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Global solar PV market set for spectacular growth over next 5 years

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The installation of solar PV systems on homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities is set to take off over the next five years, transforming the way electricity is generated and consumed, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest renewable energy market forecast.

These applications – known collectively as distributed PV – are the focus of the IEA’s Renewables 2019 market report, which was released today.

The report forecasts that the world’s total renewable-based power capacity will grow by 50% between 2019 and 2024. This increase of 1,200 gigawatts – equivalent to the current total power capacity of the United States – is driven by cost reductions and concerted government policy efforts. Solar PV accounts for 60% of the rise. The share of renewables in global power generation is set to rise from 26% today to 30% in 2024.

The expected growth comes after renewable capacity additions stalled last year for the first time in almost two decades. The renewed expansion remains well below what is needed to meet global sustainable energy targets, however.

“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

The report highlights the three main challenges that need to be overcome to speed up the deployment of renewables: policy and regulatory uncertainty, high investment risks and system integration of wind and solar PV.

Distributed PV accounts for almost half of the growth in the overall solar PV market through 2024. Contrary to conventional wisdom, commercial and industrial applications rather than residential uses dominate distributed PV growth, accounting for three-quarters of new installations over the next five years. This is because economies of scale combined with better alignment of PV supply and electricity demand enable more self-consumption and bigger savings on electricity bills in the commercial and industrial sectors.

Still, the number of solar rooftop systems on homes is set to more than double to some 100 million by 2024, with the top markets on a per capita basis that year forecast to be Australia, Belgium, California, the Netherlands and Austria.

“As costs continue to fall, we have a growing incentive to ramp up the deployment of solar PV,” said Dr Birol. The cost of generating electricity from distributed solar PV systems is already below retail electricity prices in most countries. The IEA forecasts that these costs will decline by a further 15% to 35% by 2024, making the technology more attractive and spurring adoption worldwide.

The report warns, however, that important policy and tariff reforms are needed to ensure distributed PV’s growth is sustainable. Unmanaged growth could disrupt electricity markets by raising system costs, challenging the grid integration of renewables and reducing the revenues of network operators. By reforming retail tariffs and adapting policies, utilities and governments can attract investment in distributed PV while also securing enough revenues to pay for fixed network assets and ensuring that the cost burden is allocated fairly among all consumers.

“Distributed PV’s potential is breathtaking, but its development needs to be well managed to balance the different interests of PV system owners, other consumers and energy and distribution companies,” Dr Birol said. “The IEA is ready to advise governments on what is needed to take full advantage of this rapidly emerging technology without jeopardising electricity security.”

According to the report’s Accelerated Case, improving economics, policy support and more effective regulation could push distributed PV’s global installed capacity above 600 GW by 2024, almost double Japan’s total power capacity today. Yet this accelerated growth is still only 6% of distributed PV’s technical potential based on total available rooftop area.

As in previous years, Renewables 2019 also offers forecasts for all sources of renewable energy. Renewable heat is set to expand by one-fifth between 2019 and 2024, driven by China, the European Union, India and the United States. The heat and power sectors become increasingly interconnected as renewable electricity used for heat rises by more than 40%. But overall, renewable heat potential remains vastly underexploited. The share of renewables in total heat demand is forecast to remain below 12% in 2024, calling for more ambitious targets and stronger policy support.

Biofuels currently represent some 90% of renewable energy in transport and their use is set to increase by 25% over the next five years. Growth is dominated by Asia, particularly China, and is driven by energy security and air pollution concerns.  Despite the rapid expansion of electric vehicles, renewable electricity only accounts for one-tenth of renewable energy consumption in transport in 2024. And the share of renewables in total transport fuel demand still remains below 5%. The Accelerated Case sees renewables in transport growing by an additional 20% through 2024 on the assumption of higher quota levels and enhanced policy support that opens new markets in aviation and marine transport.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

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Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to a new World Bank report launched today.

Countries in developing East Asia have an impressive record of sustained growth and poverty reduction.  But slowing productivity growth, uncertainties in global trade, and technological advances are increasing the need to transition to new and better modes of production to sustain economic performance.

To support policy makers in meeting this challenge, The Innovation Imperative for Developing East Asia examines the state of innovation in the region, analyzes the key constraints firms face in innovating, and lays out an agenda for action to spur innovation-led growth.

A large body of evidence links innovation to higher productivity,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. “The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, along with the fast-evolving global environment, have raised urgency for governments in the region to promote greater innovation through better policies.

While developing East Asia is home to several high-profile innovators, data presented in the report show that most countries in the region (except China) innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels. Most firms operate far from the technological frontier. And the region is falling behind the advanced economies in the breadth and intensity of new technology use.

“Aside from some noteworthy examples, the vast majority of firms in developing East Asia are currently not innovating,” said Xavier Cirera, a lead author of the report. “A broad-based model of innovation is thus needed – that supports a large mass of firms in adopting new technologies, while also enabling more-sophisticated firms to undertake projects at the cutting edge.”

The report identifies several factors that impede innovation in the region, including inadequate information on new technologies, uncertainty about returns to innovation projects, weak firm capabilities, insufficient staff skills, and limited financing options. Moreover, countries’ innovation policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.

To spur innovation, the report argues that countries need to reorient policy to promote diffusion of existing technologies, not just invention; support innovation in the services sectors, not just manufacturing; and strengthen firms’ innovation capabilities. Taking this broader view of innovation policy will be critical to enabling productivity gains among a broader swath of firms in the region.

“It is important for governments in the region to support innovation in services, given their rising importance in these economies – not only for better service quality but increasingly as key inputs for manufacturing,” said Andrew Mason, also a lead author of the report.

Countries also need to strengthen key complementary factors for innovation, including workers’ skills and instruments to finance innovation projects. Building stronger links between national research institutions and firms will also be critical to fostering innovation-led growth in the region.

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Sea transport is primary route for counterfeiters

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More than half of the total value of counterfeit goods seized around the world are shipped by sea, according to a new OECD-EUIPO report.

Misuse of Containerized Maritime Shipping In the Global Trade of Counterfeits says that seaborne transport accounts for more than 80% of the volume of merchandise traded between countries, and more than 70% of the total value of trade.

Containerships carried 56% of the total value of seized counterfeits in 2016. The People’s Republic of China was the largest provenance economy for container shipments, making up 79% of the total value of maritime containers containing fakes and seized worldwide. India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are also among the top provenance economies for counterfeit and pirated goods traded worldwide.

Between 2014 and 2016, 82% of the seized value of counterfeit perfumes and cosmetics by customs authorities worldwide, 81% of the value of fake footwear and 73% of the value of customs seizures of fake foodstuff and toys and games concerned sea shipments. Additional analysis showed that over half of containers transported in 2016 by ships from economies known to be major sources of counterfeits entered the European Union through Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. There are also some EU countries, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania, with relatively low volumes of containers trade in general, but with a high level of imports from counterfeiting-intense economies.

To combat illicit trade, a number of risk-assessment and targeting methods have been adapted for containerised shipping, in particular to enforce against illicit trade in narcotics and hazardous and prohibited goods. But the analysis reveals that the illicit trade in counterfeits has not been a high priority for enforcement, as shipments of counterfeits are commonly perceived as “commercial trade infractions” rather than criminal activity. Consequently, existing enforcement efforts may not be adequately tailored to respond to this risk, according to the report.  Tailored and flexible governance solutions are required to strengthen risk-assessment and targeting methods against counterfeits.

As well as infringing trademarks and copyright, counterfeit and pirated goods entail health and safety risks, product malfunctions and loss of income for companies and governments. Earlier OECD-EUIPO work has shown that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods amounted to up to USD 509 billion in 2016, or around 3.3% of global trade.

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