Access to electricity has transformed the world, helping countries to develop their economies, and lifting millions out of poverty. However, this success has come at a great cost: the energy sector, heavily reliant on fossil fuels, is responsible for some 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions – one of the so-called greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the Earth – and almost two-thirds of these emissions come from coal.
But, despite the United Nations calling urgently for an end to fossil fuels, hundreds of new coal-fired power stations are still being built, and hundreds more are in the pipeline. Is the world ready for a new era of clean, cheap and accessible energy for all?
Kick the coal habit, and put a price on carbon, urges UN chief
The UN chief has called for taxes to be placed on carbon emissions, an end to the trillions of dollars’ worth of estimated subsidies for fossil fuels, and for the construction of coal-fired power stations to be halted by 2020, if we are to stand a chance of ending the climate crisis.
Many countries, particularly developed economies, are starting to heed the UN’s message. However, Southeast Asia, one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, appears to be stuck on fossil fuels as the answer to its energy needs: In November, Mr. Guterres told a meeting of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) group in Thailand that coal “remains a major threat in relation to climate change”, adding that countries in Southeast Asia are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.
Asian development still fueled by coal
According to studies by the International Energy Agency, the region is expected to become a key driver of world energy trends over the next 20 years. Millions of people in Southeast Asia have gained access to electricity since 2000, and the region is on the way to achieving universal access by 2030.
The UN-backed Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), has compiled data showing that the region has the third highest number of coal power plants in the pipeline after China and India. Indonesia, Viet Nam and the Philippines have the largest coal plant pipeline of all South East Asian countries, with Malaysia and Thailand not far behind.
The wealthier Asian countries are also bankrolling coal beyond their borders: State-owned financial agencies in China, Japan, and South Korea are now, respectively, the largest sources of funding for coal plants in other countries: research from SEforALL shows that China was the largest international source international source of finance for coal, committing more than $1.7 billion in 2015/2016.
Coal is losing power
Nevertheless, the world, as a whole, is slowly moving in the right direction, and the number of plants currently being planned is falling. The amount of permits of new coal plants has dropped to record lows, and over a thousand have been cancelled, a reflection of a tougher economic climate for coal plant developers, and the growing consensus for the need to limit global warming, and protect human health.
In November 2019, four years after the Paris Agreement, a key UN climate conference at which countries committed to step up efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures and boost climate action financing, the UN Secretary-General convened a Climate Action Summit in New York, where many nations announced beefed-up measures to combat the climate crisis, including putting limits on the amount of electricity produced from coal-based sources.
The UK, for example, is expected to completely phase out coal in the next few years, Germany – one of the world’s biggest users of coal – has agreed to stop by 2038, and eight other European Union countries have announced that they will put an end to coal use by 2030. Chile has pledged to close all of its coal-fired power stations by 2040, and South Korea will close 10 plants by 2022.
A “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, made up of 32 countries, 25 regional, provincial and municipal level governments, and 34 business members, announced new members, including Germany and Slovakia, at the conference, committed to speeding up the transition from coal-based to clean energy, and to lead global efforts to curtail coal use.
Here comes the sun
In addition, more and more countries, and businesses, acknowledge that the use of renewable energy is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it also makes economic sense.
Technology already exists to enable the world to transition away from coal, and other fossil fuels; and also to connect the 840 million people who still don’t have access to electricity to clean, renewable energy sources. And it’s affordable.
SEforALL research shows that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power – and, by 2030, wind and solar will undercut coal and gas almost everywhere.
Disconnect between words and actions
However, even with the decline in coal use, and growth in the use of renewables, the transition to clean energy is not taking place quickly enough, and there is still a big gap between countries’ climate commitments, and their planned production of fossil fuels, as demonstrated by the 2019 Production Gap report, the first of its kind, from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and research partners.
The gap is largest when it comes to coal: countries are currently planning to produce 150% more coal in 2030, than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and almost three times more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” Måns Nilsson, head of the Stockholm Environment Institute, one of the organizations that produced the study, said in a press release. “This report shows that governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole, and we need to stop digging.”
In 2020, the UN launches a Decade of Action, to kickstart efforts to achieve the goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When it comes to energy, the goal is to ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all: the challenge for the UN, and the world, is to rapidly speed up the move towards renewables, and kick the coal habit once and for all.
ADB Inaugurates Project to Replace Diesel Systems with Solar Hybrid Across Maldives
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Environment Ministry of the Maldives have inaugurated the implementation of a solar–battery–diesel hybrid system in 48 islands under the flagship Preparing Outer Islands for Sustainable Energy Development (POISED) Project to help the country tap solar power and reduce reliance on costly, polluting diesel.
The POISED Project aims to transform existing diesel-based energy minigrids into hybrid renewable energy systems in 160 inhabited islands of the atoll nation, out of which installations on 48 islands spread across 8 atolls have been commissioned. The project has been achieving this by investing in solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants, battery energy storage systems, energy management systems, and efficient diesel generators, as well as distribution grid upgrades to allow future renewable energy penetration.
“The POISED project—one of the largest energy sector interventions in the Maldives—will introduce sustainable energy in the outer islands as well as help reduce the cost of energy, minimize CO2 emissions, achieve considerable fuel savings, and reduce the burden on the government budget,” said the Director of ADB’s Energy Division for South Asia Mr. Priyantha Wijayatunga.
Mr. Wijayatunga, Minister of Environment Mr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, and Minister of National Planning and Infrastructure Mr. Mohamed Aslam were among those taking part in a ceremony to inaugurate the project in Malé.
The Maldives is the first country in South Asia to achieve 100% access to electricity. Each inhabited island was electrified with its own diesel-powered grid system that was old and inefficient, resulting in expensive and sometimes unreliable electricity supply. Diesel power is also costly and requires government subsidies in excess of $40 million a year. The 100% diesel dependence of the Maldives makes it completely reliant on oil imports and also makes its carbon emissions per unit of electricity among the highest in the region. Project installations were able to prove that the optimally designed solar–battery–diesel hybrid systems could significantly lower the power generation cost compared to existing options.
The project already installed approximately 7.5 megawatt peak (MWp) of solar PV facilities, 5.6 megawatt-hour (MWh) of battery energy storage systems and 11.6 megawatts of energy-efficient diesel gensets, while also upgrading distribution grids in 48 islands. The overall project will target a minimum of 21 MWp of solar PV installations. This will cater for an annual demand of 27,600 MWh, accounting for a reduction of 19,623 tons of CO2 emissions annually.
The POISED Project, approved in September 2014, is supported by $55 million in grants from ADB—$38 million from the Asian Development Fund, $12 million from the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF), and $5 million from the Japan Fund for the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JFJCM)—and $50 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB). All the contracts under ADB for SCF have completed installations, while installation under JFJCM is currently in progress. Disbursements under EIB funding have commenced and EIB funds would be used for most of the remaining smaller islands.
IRENA and UAE Ministry of Energy and Industry Sign MoU to Cooperate on Renewable Energy
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Energy and Industry, to cooperate in the field of renewable energy and drive an accelerated shift to low-carbon energy sources.
The MoU was signed in by IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera and Undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Energy His Excellency Dr. Matar Hamed Al Neyadi in the presence of UAE Energy Minister His Excellency Suhail Al Mazrouei, during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week
H.E. Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Industry, said that signing of the MoU with IRENA comes in line with UAE’s vision and the direction of the UAE’s wise leadership aimed at promoting sustainable development in the UAE, enhancing the use of renewable energy, as well as supporting and developing relevant policies and organisational frameworks.
H.E. Minister Mazrouei added that the MoU is aimed at promoting the exchange of open data and allowing the UAE to learn new ideas and benefit from best practices in the field of renewable energy. He said these efforts are aimed at achieving the UAE Vision 2021 objective of creating a sustainable environment in the UAE.
IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said: “The case for renewable energy in the UAE and across the Gulf is unquestionable. Today, solar and wind are the country’s most cost-effective sources of new power generation – contributing to growth, economic diversification and sustainable development in the Emirates.”
“This agreement marks a further strengthening of the Agency’s close relationship with the UAE government as it charts a new course of energy leadership into the 21st century,” continued Mr. La Camera. “Together with the Ministry of Energy, IRENA will work to explore the full potential of the UAE’s vast and diversified energy resources.”
For his part, H.E. Dr. Matar Hamed Al-Neyadi, Undersecretary of the Ministry, said that the aim of this MoU is to organize and maximize cooperation between the Ministry and IRENA’s general secretariat in order to deliver benefits to both parties.
The agreement aims to strengthen and enhance cooperation and the existing business relationship between the UAE Ministry of Energy and Industry and IRENA to develop knowledge products, conduct analysis, exchange information and organize workshops on renewable energy.
Cooperation between the two parties includes the following:
The development of a UAE renewable energy road map, taking into account UAE’s characteristic demand for air-conditioning and associated technology
Support with renewable energy dissemination policies, both current and planned, intended to support deployment of renewables
Electrical interconnection and energy exchange plans and procedures intended to enhance integration of variable and renewable energy, as well as the impact of renewable energy on the stability of transmission networks together with possible technical and operational solutions in this regard.
Under the MoU the two partners will exchange quantitative information on data, statistics, costs, benefits and analytical information related to renewable energy technologies and policies. Best practice in financial instruments and regulatory measures including energy efficiency, market design, system flexibility and long-term planning for a high shares of renewable energy will also feature.
Double the Share of Renewables in the ‘Decade of Action’ to Achieve Energy Transition Objectives
The share of renewables in global power should more than double by 2030 to advance the global energy transformation, achieve sustainable development goals and a pathway to climate safety, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Renewable electricity should supply 57 per cent of global power by the end of the decade, up from 26 per cent today.
A new booklet 10 Years: Progress to Action, published for the 10th annual Assembly of IRENA, charts recent global advances and outlines the measures still needed to scale up renewables. The Agency’s data shows that annual renewable energy investment needs to double from around USD 330 billion today, to close to USD 750 billion to deploy renewable energy at the speed required. Much of the needed investment can be met by redirecting planned fossil fuel investment. Close to USD 10 trillion of non-renewables related energy investments are planned to 2030, risking stranded assets and increasing the likelihood of exceeding the world’s 1.5 degree carbon budget this decade.
“We have entered the decade of renewable energy action, a period in which the energy system will transform at unparalleled speed,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “To ensure this happens, we must urgently address the need for stronger enabling policies and a significant increase in investment over the next 10 years. Renewables hold the key to sustainable development and should be central to energy and economic planning all over the world.”
“Renewable energy solutions are affordable, readily available and deployable at scale,” continued Mr. La Camera. “To advance a low-carbon future, IRENA will further promote knowledge exchange, strengthen partnerships and work with all stakeholders, from private sector leaders to policy makers, to catalyse action on the ground. We know it is possible,” he concluded, “but we must all move faster.”
Additional investments bring significant external cost savings, including minimising significant losses caused by climate change as a result of inaction. Savings could amount to between USD 1.6 trillion and USD 3.7 trillion annually by 2030, three to seven times higher than investment costs for the energy transformation.
Falling technology costs continue to strengthen the case for renewable energy. IRENA points out that solar PV costs have fallen by almost 90 per cent over the last 10 years and onshore wind turbine prices have fallen by up half in that period. By the end of this decade, solar PV and wind costs may consistently outcompete traditional energy. The two technologies could cover over a third of global power needs.
Renewables can become a vital tool in closing the energy access gap, a key sustainable development goal. Off-grid renewables have emerged as a key solution to expand energy access and now deliver access to around 150 million people. IRENA data shows that 60 per cent of new electricity access can be met by renewables in the next decade with stand-alone and mini-grid systems providing the means for almost half of new access.
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