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It’s time to make clean energy investment in emerging economies a top global priority

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The world’s energy and climate future increasingly hinges on whether emerging and developing economies are able to successfully transition to cleaner energy systems, calling for a step change in global efforts to mobilise and channel the massive surge in investment that is required, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

The special report – carried out in collaboration with the World Bank and the World Economic Forum – sets out a series of actions to enable these countries to overcome the major hurdles they face in attracting the financing to build the clean, modern and resilient energy systems that can power their growing economies for decades to come.

Annual clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies needs to increase by more than seven times – from less than USD 150 billion last year to over $1 trillion by 2030 to put the world on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the report, Financing Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging and Developing Economies. Unless much stronger action is taken, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from these economies – which are mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America – are set to grow by 5 billion tonnes over the next two decades.

“In many emerging and developing economies, emissions are heading upwards while clean energy investments are faltering, creating a dangerous fault line in global efforts to reach climate and sustainable energy goals,’’ said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “Countries are not starting on this journey from the same place – many do not have access to the funds they need to rapidly transition to a healthier and more prosperous energy future – and the damaging effects of the Covid-19 crisis are lasting longer in many parts of the developing world.”

“There is no shortage of money worldwide, but it is not finding its way to the countries, sectors and projects where it is most needed,” Dr Birol said. “Governments need to give international public finance institutions a strong strategic mandate to finance clean energy transitions in the developing world.”

Recent trends in clean energy spending point to a widening gap between advanced economies and the developing world even though emissions reductions are far more cost-effective in the latter. Emerging and developing economies currently account for two-thirds of the world’s population, but only one-fifth of global investment in clean energy, and one-tenth of global financial wealth. Annual investments across all parts of the energy sector in emerging and developing markets have fallen by around 20% since 2016, and they face debt and equity costs that are up to seven times higher than in the United States or Europe.

Avoiding a tonne of CO2 emissions in emerging and developing economies costs about half as much on average as in advanced economies, according to the report. That is partly because developing economies can often jump straight to cleaner and more efficient technologies without having to phase out or refit polluting energy projects that are already underway.

But emerging market and developing economies seeking to increase clean energy investment face a range of difficulties, which can undermine risk-adjusted returns for investors and the availability of bankable projects. Challenges involve the availability of commercial arrangements that support predictable revenues for capital-intensive investments, the creditworthiness of counterparties and the availability of enabling infrastructure, among other project-level factors. Broader issues, including depleted public finances, currency instability and weaknesses in local banking and capital markets also raise challenges to attracting investment.

“A major catalyst is needed to make the 2020s the decade of transformative clean energy investment,” said Dr Birol. “The international system lacks a clear and unified focus on financing emissions reductions and clean energy – particularly in emerging and developing economies. Today’s strategies, capabilities and funding levels are well short of where they need to be. Our report is a global call to action – especially for those who have the wealth, resources and expertise to make a difference – and offers priority actions that can be taken now to move things forward fast.”

These priority actions – for governments, financial institutions, investors and companies – cover the period between now and 2030, drawing on detailed analysis of successful projects and initiatives across clean power, efficiency and electrification, as well as transitions for fuels and emissions-intensive sectors. These include almost 50 real-world case studies across different sectors in countries ranging from Brazil to Indonesia, and from Senegal to Bangladesh.

“As we expand energy access, we also need a global transition to low-carbon energy. It is critical to develop solutions that make energy systems more resilient to climate change and other crises. With the right policies and investments, countries can achieve lasting economic growth and poverty reduction without degrading the environment or aggravating inequality. The broader financial sector can and must play a key role in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement by mobilizing capital for green and low-carbon investments, while managing climate risks. The World Bank will continue to support countries that seek assistance to transition away from fossil fuels and scale up low-carbon, renewable energy, and energy efficiency investments,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, the World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractives.

“The need to scale clean energy in emerging economies offers a massive investment opportunity. This report shows that current challenges to get this capital to the right places can be overcome through a combination of smart policies, financial innovation, as well as bold collective action. The World Economic Forum is committed to enabling multistakeholder cooperation to accelerate progress in this important area, said Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum.

The report calls for a focus on channelling and facilitating investment into sectors where clean technologies are market-ready, especially in the areas of renewables and energy efficiency, but also laying the groundwork for scaling up low-carbon fuels and industrial infrastructure needed to decarbonise rapidly growing and urbanising economies. It also calls for strengthening sustainable finance frameworks, addressing barriers on foreign investment, easing procedures for licensing and land acquisition, and rolling back policies that distort local energy markets.

The report underscores that clean energy investments and activities can bring substantial economic opportunities and jobs in industries that are expected to flourish in the coming decades as energy transitions accelerate worldwide. It calls for clean energy transitions to be people‐centred and inclusive, including actions that build equitable and sustainable models for universal access to modern energy. Spending on more efficient appliances, electric vehicles, and energy‐efficient buildings can provide further employment opportunities, and can especially support the role of women and female entrepreneurs in driving change and improved gender equality.

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Energy efficiencies of EU waste incinerators are appallingly low

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A new study published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) finds that efficiences of electricity generation of existing EU waste incineration facilities are appallingly low.

The study “Debunking Efficient Recovery: the Performance of EU Incineration Facilities” done by Equanimator found that typical efficiencies of generation of energy, especially when generating electricity only, are around the mid-20’s % in the best cases. This compares poorly with the figures of around 35% for coal-fired electricity generation, and 55% for combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants. 

The situation is somewhat better, comparatively, as regards heat generation, but even here, performance is no better than that of domestic gas-fired boilers. The situation worsens – the emissions effectively double, both for electricity and for gas – when emissions of non-fossil CO2 from waste incineration are considered.

Moreover, the study questions the rather arbitrary basis for distinguishing between disposal (D10) and recovery (R1) incineration. The energy efficiency threshold set under the R1 formula that was established to draw a distinction between waste disposal and recovery incinerators is one which is far too easily met. The R1 threshold could be achieved at efficiencies of as low as 16.5% net efficiency. The report thus recommends abandoning the meaningless distinction between D10 and R1 incineration. 

Janek Vähk, ZWE’s Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, says: “The report provides evidence that burning waste for energy is a very inefficient process and as such the energy recovery aspect of it is often overemphasised by some stakeholders. Moreover, the ongoing decarbonisation makes it increasingly difficult to consider waste as a suitable source of energy, thus the need to recover energy from waste which led to the R1 formula is outdated.“

Dominic Hogg, Director of Equanimator: “The case for distinguishing between ‘recovery’ and ‘disposal’ on grounds of energy efficiency is always questionable. Incinerators are required, by law, to recover heat as far as is practicable, and any meaningful distinction would have excluded a significant proportion of operating facilities. Instead, according to EU data, some 98% of all municipal waste incinerated is dealt with at facilities that qualify as ‘recovery’. That suggests the ‘efficiency threshold’ has been designed to be too easily met. Given the diminishing benefits from incineration as energy systems decarbonise, it’s time to dispose of this distinction, and reclassify all incinerators as disposal facilities.”

The low generation efficiency of incineration leads to greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity are almost double of those associated with natural gas generation.

With the above in mind, ZWE calls on the European Commission in the upcoming revision of the Waste Framework Directive:

  • to remove the R1 formula in Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive so that municipal waste incineration is no longer able to be classified as ‘recovery’;
  • establish a mixed (residual) municipal waste generation target of 100 kgs per capita by 2035, to shift the focus from the disposal of waste to addressing the mixed waste generation in the first place.
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Offshore wind farms move ahead full sail with underwater help

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By MICHAEL ALLEN

Off the coast of Portugal, a team of underwater robots is scanning the base of turbines on a wind farm and looking for signs of damage while aerial drones check the blades. The activity is part of a project to reduce inspection costs, keep wind turbines running for longer and, ultimately, reduce the price of electricity.

Wind power accounted for more than a third of the electricity generated from renewable sources in the EU in 2020 and offshore wind energy is expected to make a growing contribution over the coming years. Denmark became home of the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991 and Europe is a global leader in the field.

Still, running wind farms in seas and oceans is expensive and adds to the overall cost of such clean power. Furthermore, Asian companies in the sector are gaining ground, increasing the European industry’s need to retain a competitive edge.

Lower costs

‘Up to 30% of all operation costs are related to inspection and maintenance,’ said João Marques of the INESC TEC research association in Portugal.

Much of this comes from sending maintenance crews out in boats to examine and repair offshore-wind infrastructure.

The EU-funded ATLANTIS project is exploring how robots can help on this front. The ultimate goal is to cut the cost of wind energy.

Underwater machines, vehicles that travel on the water surface and aerial drones are just some of the robots being tested. They use a combination of technologies – such as visual and non-visual imaging – and sonar to inspect the infrastructure. Infrared imaging, for instance, can identify cracks in turbine blades.

Research carried out by the project suggests that robotics-based technologies could increase the amount of time that maintenance vessels can work on wind farms by around 35%.

Higher safety

Expense is not the only consideration.

‘We also have some safety concerns,’ said Marques, who is a senior researcher on the ATLANTIS project.

Having people transfer from boat to turbine platforms, dive beneath the waves to inspect anchor points and scale turbine towers is dangerous.

It is safe for people to transfer from boats to turbine platforms only when waves are less than 1.5 metres high. By contrast, robotic inspection and maintenance systems can be deployed from boats in seas with waves of up to 2 metres.

In addition, easier and safer maintenance will increase the amount of time that wind farms can be fully operational. In winter, it is often impossible to carry out offshore inspection and maintenance, which must wait for better weather in spring or summer.

‘If you have a problem on a wind farm or on a particular turbine in a month where you cannot access it, it needs to be stopped until someone can reach it,’ said Marques.

Being able to work in higher waves means that causes of wind-farm shutdowns can be tackled more quickly.

First of its kind

The project’s test site is based on a real offshore wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean, 20 kilometres from the northern Portuguese city of Viana do Castelo. It is the first of its kind in Europe.

‘We need somewhere to actually test these things – somewhere where people can actually develop their own robotics,’ Marques said.

In addition to its own robotic technologies, ATLANTIS aims to help other research teams and companies develop their own such systems.

European researchers and businesses active in this cutting-edge sector should be able to book time to use the facilities starting early this year.

Damage prevention

Another way to cut maintenance costs is reducing damage and the need for repairs in the first place. The recently concluded EU-funded FarmConners project sought to do just that through the widespread use of a technology called wind farm control, or WFC.

When hit by wind, a turbine extracts energy from the air flow. As a result, the flow behind the turbine has a reduced energy, a phenomenon known as shadowing. Because of this uneven distribution of energetic load on blades and towers, some turbines get damaged more than others.

WFC aims to balance out the distribution of wind energy throughout the farm, according to project co-coordinator Tuhfe Göçmen of the Technical University of Denmark.

There are several ways to mitigate the effects of shadowing. One is to misalign turbines. Instead of facing straight into the wind, a turbine can be turned slightly so that the shadow effect is steered away from turbines behind.

The pitch and the rotational speed of the turbine’s three blades can also be changed. While this cuts the amount of energy the turbine produces, it leaves more for the turbines behind to harvest.

Grid-friendly

As well as reducing wear and tear and maintenance costs, WFC can make wind farms more productive and help them generate power in a way that is easier for the electricity grid to handle.

Renewable energy including wind power is often produced in peaks and troughs. Sometimes the peaks, or surges in power, can overload the electricity grid.

With the turbines working together, power production can be levelled out to provide more consistent and stable input to the grid, according to Göçmen.

‘If we control turbines collectively, it is simply more efficient,’ he said.

Research has shown that such wind-farm control could increase the power output of all wind farms in the EU by 1%.

That’s equivalent to twice the output of a 400 megawatt wind farm, which would cost around €1.2 billon to build, according to Gregor Giebel, a FarmConners co-coordinator also at the Technical University of Denmark.

This technology is also simple to implement as most wind turbines can be controlled and adjusted to act in the ways needed by WFC. The wind farms need simply to update their control software.

There is a lot of commercial interest in WFC technology, making it a promising way for Europe to expand its use of wind energy, according to Göçmen,

It is ‘low-cost and potentially high-gain,’ he said.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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Green Energy and Global Integration Will Sustain Positive Economic Outlook

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Recent economic signals have given experts reasons for hope, if not complacency about the outlook for 2023. Signs of declining inflation, resilient consumer spending and strong labour markets, among others, suggest that growth could be rebounding in the short term.

“My message is that it is less bad than we feared a couple of months ago, but that doesn’t quite get to us to being good,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

The threat of rising inflation seems to have abated in many parts of the world, thanks in part to interest rate increases from some central banks. While many decision-makers have expressed determination to sustain rates, there is a risk that recent improvements could cause leaders to ease rates.

“The greatest tragedy in this moment would be if central banks were to lurch away from a focus on assuring price stability prematurely and we were to have to fight this battle twice,” said Lawrence H. Summers, Professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

A major economic priority worldwide for 2023 involves accelerating decarbonization. Recent legislation in the United States to support green energy will provide billions of dollars in funding but has provoked concerns of launching a subsidy war between Europe and the US over decarbonization technology. On the one hand, competition to promote green energy could accelerate progress for the benefit of all. On the other hand, the risks that nations will block technological developments and turn inward would deter global progress.

“I hope very much that this subsidy race we are hearing about is not going to be a race for the bottom,” said Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. A negative repercussion of Europe-US competition would be overlooking the imperative to finance the green energy transformation in the developing world, which is the most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Competition over green energy could amplify other risks of fragmentation in global trade as many nations prioritize national security over global integration. “Over the last three years, we have entered a new era of globalization. We have shifted from market-driven globalization to politically powered globalization,” said Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty.

Fragmentation poses numerous risks to the world economy, such as higher costs associated with reorganizing supply chains. For example, Europe and the US have focused recently on increasing domestic production of silicon chips. There is a risk that such turning inward will impede global cooperation on trade and climate goals.

The easing of pandemic restrictions in China raises questions for the 2023 economic outlook. One potential concern involves rising energy costs worldwide, as Chinese consumption rises.

In Japan, inflation remains a concern, but the nation has seen recent improvements in job creation. “We made that change I should say mainly due to increased labour participation of women,” said Kuroda Haruhiko, Governor of the Bank of Japan.

In terms of the most pressing risks for 2023, economic experts focused on the ongoing war in Ukraine not only as a geopolitical and humanitarian crisis but also as a concern for economies around the world. Likewise, experts expressed uncertainty about whether inflation would continue a downward trajectory and about the continued threat of mutations of COVID-19. Despite recent signs of improvement, “relief must not become complacency,” Summers noted.

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