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Innovation Paves Way for Next Stage of Global Energy Transformation

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Countries at the forefront of the energy transformation are getting more than a third of their energy from variable renewables like solar and wind, and they’re doing it in a cost-effective manner. By making use of innovative solutions that allow to integrate a higher share of renewables into power systems, innovation holds the key to a cost-effective global energy transformation.

These findings come from a first-of-a-kind mapping and analysis of innovations that will transform the power sector, launched by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today in Brussels. IRENA’s Director-General Adnan Z. Amin presented the report in the presence of EU Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at an official launch event hosted by the European Commission. The report “Innovation Landscape for a Renewable-Powered Future: Solutions to integrate variable renewables” contains the most in-depth assessment of the power sector transformation to date. It shows how synergies between different innovative solutions in business models, market design, enabling technologies and system operation are lowering the cost of integrating high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE), while making energy production, transmission and consumption more flexible and empowering a new generation of energy consumers.

Decarbonising the global power sector in line with the Paris Agreement objectives will require an 85% share of renewable energy in total electricity generation by 2050, IRENA’s 2050 Roadmap estimates. By then, variable renewables would account for 60% of the total power generated globally. Moving to a new phase where the massive but cost-effective scale-up of renewables power is crucial, the power sector transformation is strongly accelerated by innovation trends in digitalization, decentralization and electrification of the end-use sectors. Understanding and learning from the experiences from leading countries in VRE integration is crucial to replicate and enhance innovation that can accelerate this transformation.

With close to 15% of VRE share in annual electricity generation today, the EU has the highest levels of variable renewables in power systems globally. “Europe has shown tremendous leadership in initiating the system-wide innovations needed to support the widespread adoption of renewables and decarbonise the global economy”, said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “The region’s success shows us that innovation is creating an energy transformation that is technically feasible and economically attractive. Innovation is the engine powering the energy transition and the global pace of innovation is accelerating. IRENA’s new report will provide a clear, navigable and comprehensive guide on innovations being piloted around the world, aiming to support informed decision-making by all countries to deploy low-cost renewables and accelerate the global energy transition further.”

EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Cañete reiterated the importance of renewable energy in helping the region to meet its climate objectives, “The EU has already started the modernisation and transformation towards a climate neutral economy. Implementing the EU’s Clean Energy package will further boost innovation, and the EU can continue to show leadership and support the rest of the world by exporting innovative solutions in the fight against climate change. Innovation is central to our efforts, and this report from IRENA is a valuable contribution to become the world’s first major economy to go climate neutral by 2050.”

The new report identifies 30 key innovations and 11 innovative solutions in development by pioneering companies and backed by far-sighted governments around the world. By showcasing many examples of projects and pilots for the power sector transformation across the globe, it supports policy makers in adopting innovation frameworks built on the combination and synergies between innovative solutions. As a unique toolbox it will help decision makers to rethink their power systems and implement solutions that account for specific national circumstances.

Key Findings from the report:

  • Innovation accelerates a cost-effective global energy transformation.
  • Flexible power systems maximize benefits of the energy transformation. Innovation in power systems minimizes costs related to the acceleration of renewable energy.
  • There are abundant innovative solutions to integrate VRE in power systems. However, policy-makers must adopt an innovation framework based on a systematic approach that creates synergies between innovations in technology, business models, market design and system operation, resulting in flexibility solutions to ensure a cost-effective integration of VRE at large scale.
  • Power sector innovation trends i.e. digitalization, electrification and decentralization are ongoing trends that can further accelerate the power sector transformation.
  • IRENA assessed 30 innovation types, clustered in four dimensions: enabling technology (e.g. batteries, EV, blockchain), business model (e.g. energy-as-a-service, aggregators), market design (e.g. time-of-use tariffs) and system operation (e.g. empowerment of DSO) in the report.
  • IRENA estimates that if some flexibility options are implemented, investments necessary for the integration of a high share of VRE may sum up to 18 trillionUSD from today to 2050 – corresponding to the total investments required in additional renewable energy generation technologies.
  • EU28 has been leading in VRE integration, with close to 15% of VRE share in annual electricity generation today, expected to increase to almost 50% by 2050. The three largest power systems in the world – China, India and the United States are expected to double their share of VRE to more than 10% of annual generation by 2022.

IRENA

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Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years

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The global economy is expected to bounce back this year with growth of 5.3 per cent, the fastest in nearly five decades, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.  

During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line. 

The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity. 

Differences in growth 

The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress. 

Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending. 

Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”. 

“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD. 

“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.” 

Lessons of the pandemic 

UNCTAD includes several proposals in the report that are drawn from the lessons of the pandemic. 

They include concerted debt relief and even cancellation in some cases, a reassessment of fiscal policy, greater policy coordination and strong support for developing countries in vaccine deployment. 

Even without significant setbacks, global output will only resume its 2016-19 trend by 2030. But even before COVID-19, the income growth trend was unsatisfactory, says UNCTAD. Average annual global growth in the decade after the global financial crisis was the slowest since 1945. 

Despite a decade of massive monetary injections from leading central banks, since the 2008-9 crash, inflation targets have been missed. Even with the current strong recovery in advanced economies, there is no sign of a sustained rise in prices. 

After decades of a declining wage share, real wages in advanced countries need to rise well above productivity for a long time before a better balance between wages and profits is achieved again, according to the trade and development body’s analysis. 

Food prices and global trade 

Despite current trends on inflation, UNCTAD believes the rise in food prices could pose a serious threat to vulnerable populations in the South, already financially weakened by the health crisis. 

Globally, international trade in goods and services has recovered, after a drop of 5.6 per cent in 2020. The downturn proved less severe than had been anticipated, as trade flows in the latter part of 2020 rebounded almost as strongly as they had fallen earlier. 

The report’s modelling projections point to real growth of global trade in goods and services of 9.5 per cent in 2021. Still, the consequences of the crisis will continue to weigh on the trade performance in the years ahead. 

For director of UNCTAD’s globalization and development strategies division, Richard Kozul-Wright, “the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink the core principles of international economic governance, a chance that was missed after the global financial crisis.” 

“In less than a year, wide-ranging US policy initiatives in the United States have begun to effect concrete change in the case of infrastructure spending and expanded social protection, financed through more progressive taxation. The next logical step is to take this approach to the multilateral level.” 

The report highlights a “possibility of a renewal of multilateralism”, pointing to the United States support of a new special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, global minimum corporate taxation, and a waiver of vaccine-related intellectual property rights.  

UNCTAD warns, though, that these proposals “will need much stronger backing from other advanced economies and the inclusion of developing country voices if the world is to tackle the excesses of hyperglobalization and the deepening environmental crisis in a timely manner.” 

For the UN agency, the biggest risk for the global economy is that “a rebound in the North will divert attention from long-needed reforms without which developing countries will remain in a weak and vulnerable position.”

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Italy: Pro-growth reforms and government support key to a greener and jobs-rich recovery

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The post-COVID recovery offers an exceptional opportunity for Italy to tackle long-standing obstacles to job creation and the raising of living standards, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy says government support for Italian households and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should continue until the recovery is firmly underway, but should become increasingly targeted as the economy continues to strengthen. It says that generous fiscal support has been effective in mitigating job losses and preserving productive capacity. This will help boost the short-term recovery as vaccination rates accelerate and restrictions ease. Higher public spending, including from Next Generation EU funds, will support higher investment alongside improved confidence and demand.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers a unique opportunity to create a greener, more digitised and productive economy, the report adds. The government, it says, has an ambitious agenda rightly prioritising reforms to competition, to boost the efficiency of civil justice processes and to reform the public sector in order to tackle uncertainty, delays and costs that currently hamper investment. Green infrastructure and broadband investments can improve the competitiveness of Italian firms.

The report suggests that the chances of implementing this reform plan successfully are greater than on previous occasions. Clear implementation milestones and targets linked to the disbursement of Next Generation EU funds have been publicised, while recently passed laws to simplify green investments and support decision-making  will help facilitate successful implementation of the plan.

The OECD projects Italy’s economic growth to be 5.9% this year and 4.1% in 2022, following an 8.9% fall in GDP in 2020. A stronger-than-expected second quarter explains the upward revision from the 4.5% expansion forecast for 2021 in the OECD’s May Economic Outlook. 

Presenting the report alongside Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco today, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan is activating stronger, greener, fairer and more digitised growth that will benefit all Italians with improved opportunities to get ahead. A more effective public sector is crucial for ensuring its success. The plan must be fully implemented and complemented with reforms to support further growth, including with more investment in green infrastructure and R&D and reforms to keep driving the effective digital transformation of the Italian economy.”

The report recommends that once the pandemic subsides, public spending and tax policy must be reformed to complement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Currently, pension-related expenses crowd out investment in infrastructure, education and training, penalising the young, many of whom are out of work and at risk of poverty.

Labour force participation remains particularly low for women, especially those with children. Access to quality childcare and adult skills training needs to be improved across all regions, the report says.

Compared with the OECD average, taxes on labour remain too high. The report recommends implementing comprehensive tax reform to reduce the complexity of the system and to lower labour taxes. This should be financed through improved compliance – driven by greater use of technology and card payments.

Raising the effectiveness of Italy’s public sector is more urgent than ever. The report says that fully implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will help fill skills gaps in the public sector, further its digitisation and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit civil servants’ ability to deliver.

The report welcomes the set up for the Plan’s implementation and says the administration would generally become stronger and more agile by reducing the number of existing rules, regulating the services sector and green economy with a stronger focus on outcomes, in line with the government’s priorities and that support sustained growth. The report also recommends encouraging better coordination across Italy’s multiple layers of government.

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Lao PDR: Economic Fallout from COVID-19 Deepened

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Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the efforts to contain it, deepened in Lao PDR over the second quarter of 2021 as work fell off abruptly and households and businesses reported declines in income and revenue, according to the latest round of the World Bank’s Rapid Monitoring Phone Survey.

The survey, conducted in April-May this year with 2,000 randomly selected households, shows that 51% of survey respondents reported being without work or having had to stop working in April–May 2021, up from 17% in February–March 2021. In the services sector, more than half of workers in wholesale and retail trade and other services had to stop working or switch jobs during the lockdown, according to the survey.

By May 2021, 5.5% of businesses had permanently closed, while 33% were temporarily shuttered. Among businesses that remained in operation, 65% experienced a fall in revenue from pre-lockdown levels. Also in May, around 43% of households experienced a decline in household income relative to before lockdown, leading respondents to express growing concern about food insecurity for people in their communities.

This was the third round of the COVID-19 Rapid Monitoring Phone Surveys of Households in Lao PDR. The surveys are aimed at monitoring the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The results help provide insights into the effects of the pandemic on household well-being, and feed into policy advice and analytical studies such as the latest edition of the Lao Economic Monitor. Similar surveys are being carried out in 64 countries across the world.

The first round of the Lao phone surveys was conducted in June to July 2020, when the country had just exited the initial nationwide lockdown, and the second round ran from February to March 2021, one year into the pandemic. More details are available on the World Bank’s Lao PDR website. The monitoring is part of a wider health response to the pandemic. The Bank is coordinating a $33 million COVID-19 response project in Laos, supported by various development partners under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.

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