Interview: Rana Adib

Rana Adib,
Executive Director at REN21

“Please tell our readers about the REN21 ‘Renewables 2020 Global Status Report’. What are the key findings of the report?”

There are three central messages that emerge from last year’s data.

1. Renewable power continues to have fantastic progress. It beats all other fuels in growth and competitiveness. This momentum continues, thanks in large part to sustained policy support and cost reductions. But the progress in the power sector is only a small part of the picture. And it is eaten up as the world’s energy hunger continues to increase.

2. There continues to be a profound lag of renewable energy uptake in the heating, cooling, and transport sectors. These sectors count for 83% of the energy we consume but have the lowest shares of renewables (10% and heating and cooling, 3% in transport, compared with 26% in power). Ongoing dependence on fossil fuels for heating and transport is related to a lack of policy support for renewables in the sectors. There is still no level playing field, and the massive support for fossil fuels hinders the already difficult task of reducing pollution and emissions and must be brought to a halt.

3. More people around the world are demanding action on climate change. In parallel public opinion polls show people are increasingly in favor of using more renewable and aware of the benefits that renewable energy brings in terms of health, jobs, resilience, and climate change mitigation. The private sector actors also are increasingly stepping up.

“The report calls for an immediate shift to renewable energy across sectors. Can you share more insight into the same?”

A systemic problem requires a systemic response. Increasing the shares of renewables in all sectors is mandatory if we want to achieve a low-carbon energy system that meets global climate and development goals. Unfortunately, the world is still far from being on track to meet these goals. Because of the ever-growing demand for energy, the continued support for fossil fuels, and the lack of adoption of renewables in all sectors, the progress made by renewables is not fast enough to compete with rising energy demand. Demand for renewable energy grew three times faster than the demand for fossil fuels and nuclear over five years. But it accounted for less than a third of the total increase in final energy demand. What this means is that the share of renewables is only barely increasing.

“What are the trends witnessed in the sector despite disruptive COVID-19 pandemic? In your view, how can the sector convert this adversity into an opportunity?”

During the COVID pandemic, renewables proved their resilience and reliability. During the pandemic, global electricity demand plummeted. Renewables were the only source of electricity to record demand growth over this period, due to low operating costs and preferential access to electricity networks. But, like for many other sectors, the crisis also had immediate implications for the entire renewable energy sector, from network operators facing unprecedented shares of renewable energy generation, to project developers hit by labor and supply chain disruptions. The long-term impacts of the crisis are still unknown and will depend in large part on the response of governments, markets, and citizens.

But as we emerge from COVID there are some real opportunities. We saw that electricity and networks in major markets were able to accommodate huge changes in the energy mix as of mid-2020. The share of supply met by renewables reached historic highs in China, Europe, India, and the United States. Project developers saw labour shortages and supply chain disruptions. This may encourage companies to look more locally for materials thus boosting local value chains.

“Please tell us about the policy landscape that has been integral in shaping the global energy markets. What are the report’s recommendations for the same to unlock the complete potential of the markets?”

Effective government policies have been responsible for much of the progress in developing and deploying renewable energy technologies. Long-term policies continue to be central in overcoming important to overcome economic, technical, and institutional barriers.

To-date, both targets and policies, have, unfortunately, been aimed almost exclusively at the power (electricity) sector. By the end of 2019, 166 countries had renewable power targets, compared to 49 countries for heating and cooling and 46 for transport. Targets that align renewable energy policy across multiple levels of governance and multiple economic sectors are rare.

There is enormous potential for renewable energy in heating, cooling, and transport. But unlike the power sector, these sectors are larger and more diverse. Besides, both sectors are still heavily fossil-fuel dependent. It’s clear, we will not achieve decarbonization unless governments put more policies in place.

Three types of solutions must occur in parallel to transform the energy system happen:

1.Increase policies that actively support the uptake of renewables across all end-use sectors;
2. Make energy efficiency mandatory to decrease energy demand; and
3. Accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels.

“What are your views on global investments in the energy sector? Please tell us about the key factors that are driving the surge in the investments?”

Pre-COVID investment in new renewable power and fuel capacities was about 282 billion USD. If we consider that this amount in 2019 is twice the amount invested ten years ago, we have made huge progress. A key reason is the continuously decreasing costs of renewable energy technologies (and particularly solar PV and Wind). The cost decrease also means that you can install ever more new capacity with the same dollar amount invested.

But 2019 investment was only 1% over 2018 levels. So, I don’t think we can talk about a surge. We need to ramp up renewable energy investment.

“Meeting the Paris targets would require an annual decrease of at least 7.6 percent to be maintained over the next 10 years. Please tell us more about this finding?”

Let’s look at the efforts needed to reach the Paris Agreement: staying below the 2°C target would correspond to a gross addition of almost 3,000 GW (2,836GW) of new non-hydro renewable energy capacity by 2030 (i.e. two times more than what is currently installed). This would require an investment of $3.1 trillion over the decade (2020-2030), or 310 billion USD per year. But, if you look at what countries have already committed in terms of new capacities by 2030 under their current NDCs, we are far from it! It would represent less than a third of this $310 billion required per year.

“The report recommends public support for renewables. What are key drivers that will enhance this co-operation and help further develop renewable landscape globally?”

Although citizens may be concerned about specific renewable energy projects (including wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal, and hydropower plants), the public generally has shown support for renewables-based on the multiple benefits that these technologies provide. In the past few years, opinion polls have consistently indicated strong public support for the expansion of renewables. This creates an apparent “social gap” between strong overall support for renewables and the disapproval with specific proposed projects expressed at a local level.

Governments have at hand a full range of measures to improve public participation, strengthen regulatory control, and share economic benefits with host communities too, in turn, further build citizen support for renewable energy projects. Key among these are awareness campaigns; developing policies and regulatory measures that will have a direct impact on public engagement; and encouraging or imposing public participation, control, and ownership.

Interview 23/06/2020 by News Bureau
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