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What will it take to deepen the renewable energy transformation?

Charles Cormier's picture
Image via iStock
Those of us who have been working on climate change over the years have witnessed a number of encouraging announcements as a run-up to the Paris COP, where the global community is gathering to agree on collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020.  The two largest emitters have announced action, with China agreeing for the first time to peak its GHG emissions by 2030 (using a number of tools such as emissions trading), and the United States agreeing to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.  The World Bank’s State and Trends Report on Carbon Pricing announced that about 40 countries and 23 cities, states, or regions have put a price on carbon emissions—explicitly internalizing costs of damage to the environment. This means that about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are covered by some type of carbon pricing scheme.  And countries continue to submit pledges to reduce GHG emissions—through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions—in advance of the Paris COP.

In the energy world, there is equal excitement about recent developments.  Renewable energy prices have significantly fallen over the years, in particular for wind and solar. The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced earlier this month that renewable energy will be the largest source of new power generation capacity globally—700 GW in the next 5 years. The IEA does not expect that the fall of oil prices to affect the growth in renewable energy, and expects the power sector to continue to lead the way in the global energy transformation. The IEA also estimates that the share of power generation from modern renewables (including hydropower) will increase from 22 % in 2013 to 26% in 2020.  

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.

The energy future, as seen from Denmark

Nicholas Keyes's picture
Photo by Blue Square Thing via FlickrDriving across the Danish countryside, they cannot be missed: towering white wind turbines as far as the eye can see, their slow-turning blades providing a 21st century counterpoint against the flat landscape of fields and farmhouses.
Denmark has committed to renewable energy further and faster than any country in Europe.  The Scandinavian nation generates a third of its annual electricity demand from wind, and solar capacity is growing as well. For countries that want to green their energy mix, there is no better place to get a glimpse of the future than Denmark. 
Its pioneering spirit has brought great benefits, and international acclaim, but like all first movers, Denmark is also learning as it goes. 
To tap into this learning, ESMAP—the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program—organized a study tour to, Denmark’s transmission system operator, as part of its work to help client countries integrate variable renewable energy into their electricity grids. Joining the study tour were 26 participants—representatives from regulators, system operators and utilities from 13 countries, including South Africa, Chile, China, Pakistan, Zambia, and Morocco.

Mining in the Congo Basin: Getting to the Heart of the Challenges

Leo Bottrill's picture

Film is a powerful tool for explaining environmental issues. I first learnt this lesson while trying to enlist local communities in northern Vietnam to help protect a strange blue faced and critically endangered primate called the Tonkin Snub Nosed Monkey. After a morning spent bombarding local leaders with facts and figures, they were polite but unmoved.

Small Island States Set Ambitious Energy Agenda for Rio+20

Vivien Foster's picture

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Lee Siebert (Smithsonian Institution) Freshwater Lake (L'Etang) lies in the moat between Micotrin lava dome and the eastern wall of the Wotten Waven caldera, partially visible in the background. The 7 x 4.5 x wide caldera is elongated in an SW-NE direction, and it extends on the SW to near the capital city of Roseau. The two coalesced lava domes of Micotrin straddle the NE rim of the caldera. Strong geothermal activity persists in the caldera, the most prominent of which lies near the village of Wotten Waven along the River Blanc and contains numerous bubbling pools and fumaroles.The Small Island Developing States, or SIDS, include 52 countries spanning the Caribbean, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as the South China and Mediterranean Seas. They range from low-income countries such as Haiti to high-income countries like Barbados and Singapore.

Despite their diversity, many of them have a challenge and irony in common.  Being small, often remotely-located,  and usually without domestic fossil fuel reserves, these countries rely on imported fossil fuels for their energy, and bear the brunt of high and volatile  oil prices.  The irony is that many of these same islands have abundant renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, hydro and geothermal. And many are at sea-level, vulnerable to sea-level rise provoked by climate change, and highly-sensitized to the urgency of making a transition to a greener economy—a transition that would reduce their exposure to petroleum price shocks and hikes.