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Strong Cooperation and Enabling Policies can Lead Energy Transformation in Southeast Asia

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image: IRENA

Meeting future energy demand in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a high priority in the region. With current indigenous fossil fuel resources incompatible with climate and sustainable development goals, and the COVID-19 pandemic causing fuel price volatility and economic uncertainty, the region can now seize the moment to put renewable energy sources at the forefront of its energy planning and growth agenda.

That was the focus of a joint-webinar hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE). With IRENA’s recent Global Renewables Outlook (GRO) report and Power Generation Cost 2019 report framing the discussion, the virtual event entitied ‘Accelerating the Southeast Asian Energy Transformation’ brought together more than 160 participants from across the ASEAN region and further afield, to identify ways to catalyse the energy transition in Southeast Asia.

Under IRENA’s GRO, Southeast Asia’s economy could by grow an additional 2.9 per cent above current plans and policies by 2050. The Agency’s ‘Transforming Energy Scenario’ is a model that aligns the global energy system with the goals of the Paris Agreement. GRO 2020 shows that Southeast Asia could meet about 41% of all of its energy needs from renewable energy by 2030 and create an additional 6.7 million green jobs by 2050. Participants learned that as a result of dramatic cost reductions, replacing the world’s costliest 500 gigawatts of coal fired power in favour of renewables next year would yield annual savings of up to USD 23 billion per year.

In opening remarks, Gauri Singh, Deputy Director-General of IRENA emphasised that the region stands at a crossroads in terms of its energy future, highlighting that sustainable and affordable energy can be the cornerstone of growth and the pursuit of climate and sustainable development goals for ASEAN countries. Ms Singh pointed to the importance of renewed political will and the adoption of strong policy frameworks to drive the region’s sustainable energy progress.

Dr. Nuki Agya Utama, Executive Director of ACE stressed the region’s commitment to fulfing the Paris Agreement as well as achieving regional goals, including the ASEAN Plan for Action and associated regional energy cooperation frameworks. “We are progressing towards our 23 per cent aspirations renewables target,” he said, adding: “but our current path will leave us 5 per cent short by 2025. With renewables’ costs falling, they can greatly support our economic, climate and sustainable development goals.”

Building new solar is cheaper than building new coal in all countries of the region, noted Ken O’Flaherty, UK COP 26 Regional Ambassador for Asia Pacific and South Asia, highlighting that new coal plants make bad business sense, risk stranded assets, and are incompatible with the Paris agreement. Acknolwedging the need for parties to convene and strengthen cooperation, he said: “Together we can ensure that every country across Southeast Asia has the ability to unlock their renewable energy potential, and pursue clean alternatives to coal power. Under the UK’s Presidency of COP26, in partnership with Italy, our energy transition campaign aims to accelerate the global transition from coal to clean energy. We are working closely with countries, development banks, investors and civil society. We look forward to working closely on COP26 and our energy transition campaign with our key regional partners, including ASEAN institutions, ACE, IRENA, IEA, NDC Partnership and ADB.”

With a view to establishing outcomes, participants heard interventions from high level participants of Indonesia, Viet Nam, Singapore, the Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association and ACE, as well as from UNESCAP, with whom IRENA recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and the Global Wind Energy Council, which is a member of IRENA’s Coalition for Action.

Liming Qiao, Asia Director of the Global Wind Energy Council, finds the region’s wind energy potential to be promising, with the market growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.6% in the last decade —largely driven by the cost reductions and government policies. Sharing other speakers’ view on the importance of policy certainty, she said: “While many countries can have ambitious long-term renewables targets, the right policy frameworks and clarity of those are still missing which hinders the industry progress for the lack of stability. This is a critical roadblock that needs to be resolved for more and larger-scale renewables development in ASEAN.”

In closing, Dr Nuki Aguya Utama, said that growth based on clean sources is one of the region’s highest priorities, and that cooperation is the key. “Regional energy cooperation is crucial to accelerating renewables deployment, with an uneven endowment of renewables potentials across the region. ASEAN will play a role in implementing mitigation measures.”

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Reaching energy and climate goals demands a dramatic scaling up of clean energy technologies

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A major effort to develop and deploy clean energy technologies worldwide is urgently needed to meet international energy and climate goals, particularly in order to reduce carbon emissions from areas beyond the power sector such as transport, buildings and industry, according to a new IEA report released today.

With global carbon emissions at unacceptably high levels, structural changes to the energy system are required to achieve the rapid and lasting decline in emissions called for by the world’s shared climate targets. The IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 – the first core ETP report for three years following a revamp of the series – analyses more than 800 different technology options to assess what would need to happen to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 while ensuring a resilient and secure energy system.

It finds that transitioning just the power sector to clean energy would get the world only one-third of the way to net-zero emissions. Completing the journey will require devoting far more attention to the transport, industry and buildings sectors, which today account for about 55% of CO2 emissions from the energy system. Much greater use of electricity in these sectors – for powering electric vehicles, recycling metals, heating buildings and many other tasks – can make the single largest contribution to reaching net-zero emissions, according to the report, although many more technologies will be needed.

“Despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 crisis, several recent developments give us grounds for increasing optimism about the world’s ability to accelerate clean energy transitions and reach its energy and climate goals. Still, major issues remain. This new IEA report not only shows the scale of the challenge but also offers vital guidance for overcoming it,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

“Solar is leading renewables to new heights in markets across the globe, ultralow interest rates can help finance a growing number of clean energy projects, more governments and companies are throwing their weight behind these critical technologies, and all-important energy innovation may be about to take off,” Dr Birol said. “However, we need even more countries and businesses to get on board, we need to redouble efforts to bring energy access to all those who currently lack it, and we need to tackle emissions from the vast amounts of existing energy infrastructure in use worldwide that threaten to put our shared goals out of reach.”

Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 (ETP 2020) examines how to address the challenge of long-lasting energy assets already operating around the world – including inefficient coal power plants, steel mills and cement kilns, most of which were recently built in emerging Asian economies and could operate for decades to come. It finds that the power sector and heavy industry sectors together account for about 60% of emissions today from existing energy infrastructure. That share climbs to nearly 100% in 2050 if no action is taken to manage the existing assets’ emissions, underscoring the need for the rapid development of technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture.

Ensuring that new clean energy technologies are available in time for key investment decisions will be critical. In heavy industries, for example, strategically timed investments could help avoid around 40% of cumulative emissions from existing infrastructure in these sectors. Accelerated innovation is crucial for this – and for scaling up the clean energy technologies needed across the energy system.

Hydrogen is expected to play a large and varied role in helping the world reach net-zero emissions by forming a bridge between the power sector and industries where the direct use of electricity would be challenging, such as steel and shipping. In the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario – a pathway for reaching international energy and climate goals – the global capacity of electrolysers, which produce hydrogen from water and electricity, expands to 3 300 gigawatts in 2070, from 0.2 gigawatts today. In 2070, these electrolysers consume twice the amount of electricity that China generates today. Carbon capture is also employed across a range of sectors in the Sustainable Development Scenario, including the production of synthetic fuels and some low-carbon hydrogen. And modern bioenergy directly replaces fossil fuels in areas like transport and offsets emissions indirectly through its combined use with carbon capture.

The blistering pace of technological transformation that would be necessary for the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 is explored in the report’s Faster Innovation Case. It finds that to meet the huge increase in demand for electricity, additions of renewable power capacity would need to average around four times the current annual record, which was reached in 2019.

Governments need to play an outsized role in accelerating clean energy transitions towards meeting international goals, according to ETP 2020. The report highlights core areas that policy makers need to make sure they address. And it notes that economic stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis offer a key opportunity to take urgent action that could boost the economy while supporting clean energy and climate goals.

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CSOs to ADB: End dirty energy legacy, ban coal

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Days before the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Annual Governors Meeting, civil society groups challenged the bank anew to jumpstart Asia’s energy transition by decarbonizing its energy investment portfolio.

The call was made in a webinar and publication launch on Friday, where the groups said “Leaving behind ADB’s Dirty Energy Legacy” must begin with a formal ban on coal investments.

“Thanks to the lenient Energy Policy it adopted in 2009, ADB is guilty of having shaped Asia’s energy sector into its carbon-intensive state today. No amount of renewable energy investments could cover up the bank’s role in advancing the myth of clean coal and the fact that half of the total installed capacity of power generation projects it funded the past decade is from fossil fuels,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

Arances said that with the worsening climate crisis, deteriorating air quality, increasing viability of renewable energy, and environmental and economic imperatives highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic on the need for a green recovery, the imperative to decarbonize is clear.

“The critical reflections we from civil society offer today mirror what the bank’s Independent Evaluation Department reported: that ADB needs a new energy policy that accurately responds to the region’s needs. In doing so it must live up to its role in global energy transformation, which it can begin by completely leaving coal in its dirty past,” Arances said.

Prior to its release today, the publication has been used by CEED and NGO Forum on ADB, a network of over 250 civil society organisations across Asia, in engaging the bank’s energy decision-makers towards a full transition away from coal and other fossil fuels.

“The Taal volcano eruption, Australian forest fires, floods in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the typhoons in the USA all struck within a span of 7 months amid COVID-19. If there ever was a time to be climate responsible for ADB, it is now,” said Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director of NGO Forum on ADB.

Forum representatives Vidya Dinker of Growth Watch in India, Hasan Mehedi of Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) in Bangladesh, and Richard Kahulugan of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice were present in the webinar to express a unified call for an end to ADB’s advancement of dirty energy in their countries.

“The ADB IED Evaluation on ADB’s Energy Policy recommends ending coal power for Asia-Pacific. We as NGO Forum on ADB demand that the ADB Board of Directors and ADB Senior Management take heed of this recommendation and act swiftly towards an immediate end on all coal and coal-related power and forge towards a just transition to limit global temperature rise to the Paris goal of 1.5°C. ADB must end coal, and end it now. We are out of time,” said Hassan.

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India urged to lead global push for clean energy, climate action

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India has a crucial role to play in promoting clean energy and climate action as the world looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday. 

Delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture, the UN chief called on India to take the lead in transforming global economic, energy and health systems to save lives, create inclusive economies and avert the threat of climate change.

“India can become a true global superpower in the fight against climate change, if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” he stated.

With the pandemic putting sustainable development at risk, exposing vulnerabilities that will worsen with climate change, the Secretary-General outlined how switching to clean energy could benefit millions worldwide.

“Investments in renewable energy, clean transport and energy efficiency during the recovery from the pandemic could extend electricity access to 270 million people worldwide – fully a third of the people that currently lack it,” he said.

Furthermore, “these same investments could help create nine million jobs annually over the next three years”, he added.

End fossil fuel subsidies

Mr. Guterres highlighted India’s progress in the renewable energy sector. 

The number of workers has risen five-fold since 2015, while last year, spending on solar energy eclipsed coal-fired power generation for the first time. 

Despite significant challenges, the South Asian giant has embraced the technology that will power a sustainable future, and is a pioneer in areas such as clean cooking. 

However, the UN chief noted that subsidies for fossil fuels, such as coal, are still roughly seven times higher  than subsidies  for clean energy. The situation is the same in many other parts of the world, something he found “deeply troubling”.   

“I have asked all G20 countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution and committing to no new coal power plants after 2020.”  

‘Up in smoke’ 

Fossil fuels, including coal emissions, create pollution that has severely damaged human health.   

Mr. Guterres said eliminating them would result in a rise in life expectancy by 20 months, and prevent some 5.5 million deaths annually worldwide. 

Unlike renewable energy, investing in fossil fuels is “bad economics”, he continued, which explains why the world’s largest investors are abandoning coal. 

“They see the writing on the wall,” he said.  “The coal business is going up in smoke.” 

Time for bold leadership 

The UN chief said he was inspired to learn about a “promising trend” in India.   

During the pandemic, the proportion of renewable energy rose from 17 per cent to 24 per cent, while coal-fired power declined from 76 per cent to 66 per cent. 

Mr. Guterres underlined that renewable energy must continue to grow, and coal use progressively phased out. 

“Today is the time for bold leadership on clean energy and climate action. I call on India to be at the helm of the ambitious leadership we need,” he said. 

Honouring a climate action pioneer 

The Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture has been delivered annually since 2002, in honour of the late Indian industrialist and founder of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). 

The Secretary-General described Mr. Seth as “a climate action pioneer” who stressed that his country must end its reliance on fossil fuels and instead invest in solar power. 

“India has all the ingredients for exerting the leadership at home and abroad envisioned by Darbari Seth,” he said. 

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