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Finland shows how bioenergy and nuclear can drive the energy transition

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Thanks to the strong role of nuclear, hydro and bioenergy – which alone accounts for 29% of energy supply – Finland has one of the lowest share of fossil fuels in total energy supply among IEA member countries. Yet in its latest review of energy policies in Finland, the IEA finds that the government will nonetheless need to focus on cost-effective measures to achieve its ambitious climate goals of halving oil demand and phasing out coal use by 2030, among others.

For instance, Finland targets 30% of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2030. As a leader in advanced biofuels, Finland needs to ensure that its new biofuels obligation can be met with sustainable feedstocks, encourage investments in novel biofuels production, and ensure the use of biofuels in long-distance transport, such as freight, shipping and aviation.

Finland also aims to reduce car ownership by fostering a shift from personal transport towards transport services. The report notes that while this is commendable, it should not come at the expense of an increase of total transport emissions. “Taking a holistic approach to the decarbonisation of the transport sector will require higher efficiency both in terms of vehicles and the transport system as a whole,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Paul Simons as he presented the report at the Energy Fair in Tampere today.

In terms of heating, industrial heat demand is largely met by biofuels and electricity. At the same time,  Finland’s energy sector is investing in new nuclear, based on long-term industry contracts. However, coal and peat still play a large role in combined generation of heat and power (CHP) and related district heating and cooling (DHC), placing Finland 7th in terms of IEA carbon intensity of electricity supply.

As the government aims to phase out coal under the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the heat sector needs to shift to biomass-based CHP with technologies to support heat flexibility, including heat storage and smart meters, while fostering energy efficiency in buildings. By aligning energy taxation to a fuel’s carbon content, Finland can encourage the shift to low-carbon fuels in district heating and cooling.

Looking at energy security, Finland is strengthening its integration in the Nordic and Baltic electricity market with new interconnections and is also working on a common gas market with the Baltic States. In this context, regional alignment of policies is vital, as Nordic countries embark on ambitious national decarbonisation paths, all relying on electrification and biofuels. As a net electricity importer, regular adequacy assessments are critical for Finland in order to maintain electricity, as the Nordic market is set to see a rise in variable wind energy and retirements of existing capacity.

Finally, while Finland’s leadership in energy research and development is notable, public funding has declined in recent years. Maintaining strong R&D performance is a critical factor for reaching clean energy goals. For businesses to take investment decisions in innovative transport, energy and climate solutions, a low carbon strategy for 2050 is needed, as well as robust private and public funding to boost clean energy technology innovation.

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Greening industry through a transition to hydrogen societies

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Hydrogen offers great potential to help green the energy sector and diversify the economy; however the technology’s development needs to be supported by tailored policies and closer collaboration between governments and industry to ensure everyone can benefit from it. This is a key conclusion of a new report launched today which is based on the outcomes of an International Expert Group Meeting. This meeting, which took place at the UN COP24 climate negotiations in Poland in December 2018, focused on the current hydrogen technology advancements and the pathways to develop the climate neutral technologies. The meeting was organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Energy and the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna.

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe. Thanks to its energy storage capabilities, it has an outstanding potential, to provide stability for the renewable energy sector, which currently lacks sufficient storage to provide grid balancing.

“We have to think about what happens if we increase renewables, such as wind and solar, EU-wide to a share of 50 to 80 per cent of our electricity production. In such scenarios there will be times when demand cannot absorb this electricity and therefore we need to develop storage solutions. And here comes hydrogen,” said Michael Losch, Director General for Energy and Mining in the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism. “The essential new idea is to inject the hydrogen into the existing gas grid, substituting fossil natural gas with green electrolysis-produced hydrogen.”

Current advances in its production through electrolysis and related technologies, including fuel cells, as well as its versatile characteristics, offer holistic solutions to reduce global GHG emissions. The transition to hydrogen societies supports a true paradigm shift in the area of more efficient energy storage, especially for renewable energy on industrial scale. It furthermore offers an opportunity for an integrated energy system based on renewable energy through sector coupling.

“We need stronger cooperation and knowledge exchange between public and private sectors in order to support the development of electrical energy storage systems which can be used to balance the electrical grids and to decarbonize the transportation sector,” said Tareq Emtairah, Director of UNIDO’s Department of Energy. “Such innovations can improve lives, to strengthen businesses and help tackle major global challenges, such as climate change.”

Federico Villatico Campbell, Regional Manager for LAC, West and Central Africa at the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), added: “We need to find all possible solutions to decarbonize our energy sector. UNIDO can really help developing countries to get into this hydrogen business and also share knowledge.”

While the technology is maturing, the policy and regulatory framework remains insufficient throughout the world. Consequently, the recipe for success calls for the continuous partnership between the government, industry and academia. “In the hydrogen economy, two hands are needed to clap: industry and policymakers,” said Eric Sebellin, Vice president for Markets and Strategy at Air Liquide.

The report lays out the necessary milestones to achieve the hydrogen societies and includes a number of regional transition strategies and case studies to support sustainable development efforts and foster stronger cooperation with developing countries to tackle their environmental challenges.

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IEA hosts high-level meeting on Africa’s energy outlook

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Workshop findings will provide input to a special report on Africa that will be published later this year in the World Energy Outlook. (Photograph: IEA)

The International Energy Agency held a day-long workshop on Wednesday to discuss ways to promote greater energy development across the African continent.

More than a hundred senior representatives from governments, energy companies, financial institutions and academia attended the meeting, which was opened by H.E. Dona Jean-Claude Houssou, Minister of Energy of the Republic of Benin, and H.E. Chakib Benmoussa, Ambassador of His Majesty the King of Morocco to France.

Findings from the Workshop will provide input to a special report on Africa that will be published later this year in the World Energy Outlook, the IEA’s flagship publication. It will also inform the IEA’s first ministerial summit with the African Union Commission, which will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in June. 

“Promoting access to energy across Africa is one of the world’s major development challenges and one of the IEA’s key priorities,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, during his opening remarks. “While the challenges are important – particularly with regards to access to energy or clean cooking fuels – the continent’s energy resources are tremendous. With the right policies and investments, they could be harnessed to provide greater economic benefit for all populations across the continent.”

Developing Africa’s energy sector potential is an essential step to providing greater economic opportunities and prosperity across the continent, which is home to vast energy resources. Still, today more than 600 million people across the continent remain without access to electricity. The workshop addressed policies, technologies, business models and financing to accelerate the transition to a thriving and sustainable African energy sector, set against a favourable backdrop of declining energy technology costs, increasing digitalisation, and strengthened policy commitment, including through Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The workshop marked an important milestone in the IEA’s strengthened engagement with Africa. In recent years, the IEA welcomed Morocco and South Africa to its family and recently forged a strategic partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC). The IEA is also stepping up its collaboration with African countries and regional organisations on capacity building for data and long-term planning, and technical policy dialogues on a range of topics.

The workshop was followed by deep-dive sessions on energy access, energy and gender, energy and growth, and power system reliability and sustainability.

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Power sector leads the way decarbonising the Irish energy sector

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Ireland has successfully advanced the transformation of its energy sector, led primarily by the power sector. In 2017, about a quarter of the country’s total power generation came from wind power, the third highest share among all 30 IEA member countries, according to the latest review of Ireland’s energy policies by the International Energy Agency.

The Irish electricity system can already accommodate up to 65% of variable wind and solar generation, without risking security of supply. This is one of the highest shares globally, and a testimony to the country’s innovation and research capacity.

Ireland’s overall energy system remains  heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and with energy consumption projected to rise with population growth, Ireland will need to meet its future energy needs through low-carbon and energy efficient solutions in order to keep carbon emissions in check. Ireland is not on course to meet its emissions reduction and renewable energy targets for 2020, which means that reaching its 2030 targets is also in question.

“Ireland has become a world leader in system integration of renewables thanks in large part to strong policies and commitment to innovation” said Paul Simons, IEA Deputy Executive Director, who presented the report in Ireland. “Building on this success, we advise the government to urgently implement additional measures and monitor  their  progress to get the country back on track to meet its long-term climate targets.”

Efforts to manage emissions could include building on the success of its broad set of existing energy efficiency policies and the many new policies that have come into force since 2017, supported by a substantial increase in funding. Ireland’s commitment to efficiency is highlighted by its decision to host the IEA’s 4th Annual Global Conference on Energy Efficiency in Dublin in June 2019.

Decarbonising heating in buildings is a particular challenge for Ireland because of a highly dispersed population living in single-family dwellings, which, compared to other IEA countries, still feature a high share of individual oil-heating systems. As Ireland has already achieved significant reductions in energy intensity, attention should now shift to switching from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy sources in heat production.

Since January 2019, all new buildings must install renewable energy systems to ensure that the expansion of the building stock does not lock-in carbon fuel consumption. Decarbonising heat in the existing building stock is more challenging; especially in the rental sector. In its report, the IEA recommends a two pronged strategy: complementing attractive financial incentives for landlords along with the introduction of minimum energy efficiency standards where needed.

Moving towards a low-carbon energy system will also ease concerns over Ireland’s security of supply, given its limited domestic hydrocarbon resources and geography that makes a full integration into larger European energy markets challenging.

Ireland is one of the few countries that taxes all carbon fuels, an effective instrument for reducing demand and enhancing energy efficiency. But the carbon tax rate has not changed since 2014 and, with rising living standards, its impact on customer behaviour is weakening. The IEA encourages the Irish government to introduce an automatic upward adjustment of the tax when pre-set emission targets are not met.

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