The International Energy Agency’s latest and most comprehensive assessment of clean energy transitions finds that a majority of technologies and sectors are failing to keep pace with long-term climate, air pollution and energy access goals. The Covid-19 crisis could further impede clean energy progress, underscoring the urgent need for ambitious government action to meet sustainability goals.
The latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress report assesses a full range of energy technologies and sectors to provide a definitive snapshot of clean energy progress in 2019. Only 6 out of 46 technologies and sectors were “on track” with the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which maps out pathway to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, deliver universal energy access and significantly reduce air pollution. Another 24 technologies showed some progress while 16 technologies were “off track.”
Examples of technologies that remained “on track” by the end of 2019 include electric vehicles, lighting and data centres, but these account for only a small share of potential emissions reductions in the Sustainable Development Scenario.
Two technology areas have been downgraded in this year’s update, and not a single technology or sector has been upgraded. Nuclear power is now “off track” as new nuclear capacity brought online in 2019 was only half the amount added in 2018. Energy storage – previously “on track” – has been downgraded as annual installations fell for the first time in nearly a decade.
Many of the largest sources of global emissions remain “off track.” The power sector accounts for around 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions but remains “off track” for the third year in a row. Power sector emissions fell by only 1.3% in 2019, well short of the 4% annual average reduction through 2030 that is envisaged in the Sustainable Development Scenario. The buildings sector also remains off track, with emissions rising again in 2019 to an all-time high. Another concerning development was the slowdown in fuel economy improvements around the world as car buyers continued to purchase bigger vehicles.
The Covid-19 crisis is disrupting important progress that has been achieved in key areas in recent years while also stunting advances in a wider range of technologies whose growth was already facing challenges. For example, a prolonged period of economic weakness and low fossil fuel prices may delay some clean energy investments. Sustainability and climate issues may slip down political agendas. Cash-strapped societies may continue to use their existing stock of vehicles, buildings, appliances, energy infrastructure and industrial facilities rather than replacing them with less carbon-intensive alternatives.
“There were warning signs even before the crisis, which is now threatening to further slow the development of clean energy technologies,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “This is not the time to take our foot off the pedal. Our latest findings make clear the urgent need for governments to do more to foster the growth of these technologies, which can create jobs, stimulate economic growth and also help us accelerate transitions to cleaner energy systems.”
This year’s release of updated figures comes with a sector-by-sector summary of Covid-19 impacts, which will be followed in the coming days by an article examining key emerging issues that the crisis is creating for clean energy technologies. In the autumn, a major report will review all relevant data from the first half of 2020 more comprehensively.
In the coming weeks, the IEA will also publish two important reports focused on accelerating clean energy transitions. On 18 June, the World Energy Outlook Special Report on Sustainable Recovery will provide actionable recommendations on how governments’ stimulus packages and policy plans can boost employment and economic activity while building more modern, resilient and clean energy systems. This will be followed on 2 July by a special report under the Energy Technology Perspectives series that will identify ways policy makers can drive the innovation in clean energy technologies that will be needed to meet long-term decarbonisation objectives.
The Tracking Clean Energy Progress report provides a comprehensive, rigorous and up-to-date analysis of clean energy transitions across a full range of technologies and sectors. It makes use of the IEA’s unique understanding of markets, modelling and energy statistics to track and assess technology progress in terms of deployment, performance, investment, policies and innovation. The report highlights recommended actions for governments, industry and other key actors in the global energy system. It also draws on the IEA’s extensive global technology network, which includes 6,000 researchers across nearly 40 Technology Collaboration Programmes.
Tracking Clean Energy Progress is part of the IEA’s broader efforts to track energy transitions in order to help inform decision-makers as they consider where to focus innovation, investment and policy attention with the aim of achieving climate and sustainable development goals.
Countries Raise the Sails on Offshore Renewables Sector
Offshore renewables, including offshore wind, wave, tidal, ocean thermal, and floating solar PV, will witness substantial growth in capacity over the next decade and play an essential role in the global energy transformation. In this context, representatives from 40 countries gathered to identify collaboration areas and agree on concrete actions to accelerate progress and ensure rapid uptake of these promising technologies.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) projections, global offshore wind and ocean energy installed capacity will reach 228 GW and 10 GW respectively by 2030.
During his welcoming remarks, IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera stressed offshore renewables’ importance in meeting growing energy demands and improving living conditions. “Offshore renewables have the potential to meet more than four times the global energy demand of today, foster a blue economy, and bring socio-economic benefits to some of the most vulnerable areas to climate change such as small island territories and coastal areas,” he said.
The Collaborative Framework on Ocean Energy/Offshore Renewables first met on 25 June 2020, during which Members and States in Accession provided inputs on the thematic scope of the Collaborative Framework and agreed to include relevant stakeholders in future meetings. In response, this second meeting of the Collaborative Framework, moderated by H.E Ambassador ‘Akau’ola, Tonga’s Permanent Representative to IRENA, included participation, insights, and support from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Ocean Energy Europe (OEE).
Currently, 90% of global installed offshore wind capacity is commissioned and operated in the North Sea and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Ben Backwell, CEO of GWEC, attributed the rapid uptake of offshore wind in Europe to regional cooperation on interconnection, marine spatial planning (MSP), and sector coupling in the North Sea. Mr. Backwell highlighted the critical role that the Collaborative Framework can play in fostering similar regional partnerships in other parts of the world.
Representing the ocean energy sector in the Collaborative Framework, Mr. Rémi Gruet, CEO of OEE, suggested that ocean energy will become a game-changer, estimating that the sector can provide more than 1.2 million jobs worldwide by 2050. Mr. Gruet also underscored the predictability of ocean energy, which complements the variable renewable energy sources, as a compelling reason to make wave and tidal energy technologies essential additions to power systems that will be dominated by solar PV and wind.
Members also agreed on 13 topics of focus for the Collaborative Framework, around the areas of technology development, research and innovation, market incentives, and sustainability. The topics include analyses on accelerating technology cost reduction, grid integration, resource mapping, and coupling of offshore renewables with Power-to-X technologies. Participants also indicated the important role of IRENA and the Collaborative Framework in moving a global Offshore Renewables agenda forward in other relevant multilateral venues including the G20 and the COP26.
IRENA Members also agreed on modalities for future meetings under the Collaborative Framework, including the selection of Italy and Tonga as co-facilitators.
South Africa: industrial energy efficiency project wins international award
South Africa’s largest energy efficiency initiative: Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement in South Africa through Mainstreaming the Introduction of Energy Management Systems and Energy Systems Optimization, has won the highest international accolade for an energy programme – the International Energy Project of the Year – awarded by the global Association of Energy Engineers (AEE).
The project, which has been led by South Africa’s National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC-SA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) since 2010, received the award in recognition of its efforts to transform energy use patterns in South African industry and to mainstream energy management systems across economic sectors.
Since the project began in 2011, it has successfully trained 39 SANS/ISO 50001 lead auditors, held more than 320 training workshops, and achieved the participation of more than 150 large companies and 227 small and medium-sized enterprises. The project team has assisted industrial companies in saving 6.5 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy, representing cumulative cost savings of R5.3 billion (€270m.) for these companies.
The AEE’s International Awards recognize achievements in energy around the world. According to the organizers’ official communication, the awards identify those who exemplify the very best in their fields, and recognize the important work that is being done by individuals, organizations, agencies and corporations.
The AEE International Project of the Year award was accepted by national project manager, Alf Hartzenburg of the NCPC-SA, at the AEE International Virtual Awards ceremony. AEE members and executives from around the world responded with enthusiastic accolades when the summary of the IEE project achievements was read by the chairperson of the awards committee.
The IEE project, currently its second phase, funded by the Global Environment Facility, is set to run until December 2021. Other IEE project phase II partners include South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, which funds the NCPC-SA, the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources and its agency, the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI).
According to Hartzenburg, what sets this project apart is that it partners with and equips industry to tackle practical energy management in companies of all sizes.
He said, “Through expert-level training of industry professionals, demonstration of actual impact and methodologies aligned to international standard ISO50001, the project partners have ensured that both the skills and the appetite exist to implement energy management.”
Hartzenburg continued, “The benefits are made clear in the energy savings, which result in direct financial savings on utilities and other energy sources, and we don’t leave the companies to go it alone, but support them with skills and financial linkages, where possible.”
Hartzenburg believes that the return to post-lockdown operations offers companies an ideal opportunity to consider changes that will ultimately save them operating costs, thus aiding in the recovery process and long-term sustainability.
“SANS/ISO 50001, the energy management best practice standard, actually saves companies money. We are offering companies technical support to comply with this standard, and even some financial support if they want to apply for certification through the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).”
Hartzenburg said his team is particularly proud of the huge environmental impact of the project. “Energy savings, particularly in a fossil-fuel based economy such as South Africa, have a direct climate mitigation benefit – which is why the GEF has funded our second phase.”
Based on internationally accepted calculations, the NCPC-SA reports that energy saved by companies through the IEE project has mitigated 6.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) since April 2011 when the first savings were measured.
SANEDI is working with the information gathered through the NCPC-SA interventions, and is using them together with relevant international and national energy trends to inform national energy and policy planning, including the adaptation of the National Energy Efficiency Strategy.
Rana Ghoneim, head of UNIDO’s Energy Systems and Infrastructure Division, said the award was an excellent recognition of the strong ownership, committed leadership and multi-stakeholder partnership that is driving industrial energy efficiency in South Africa. “The programme has always been a great example, inspiring other countries within the UNIDO global programme, where its impacts transcend beyond South Africa.”
The IEE project has a strong focus on gender mainstreaming and promoting the participation of women in energy. To date, 43% of the professionals trained through the project are female.
The project also includes awareness-raising in its activities, as evidence strongly supports the idea that sustained energy savings are brought about through behaviour change. This active communication approach made the project an even stronger candidate for the AEE International Award which encourages projects with “significant success in savings and/or visibility”.
Islands Aim to Phase out Fossil Fuels and Build Climate Resilience
From the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean to the farthest reaches of the Indian and Pacific oceans, island communities face common and increasingly daunting energy challenges.
On top of their vulnerability to climate change, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) tend to have limited primary energy resources, leaving them dependent on imported fossil fuels. This means severe price volatility and import dependencies, along with climate damage.
Small system size, however, makes island grids good candidates to demonstrate the shift in power generation from fossil fuels to local renewable sources.
In one instance, in Vanuatu, the power utility of Espiritu Santo undertook a grid assessment study that estimated 87% of electricity demand could be met with renewables by 2030. New operational procedures and enabling measures could boost solar photovoltaic (PV) power in the system as well as adding more hydropower.
Moving from predominantly thermal, fossil-based power generation to a system rich in wind and solar energy is not without challenges for SIDS. The variable nature of those sources – the sun must shine and the wind must blow – requires careful integration with existing power systems. The transition must be approached in a structured manner, with studies undertaken at key stages.
In Viti Levu, an island in the Republic of Fiji, grid assessments showed that the share of PV could increase as much as 65 megawatts (MW) with infrastructure upgrades and grid code changes to reduce constraints in the power system. After a thorough evaluation by power engineering experts, effective grid codes can be adopted and adapted from other countries with similar demand and generation profiles.
In the Dominican Republic, assessments have showed ways to integrate variable renewables into the existing power system.
By 2030, some 63% of real-time demand could be met by wind and solar energy. This means over a third more wind and nearly a quarter more solar than in recent years, while slashing the use of natural gas and oil-based fuels by more than a quarter. This could cut system operating costs as well as carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions.
After an island state sets its policies and targets for renewables, grid assessment studies can indicate feasible shares for the existing power system, as well as future investment needs. Such studies can also offer valuable recommendations on solar and wind integration.
While SIDS contribute only to a very small percentage of global emissions, they are taking decisive steps to scale up renewable energy and fulfil their own international climate pledges.
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