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Getting to 100% renewable: dream or reality?

Oliver Knight's picture
© Abbie Trayler-Smith Panos Pictures UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons
​Attending the Future of Energy Summit last month, an annual event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, I was struck – for the second year running – by the rapid pace of cost reductions and innovation happening across the clean energy spectrum. With the news that a recent solar photovoltaics tender in Dubai obtained bids at less than US6c/kWh, to major investments in electricity storage and electric vehicles, to increased interest in demand-side management at the grid and consumer level, the message is clear: clean energy has most likely reached a crucial tipping point that will start to suck in increasing levels of investment. Some commentators also noted the opportune timing: with capital investment in upstream oil production sharply curtailed due to falling global prices, there is potentially a lot of financial capital looking for a home.
 
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.

Lighting rural Bangladesh with rooftop solar & carbon credits

Xiaoyu Chang's picture
Installing a solar panel in Bangladesh. Xiaoyu Chang/World Bank



In the village of Aharkandhi in northeastern Bangladesh, life has changed since homeowners began installing solar panels on their roofs. At night, families gather at the local grocery store to watch TV, which boosts business. Children study longer than before.
 
This is due in part to a World Bank-financed electrification project to promote off-grid electricity in rural communities. This year, the project became the first renewable energy program in Bangladesh to be issued carbon credits for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the world's first Programme of Activities for solar home systems under the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to generate carbon credits.
 
With access to electricity, people are finding new ways to increase their income, and the word is spreading quickly across villages.

Behind the numbers: China-U.S. climate announcement's implications for China’s development pathway

Xueman Wang's picture
Solar cell manufacturing in China


The past five weeks have given us what may be defining moments on the road to a Paris agreement that will lay a foundation for a future climate regime.

  • On October 23, European Union leaders committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use by at least 27 percent by 2030.
  • On November 12, during the APEC Summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama jointly announced their post-2020 climate mitigation targets: China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with best efforts to peak as early as possible, and increase its non-fossil fuel share of all energy to 20 percent by 2030; and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • On November 20, at the donor conference in Berlin, led by the U.S., Germany, and others, donors pledged about US$9.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

China’s announcement in particular is considered by many to be a game changer. China, the world’s biggest emitter with its emissions accounting for more than 27 percent of the global emissions, is setting an example for other major developing countries to put forward quantifiable emission targets. The announcement will hopefully also brush away the “China excuse,” used by some developed countries that have avoided commitments on the grounds that China was not part of action under the Kyoto targets.

Carbon pricing incentivizes clean energy innovation

Kerry Adler's picture
SkyPower's Fort William First Nation Solar Park is one of the first utility-scale solar parks in North America to be developed on First Nations lands. Photo courtesy of SkyPower


By Kerry Adler, President and CEO of SkyPower

​​The fundamental inequality that exists between emitters of carbon and the victims of its devastating byproduct requires global cooperation and intervention beyond our willingness to act thus far. Today, we have the necessary technology, ingenuity and global monetary tools to incentivize a shift to cleaner energy.

Placing a price on carbon enhances the competitive position of renewable energy technologies, such as utility-scale solar, relative to fossil energy, thus encouraging migration away from high-carbon fuels. It is an important step, and it can be supported with other initiatives to ensure accountability.

In the private sector, transparency regarding carbon emissions is essential. With the advent of the Internet and the plethora of information available today, it is not only possible, but imperative that emitters of carbon are held accountable in a public forum.

Are We Rising to the Renewable Energy Challenge?

Anita Marangoly George's picture

Renewable Energy PanelWe are living in very exciting times when it comes to renewable energy. All over the world, countries are taking steps to generate more and more of their power from their wind, solar and hydropower resources, among other means of clean energy production. This expansion is not just vital for human and economic development, it’s key to the world’s efforts to tackle climate change. With less than six weeks to go until policy makers gather for the next UN Climate Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru and as part of a series of events at the World Bank’s annual meetings, we hosted a panel of energy experts to look at what it will take to rise to the renewable energy challenge and address energy poverty.

World Bank Support Delivers Electric Power to Millions – Sustainably

S. Vijay Iyer's picture

Between 2007 and 2011, Peru doubled electricity access rates from 30 percent of households to over 60 percent.  The national rural electrification program has been supported by US$50 million in World Bank financing and US$10 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

This is a remarkable achievement, but to make sure that the new opportunities benefit local people in rural areas, an additional initiative was launched. This “productive uses of electricity” pilot project adapted lessons from two World Bank-supported activities in Indonesia under which the national utility reached out to local communities through NGOs. 

Women at the Forefront of Climate Action

Rachel Kyte's picture
 
Mussarat Farida Begum Mussarat Farida Begum runs a small teahouse in Garjon Bunia Bazaar, a rural community in Bangladesh. As part of a program which has helped Bangladesh reach more than 2 million low-income rural households and shops with electricity, she bought a solar home system for $457, initially paying $57, and borrowing the rest. She repays the loan in weekly installments with money she earns by keeping her now-lighted chai shop open after dark. Her business is booming and her family lives much more comfortably with their increased income. They now have electricity at home and their children can study at night.

Women like Mussarat are at the forefront of our efforts to secure development by tackling climate change. On the one hand, they are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of extreme events. But it is also women who can make a difference to change entrenched behaviors. It is their decisions as entrepreneurs, investors, consumers, farmers, and heads of households that can put our planet on a greener, more inclusive development trajectory.

Cutting Water Consumption in Concentrated Solar Power Plants

Julia Bucknall's picture
Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems are a great promise for renewable energy at scale.  But they can use a lot of water, which is a problem since they tend to be located in places where water is scarce. Some concentrated solar technologies need to withdraw as much as 3,500 liters per Megawatt hour (MWh) generated.

My Wakeup Call

Onno Ruhl's picture

It was a 4:30am wake-up call on a cold morning in Delhi for my flight to Lucknow. I stepped into the shower… only to find cold water. Not the best start of a day I have had!

When I got back from my trip a few days later, I asked the building manager why there had been no hot water at that time. “Sir” he said, “it is solar; 4:30 is too early!"

I had to think about that for a while. Different perspectives raced through my mind: First, I thought it was great that the water heating was solar and thus running on clean energy. After that, I thought that it was a real pity we do not know how to store solar energy so that we could still have hot water at 4:30 in the morning. After that again, I actually felt it was perfectly OK not to have hot water at 4:30 in the morning: we will not be able to solve our energy problems without some compromises for those of us who have hot water at all. And that brought me to the most important realization: millions and millions of people were waking up at the same time as I did, but theirs was a dark winter morning because they do not have electricity to turn on a light bulb, let alone get hot water for a bath.

Solar Home Systems: Lighting up Bangladesh's Countryside

Naomi Ahmad's picture

Lives no longer interrupted by the setting sun…

We were walking towards the small bridge over the canal. The sun had already set and dusk was gradually fading into darkness. The winter air was quiet and still. Approaching the highest point of the bridge, I could sense the excitement in our quickening footsteps - we were almost there.

The project officials had told us that we could see it all, if we stood and looked out from the highest point of the bridge. So we leaned over the railings and waited, straining to see. But there was nothing – just the fuzzy darkness, gradually thickening and settling quietly on the land. I was left wondering whether we were just on a wild goose chase.

Then down below, a faint light suddenly flickered to life. A bulb was turned on in the darkness. Then another glowed – and yet another! In a few minutes, the area lying below us was glimmering with the tiny dots of faint white light bulbs. And from our high vantage point we could clearly see that the sleepy little rural marketplace - Garjon Bunia Bazaar – had woken up; ready for another evening.


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