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Urgent Action Needed for the Energy Transition in Heating and Cooling

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The transition to cleaner, more sustainable heating and cooling solutions can attract investment, create millions of new jobs and help to drive a durable economic recovery in the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis, says a new study by leading energy organisations.

The joint report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), highlights the benefits, identifies investment barriers, as well as the policies to drive faster uptake of renewable heating and cooling worldwide. Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition: Heating and Cooling describes five possible transformation pathways, encompassing renewables-based electrification, renewable gases, sustainable biomass, and direct uses of solar thermal and geothermal heat.

“Energy efficient heating and cooling based on renewable sources has emerged as an urgent priority for countries striving to meet climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and to build resilient, sustainable economies,” said IRENA Director-General, Francesco La Camera.

“The transition to cleaner, more efficient and sustainable heating and cooling solutions can attract investments, create millions of new jobs and help to drive a durable economic recovery in the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis. It will make much needed heating and cooling services available to everyone, including to remote islands and least-developed countries of Africa and Asia.”

Heating and cooling demand accounts for around half of global final energy consumption, mostly for industrial processes, followed by residential and agricultural applications. Most of this energy now comes either from fossil fuels or inefficient, unsustainable uses of biomass. Heating and cooling, consequently, is a major source of air pollution and accounts for over 40 per cent of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. At the same time, around 2.8 billion people currently rely on wood fuel, charcoal, animal dung and other inefficient and polluting fuels for cooking.

The demand for heating and cooling is set to keep growing. Cooling demand has already tripled globally since 1990, and as climate change increases the number and severity of heat waves, so does the urgency for supplying air conditioning and refrigeration to billions of people.

Policy makers have so far given limited attention to the heating and cooling transition. By the end of 2019, only 49 countries – mostly within the European Union – had national targets for renewable heating and cooling, in contrast with 166 having targets for renewable power generation. To decarbonise the energy used for heating and cooling, aggressive and comprehensive policy packages that phase out the use of fossil fuels and prioritise renewable energy and efficiency are even more urgent amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cut demand for renewables-based heating and cooling services, including in households and small businesses. The health and economic crisis has also worsened conditions for energy access in many developing countries.

Transitioning to renewable sources will help to increase access to clean, affordable and reliable heating and cooling services, even on remote islands and in some of the least-developed countries of Africa and Asia. At the same time, renewable heating and cooling can create new jobs, stimulate local economies, and improve people’s livelihoods, while strengthening countries’ energy security and independence, the report notes.

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Solar power charges pandemic recovery for indigenous farmers in Viet Nam

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Overcoming adversity has long been the stock in trade of Do Thi Phuong, a 42-year-old mother of two living in a small village in Viet Nam’s lush Lao Cai province. As the primary breadwinner in her family of six, Phuong is accustomed to being a rock for her family in hard times. Years ago, landslides wiped out all but four out of 42 household rice fields in the village, yet Phuong managed to provide.

But COVID-19 has tested her resolve like nothing else.

Phuong’s village has traditionally been home to indigenous groups that farm the land. Many in the community raise chicken and pigs – each household maintains between 1,000-5,000 chickens, from which they derive their primary income.

Over the last few years, livestock production, particularly poultry, has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in agriculture in Viet Nam. And though it accounts for the country’s second-largest share of meat production, 89.6% of poultry production1 is led by smallholder farmers, who are far more vulnerable to climate change, natural disasters and unexpected shocks – like a pandemic.

Viet Nam has recorded just over 1,000 cases of COVID-19, but the economic repercussions of prolonged lockdowns have had a profound impact on rural markets.

Phuong paints a bleak picture: “The village roads that were usually busy with many traders coming to buy chickens, fish and cinnamon products, were empty,” she says.

For her family, this meant an income loss of 60-70%.

Before the pandemic, Phuong’s household would raise a batch of around 3,000 chickens, and at the time of sale, traders would shell out VND65,000 (about US$2.8) per kilogram. Raising three batches a year would net the family about US$6500.

When the crisis hit, travel restrictions and social distancing rules made it challenging for Phuong to sell her chickens. Chicken prices crashed. Phuong returned home every night with barely VND500,000-60,0000 (US$21-26), just enough to cover feed costs for the birds.

Her family’s electricity costs also doubled, with unsold chickens continuing to require food and electricity and the children spending most of their time at home. Their meagre income was stretched to its limits, even after cutting expenses and taking out a loan.

Empowering farmers

The turnaround came via a powerful patron: solar energy. Through UNEP’s EmPower project, Phuong is procuring solar-powered chicken incubation and ventilation equipment. The monthly electricity cost for heating, ventilation and lighting for chicken rearing will be almost zero with the solar system. EmPower and its partner CHIASE are helping Phuong to develop her business plan and to select and procure the most suitable equipment. Phuong is also receiving support to access a loan from provincial Vietnam’s Women’s Union.

It is not only Phuong who has benefitted. The green chicken coops are scalable, bringing in quick cash flows and helping struggling communities bounce back from the economic crisis. EmPower is supporting around 300 women farmers across Viet Nam to harness the benefits of renewable energy and establish new business models for livestock rearing, agro and herbal product processing, and noodles, fish, and fruit drying.

Benefits for indigenous populations

Indigenous women especially are benefitting. While often the primary breadwinners in their households, their voices often remain unheard where policy decisions are being made.

“By giving indigenous women a stake in renewable energy development, EmPower is helping to ensure that their voices are being heard,” says Annette Wallgren, Programme Officer for Gender and Climate Change at UNEP’s Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Renewable energy livelihoods and enterprises at the local level will be critical to helping communities bounce back from this pandemic. We must also be aware of the needs and solutions that indigenous women can bring to the renewable energy sector, as custodians of the land and change-makers in their communities.”

Some positive progress has been seen on that front. Viet Nam’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement included a section on gender equality and prioritizing the mitigation of risks for vulnerable communities.

For Phuong, the new technology is a sign of hope. “I hope that I can use solar energy to save on the cost of chicken production and I hope it will help my family to recover from COVID-19,” she says.

UN Environment

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IEA: take urgent action to cut methane emissions from oil and gas sector

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Methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry fell by an estimated 10% in 2020 as producers slashed output in response to the historic shock of the Covid-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency said today, warning that these emissions could rebound strongly without greater action by companies, policy makers and regulators.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and makes a major contribution to global warming. According to the IEA’s 2021 update of its Methane Tracker, oil and gas operations worldwide emitted more than 70 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere last year. This is broadly equivalent to the total energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire European Union.

The new IEA analysis indicates that a large part of the drop in methane emissions in 2020 occurred not because companies were taking more care to avoid methane leaks from their operations, but simply because they were producing less oil and gas. As such, there is clearly a risk that this downward trend will be reversed by an increase in production to fuel a rebound in global economic activity.

“The immediate task now for the oil and gas industry is to make sure that there is no resurgence in methane emissions, even as the world economy recovers, and that 2019 becomes their historical peak. There is no good reason to allow these harmful leaks to continue, and there is every reason for responsible operators to ensure that they are addressed,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

“Alongside ambitious efforts to decarbonise our economies, early action on methane emissions will be critical for avoiding the worst effects of climate change. There has never been a greater sense of urgency about this issue than there is today, said Dr Birol. “To help accelerate these efforts, the IEA is today releasing a ‘how-to’ guide that governments and regulators can use to bring down methane emissions from oil and gas operations.”

IEA analysis highlights that reducing methane emissions is very cost-effective for oil and gas companies. Unlike CO2, there is already a price for methane everywhere in the world – the price of natural gas. This means the costs of improving operations or making repairs to prevent leaks can often be paid for by the value of the additional gas that is brought to market.

“We believe that industry must act, visibly and quickly,” Dr Birol said. “But there is also a strong role for government policies; to incentivise early action by companies, push for transparency and improvements in performance, and support innovation in getting results.”

The new IEA report, Driving Down Methane Leaks from the Oil and Gas Industry: A Regulatory Roadmap and Toolkit, offers a step-by-step guide for anyone trying develop or to update regulation on methane. Its advice draws on analysis of how more than 50 countries, states or provinces – from the United States to Nigeria, from Iraq to China and Russia – have tackled methane emissions from a regulatory perspective.

“In this crucial year for climate action leading up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, this is the moment for governments to raise ambitions not only on CO2 but also on methane,” Dr Birol said. “One important avenue, especially for countries with large oil and gas sectors, will be to include commitments on methane in their new or updated pledges in advance of the COP meeting. This is also the moment for companies to put all their weight behind this effort.”

The case for action is not just environmental or reputational. There are increasing signs that consumers are starting to look carefully at the emissions profile of different sources of gas when making decisions on what to buy. A gas producer without a credible story on methane abatement is also one that is taking commercial risks.

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Priorities for improving diversity and inclusion in the energy sector

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Prominent energy figures from around the world took part in a virtual dialogue last month on ways to accelerate progress on diversity and inclusion in energy. The event was co-hosted by Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director; Ambassador Madeleine Chenette, the Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and the Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment International Initiative (C3E International).

The C3E International Initiative, under the IEA Technology Collaboration Programme and the Clean Energy Ministerial, aims to enable greater gender diversity in clean energy professions, recognising that transitions to a clean energy future will need to harness all possible talent to succeed.

Participants from across the energy sector took part in the event on 2 December 2020 to share perspectives and insights on what really matters in the industry. Dr Birol emphasised that diversity and inclusion were priorities for his modernisation agenda for the IEA because “decision-making benefits from the strength of diverse perspectives.” He noted that the share of women in leadership positions at the IEA had grown from 16% in 2015 to 38% today. Dr Birol said he was “delighted that the virtual dialogue represented voices from across the IEA family, reflecting the ‘all fuels and all technologies’ approach of the Agency.”

Highlighting that women’s participation and representation in the energy sector is far below those in other comparable sectors, Ambassador Chenette set out the moral, political and strategic imperatives for accelerating progress. She emphasised that both high-level and personal leadership are critical for overcoming slow progress, and thanked Dr Birol for his leadership in emphasising the need to make economic recoveries from the Covid-19 crisis sustainable.

Empowering women in clean energy transitions is one way to help achieve sustainable recoveries, Ambassador Chenette said, calling for greater efforts to embrace the principle of “what gets meseaured, gets done.” She noted that “it is crucial that we all recognise the economic, environmental and social benefits that gender equality delivers.”

Elbia Gannoum, CEO of ABEEólica, the Brazilian wind energy association, said that “across the energy sector in Brazil, there is an urgency building – companies are searching for solutions on how to make the shift” to harness the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Due to the growing demand for resources and tools, Ms Gannoum announced the creation of the Energia da Transformação platform, which plans to boost inclusion and diversity through the Brazilian energy sector based on collaboration, knowledge sharing and raising awareness.

A data-driven approach is essential for accelerating progress across industry. Laura McGee, founder and CEO of Diversio, a Canada-based company that provides an intelligence platform to measure, track and improve diversity and inclusion, said that the “energy sector is in the middle of the pack compared to some sectors, and could achieve rapid progress by learning from other industries.” Data-driven diagnostics are critical for avoiding missteps and allocating resources to targeted pain points, she added.

Lyu Fang, a senior engineer at the Electrical Engineering Institute at the China Academy of Sciences, shared her personal journey from the start of her career in remote solar PV stations in China to eventually holding leadership positions in the country’s huge renewables industry. Today, Ms Fang is Secretary General for the PV Committee of the China Green Supply Chain Alliance and C3E International China Global Ambassador. She highlighted that China’s climate ambitions offer many growth opportunities in clean energy through “rising sun industries.” She said these should be harnessed to accelerate women’s participation and representation in energy.

Strengthening gender diversity in the energy industry requires unrelenting long-term efforts to boost inclusion. Joel Couse, Special Advisor to the IEA, highlighted that the energy industry faces challenges in finding and retaining talented staff in a competitive global market, including to seize the opportunities of clean energy transitions. On the supply side, boosting the number of women entering STEM programmes remains a priority for achieving gender-balanced recruitment. However, getting women into energy careers is not enough, he said, adding that the industry needs to be actively supporting women to progress past the experience hump before caring responsibilities limit their opportunities for certain types of operational jobs. A key challenge is shifting mind-sets and addressing harmful stereotypes about job roles and advancement opportunities that unnecessarily hold women and men back across the talent pipeline, Mr Couse said. Setting quantitative objectives and dates helps focus efforts to make progress.

Leading energy figures call for action

Mechthild Wörsdörfer, IEA Director of Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks who leads the Agency’s Gender Diversity Task Force, concluded the virtual dialogue, thanking the participants for driving change and reiterating that the IEA Gender Initiative is focussed on bringing data-driven solutions to the table.

In 2020, the IEA Gender Initiative started work on delivering the mandate set by Ministers from IEA Member Countries on equal opportunities in the energy sector. The Agency began by collecting better disaggregated data on gender and energy.

Strengthening collaboration is key, with the IEA and OECD working together to collect data on women in employment, entrepreneurship and decision‑making roles in the energy sector, and developing indicators on the gender of inventors of energy technologies, which will be published in 2021.

The initiative has determined that there is a lack of good and comparable data on gender trends in the energy sector, and also a strong need to improve methodologies, which is why the IEA accepted the role of Coordinator for C3E International’s knowledge and data collection work stream.

The IEA will also conduct a survey of members of the IEA Energy Business Council to develop a baseline on existing corporate practices. The findings and analysis from the survey will be shared in the coming months.

The Agency is also exploring how to integrate gender diversity into its regular analytical work, such as the World Energy Outlook, the measuring of energy efficiency, and through the Clean Energy Transitions Programme, which supports key partner countries in developing and implementing policies. This includes planning a policy package on implementing energy efficiency measures in India, which will impact a predominantly female workforce. The IEA is also prioritising new work on people-centred clean energy transitions, which will also include analysis on gender dimensions.

To share these learnings and insights, and to develop a mutual understanding of the evidence base and what works, the IEA will keep bringing together government, industry and civil society stakeholders to review data and analysis, and to identify priority actions.

Looking ahead, with the help of partners and governments within the IEA family and C3E International, the IEA Gender Initiative can help to mainstream diversity and inclusion in energy policy-making. The IEA Gender Initiative aims to develop a stronger understanding of gender balances throughout the energy sector and to shape the priorities for policy action in future decision-making. The initiative will deliver its first progress report in 2021.

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