BONN: Today the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) launched its Innovation Week in Bonn, Germany. The three-day event convenes governments and energy practitioners around the world to accelerate the transition toward a low carbon economy and showcase the benefits of today’s age of renewable power.
“Reaching high shares of renewable energy in the power sector will bring new opportunities and new challenges,” remarked Adnan Amin, Director-General, IRENA. “Innovation is critical to harness the opportunities and overcome the challenges.”
Opening the event, the Director-General pointed out how the energy sector is “crucial to decarbonize the world, and to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement”. Science indicates that we must reach zero emissions by 2050, if we want to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold.
To achieve that, “about half of the reduction of emissions shall come from renewable energy,” said Adnan Amin. “Today we have the evidence from the economy that renewables work,” he added, underlying the crucial role that the sector plays for the environment and business alike.
Germany is a sticking example of how innovation in this field can bring huge benefits for citizens and companies. Having set a feed-in tariff system in the beginning of the century, it now covers about one-third of its energy needs with renewable energy – and a target of reaching 45% by 2030.
“Efficiency and renewables are the main priorities to reach the Paris Agreement,” confirmed Rainer Baake, State Secretary, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. “Wind and solar have shown to work in this country – and they are cheap. Renewables are not expensive.”
As an apt demonstration of this fact, last Sunday solar and wind energy covered a record ~90% of the power demand of the whole nation. “Renewables are the biggest source of power in our market, and the most powerful,” said Rainer Baake.
The State Secretary also highlighted the connections between government policies and business investments, saying: “Energy prices should be decided by markets, not by politicians. Governments should create a framework where all solutions for energy flexibility can compete, but they shouldn’t interfere in it.”
He also added that pricing for damage due to carbon emissions should be around €200 (US$228) for 1 ton of CO2, and reiterated that Germany’s early and expensive investments in the photovoltaic sector “was a blessing for the world to bring prices down.”
IRENA’s latest report, which will be launched at the event, shows that in the past five years, renewable energy represented half of new global energy capacity. “Renewables are not a niche,” remarked Dolf Gielen, Head of Innovation, IRENA. “They are mainstream. They are breaking records, they are beating expectations.”
“Renewable energy is the cheapest and most secure form of energy in many parts of the world, and creates about 10 million jobs worldwide,” he said, anticipating some of the numbers that will be in the next IRENA report.
A high-level panel followed, with energy experts and practitioners sharing their views on the transformational role of renewable energy today and in the future.
“Innovation is not the issue,” said Pierre Bernard, CEO of Friends of Supergrid. “Energy is now all about politics. What we need is innovation in politics. But we must speak the hard truth, which is going green costs and will take time.”
This position is not completely shared by Irene Cañas, Vice Minister for Energy, Costa Rica, who said the transition to renewable energy “takes time, but we showed it’s possible”. In fact, last year Costa Rica reached 99% renewable electricity generation – due to copious but unreliable rainfalls that powered its hydroelectric plants.
Nations are not the only ones that are taking bold steps to decarbonize their energy pathway. The States & Regions Alliance member Ontario in Canada, for example, previously used 25% coal to generate its electricity. But last year it used none – and also put a price on carbon, which will soon be linked to the systems of two other States & Regions members Québec and California.
“So far, utilities have not been on the forefront of innovation,” said Atul Mahajan, CEO of Oshawa Power, which operates in Ontario. “Innovation must come from disruptive thinking in policies and frameworks. We’re now moving to what we can call ‘utility 2.0’, which is decentralized and uses smart meters.”
“Decentralization, digitalization and data management will be key factors in the future energy system,” added Simone Mori, Head of European Affairs of Enel Group. He also confirmed how the energy market is rapidly shifting toward a decisive focus on renewables.
“The very nature of our competitors will change dramatically,” he said. “To push the renewables transition, we need a sound policy.”
Claes Rytoft, Chief Technology Officer of the ABB group, observed that from a technologic point of view “we have what we need. But supply is stretched to limits – for example, China needs 15 gigawatt of new transmission.”
“I see the biggest opportunity for innovation in energy storage, if you really want to see storage at a utility scale.”
IRENA’s Innovation Week will continue until the end of the week, with in-depth group discussions on the clean energy opportunities and challenges.
On June 28-29, in London, the Business & Climate Summit will be the next international event that will convene governments, businesses and investors to further demonstrate how low carbon strategies are good for business and good for growth.
by Ilario D'Amato