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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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COVID-19 crisis highlights widening regional disparities in healthcare and the economy

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The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people and economies has highlighted widening regional disparities in access to healthcare and economic growth and persistent disparities in digitalisation over the past decade, according to a new OECD report.

Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 says that at the onset of the pandemic, some regions were less well prepared to face the health emergency. With 10 beds for every 1000 inhabitants, regions close to metropolitan areas have almost twice as many beds as remote regions. Over the last decades, most regions in OECD countries have seen a significant reduction in the number of hospital beds available per inhabitant, with an average decline of 6% since 2000 and of 22% in remote areas.

The health impact of COVID-19 has been particularly hard in some areas within countries. For example, in some regions of Colombia, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths between February and June 2020 was at least 50% higher than the average over the same period in the 2 previous years.

Morbidity rates that make some places more vulnerable to health crises than others also vary widely. In some regions in Mexico, Chile and the United States, close to 40% or more of the population is obese, posing a higher risk in terms of fatal diseases. For example, due to higher obesity levels, in Mississippi the average likelihood to suffer severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19 is roughly 23% higher than in Colorado.

People living in large cities and capitals were also more able to quickly shift to remote working. Many rural areas still suffer from a lack of access to high-speed broadband, a lower share of jobs amenable to remote working and a less well-educated workforce. One in three households in rural areas does not have access to high-speed broadband, on average. Overall, only 7 out of 26 countries have succeeded in ensuring access to high-speed connection to more than 80% of households in rural regions. And in some regions in Italy, Portugal and Turkey, 25% or more of the population does not use the Internet or does not have a computer.

Some regions were also struggling economically before the crisis. After a period of decline in the early 2000s, gaps in GDP per capita across small regions in the OECD area have increased, reflecting a long-standing process of concentration of population and economic activities in metropolitan areas.

The evolution of regional economic disparities remains very heterogeneous across countries. Contrary to the OECD-wide trend, one-half of OECD countries experienced an increase in the gap between their richest and poorest regions. Trends in regional productivity follow similar patterns. Since 2008, only one-third of OECD countries have experienced an increase in productivity in all regions.

With more than 100 indicators, Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 combines official statistics with new, modelled indicators based on less conventional data sources, analysing trends in health, well-being, economic growth, employment and the environment, as well as regions and cities’ preparedness to face global crises and adapt to megatrends.

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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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Lithuania: COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for reforms to drive growth and reduce inequality

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Effective containment measures, a well-functioning health system and swift public support to firms and households have helped Lithuania to weather the COVID-19 crisis to date. That said, the pandemic still carries significant economic risks, and the recent upsurge in infections is very concerning. Once a recovery is under way, Lithuania should aim to reform public companies, strengthen public finances, and ensure that growth benefits all people and regions, according to a new OECD report. 

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Lithuania says that prior to COVID-19, good economic management and an investment-friendly business climate were helping to lift average Lithuanian incomes closer to advanced country levels. While the recession provoked by the virus has been milder than elsewhere – with GDP projected to drop by 2% in 2020 before rebounding by 2.7% in 2021 – Lithuania’s small and open economy will be vulnerable to any prolonged disruption to world trade. Increasing public investment and improving governance at state-owned enterprises could help lift growth and productivity. Other reforms should focus on improving the effectiveness of spending and taxation. Over the longer term, Lithuania should establish a clear debt reduction path and a long-term debt target.

“Lithuania’s sound economic management of recent years, and its swift response to both the health and economic aspects of the pandemic, are helping the country to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is now key to build on these achievements and restart the reform engine to ensure robust, sustainable and inclusive growth for the future.”

The pandemic has exposed high levels of income inequality in Lithuania, where relative poverty is high among the unemployed, the less educated, single parents and older people due to a tax-benefit system that is insufficiently redistributive. The Survey recommends Lithuania to continue providing temporary support to people and businesses hit by COVID-19, as well as to increase regular social support while retaining incentives to work.

In terms of support to the economy, the Survey notes that while Lithuania’s government spending has increased considerably over the past two years, it remains below the OECD average. Public investment also remains low. Given the importance of modernising infrastructure and stimulating crisis-hit demand, the Survey recommends maintaining or increasing current levels of investment and improving investment quality by carrying out rigorous cost-benefit analysis for individual projects. Increasing investment in rural areas, and giving local government more say in tax policy and spending, could help reduce regional disparities and promote inclusive growth.

The Survey also recommends phasing out environmentally damaging fossil fuel subsidies and increasing environmental taxation, which would benefit public finances while helping the shift to a lower-carbon economy.

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