renewable energy support policy. Investments in the sector are largely driven by regulatory policies such as quotas and obligations and pricing instruments, supported by fiscal and financial incentives. Quotas and mandates cascade targets down to electricity producers and consumers, but require a robust framework to monitor and penalize non-compliance. Administratively set pricing policies (like feed-in tariffs and premiums) need to continuously adapt to changing market conditions and the falling cost of technology. Auctions are being increasingly adopted, given their ability for real-price discovery, and have resulted in a five-fold price reduction between 2010 and 2016, though auction design is crucial.

System integration

A number of countries and regions are reaching high penetrations of VRE in their power systems, and implementing policies to facilitate their system integration. Strategies for system integration of renewables are crucial to minimise negative impacts, maximize benefits and improve the cost effectiveness of the power system. As VRE shares grow in the power system, so do the challenges of system integration.

A wide range of policies have been adopted to support the growth of renewable energy around the world. The nature of those policies in a given country depends on the maturity of the sector, the particularities of the market segment, and wider socio-economic conditions. As this report shows, as deployment of renewable energy has grown and the sector has matured, policies must adapt and become more sophisticated to ensure the smooth integration of renewables into the wider energy system – including the end-use sectors – and a cost-effective and sustainable energy transition.

IRENA

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Better information needed to improve gender diversity in the clean-energy sector

MD Staff

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Participants and organizers at the recent gender diversity workshop in Rome. photo: IEA

Recognizing that the energy sector lags when it comes to gender diversity, the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) brought together over 80 experts from governments, industry, academia and other organisations for a day-long workshop last week to discuss ways to improve data on women’s participation in the clean-energy sector.

Only limited data on the participation of women in the energy sector is currently available – data that will be critical to building a better understanding of how to make the sector more gender balanced. Without better information, reaching the goal of gender equality by 2030, set under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5), will be impossible to reach.

Participants shared experiences on data collection and methods of assessment to analyse gender diversity as well as employment opportunities offered to women by the clean energy transition. The workshop was held under the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Technology Collaboration Programme (also known as the C3E TCP), which seeks to promote higher participation of women in the clean-energy sector.

“The extraordinary and recognised capacity of women to handle complex and multivariable contexts, their openness to innovation and their responsiveness to environmental issues constitute an important asset for the energy transition” said Massimo Gaiani, Director General for Global Affairs of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Four key messages emerged from the discussions:

1)    Participants recognised the importance of collecting more detailed gender disaggregated data, but stressed the need to clearly define what information was needed and why;

2)    Quantitative data should be supplemented with qualitative information to identify key barriers for women pursuing careers in the energy sector and to develop more targeted solutions to overcoming these challenges;

3)    While comprehensive data is limited, a significant number of national and international efforts to collect information and promote gender already exist and there is opportunity for the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Technology Collaboration Programme (C3E TCP) to collaborate with other leading institutions working on gender diversity to help build and disseminate knowledge;

4)    Finally, the increased engagement of men to promote and support women’s advancement into leadership roles is critical in meeting gender equity and should be fostered.

The meeting also included a dialogue with leading Italian energy companies on a proposal to adopt a common pledge to take action and commitments to achieve gender equality by 2030 (SDG 5). Led by Sweden and Canada with support from the IEA, this new campaign will be launched at a side event to take place at the next Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in Copenhagen on 24 May.

Companies recognised the valuable role that women play in driving innovation and sustainability. Francesca Magliulo, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility of EDISON S.p.A Italy said, “Edison supports this initiative, our experience shows that inclusion and gender diversity creates new capacity to offer innovative solutions to new markets and new customer communities.”

Participants also confirmed that the current momentum to advance and accelerate progress on gender equality represents a tremendous opportunity. While the workshop focused on building knowledge and improving data, Elisabeth Marawba of the Department of Energy of South Africa stressed that “we also need to pay attention to the empowerment of women as business-owners and investors and not just focus on the employment aspects of women in clean energy.”

The C3E TCP and IEA will work together to expand data and indicators as well as undertake analysis to help fill the knowledge gap on gender diversity and women’s empowerment in the energy sector.

Find out more about the C3E TCP programme 

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