Germany is often cited as Europe’s renewable energy wunderkind, and indeed many of its laurels are well deserved. But it is no means alone on the cutting edge of climate protection, and indeed of late the Teutons have fallen behind in places. Other European countries excel in specific areas, offering best practices for the rest of the continent and beyond. In the final analysis, though, the meta-champion is the EU, says Paul Hockenos.
Sweden: Gold Medal in Sustainable Development
Sweden is ranked number one in sustainability surveys, and on track to be the first nation worldwide to fulfill the UN’s SDGs, perhaps as early as 2030. Among its strongest suits is renewable energy – wind, bioenergy, hydroelectric – that accounts for more than half (55%) of gross energy consumption, followed by Finland (41%), Latvia (39%), Denmark (36%) and Austria (33%). It is determined to push up efficient energy use by 50% in the next decade and finish with a 100% renewable-energy supply in 2040. The newly re-elected leftist government should meet its target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
Keys to Success: high level of citizen involvement, smart investment, engaged red-green national governments.
Portugal: Iberian Dark Horse
Last year in May, Portugal ran the country for three days in a row on renewable energy alone and even managed to export power during the streak. Little known even in Europe, Portugal has a higher share of fluctuating renewables in its supply than Germany, and steeper clean-energy growth rates, too. Renewables are expected to cover 80% of electricity consumption in Portugal in 2030, a goal that a massive, ongoing roll out of solar PV will help facilitate. According to The Portugal News, Green energy currently saves the country around €750 million in fossil fuel imports.
“The growth of renewables in Portugal is now so fast that officials are questioning planned investments in gas infrastructure,” says R. Andreas Kraemer of the Berlin-based think tank Ecologic Institute. The rapid shift to renewables has endowed Portugal with “a wealth of experience in the operational management of grid, including forecasting,” he says.
Keys to Success: Incredible natural resources, engineering prowess. Portugal has no fossil extraction industry.
Denmark : Wind Power Pioneer
Denmark, the cradle of European wind power, generates close to half of its electricity consumption (43.4%) from its stiff sea breezes.
And the Danes’ security of supply is among the highest in Europe at 99.995%. Denmark is home to Europe’s largest wind turbine maker, Vestas, and the most sought-after offshore wind farm developer, Orsted. Vestas has installed over 60,000 turbines across 76 countries.
Keys to Success: Early pioneer in the field, wind galore, extensive district heating systems, dense crossborder grid.
United Kingdom: King of Offshore Wind Power
The U.K. is home to 39 of Europe’s 105 offshore wind parks with a total of 1,957 operational turbines. Since 2016, the U.K. has generated more power from the wind (sea- and land-based) than from coal, its traditional mainstay.
The five floating turbines at Hywind Scotland Pilot Park are the first of their kind in operation. Hywind’s turbines are about 253 meters in height, about a third of which is beneath the water. Each of the towers is tethered to the sea floor by chains weighing in 1,323 tons. At full capacity, the park will generate enough electricity to supply 20,000 homes.
In 2017, the latest numbers available, the UK posted (in terms of absolute changes) by far the largest decrease in GHG emissions in the EU. The drop was a result of shifting from coal and natural gas to renewable energies. In relative terms, the largest decline happened in Denmark (5.3 %), followed by Finland (4.6 %) and the U.K. (2.6 %).
Keys to Success: a record 52% drop in coal use in 2016 followed by a further 19% decrease in 2017. U.K. has committed to end coal use by 2025. But also: many manufacturing facilities have moved overseas.
Norway: Future of the Fjords
The Norse capital of Oslo, and the rest of the country right behind it, is the hands-down world number one in electric transportation: half of all new car sales are electric or hybrid. And all new car sales should be zero emission by 2025 – the most ambitious goal in the world. Norway is also out in front on battery-powered shipping, a neglected sector until now. Its entire ferry fleet, which navigates the fjords and islands, is going electric, as are, more slowly, the larger tourist berths (see photo below of the electric catamaran Future of the Fjords.)
Downtown Oslo maintains that the only thing better than e-cars is no cars at all. The city center is largely car-free as of 2019, and apparently it’s working out fine, so far.
Oddly, Norway doesn’t have a car manufacturer today. The Nissan Leaf is the most popular all-electric automobile there.
Keys to Success: Strong environmental consciousness, deft civic planning, extensive green transportation infrastructure, lavish incentive scheme. Norway rewards e-car buyers with hefty rebates and other perks worth thousands of euros. Moreover, urban drivers can avail themselves to an array of perks such as free parking, access to bus lanes, and toll-free travel.
The European Union: The Most Unsung Champion
The EU has led the way on so many climate and energy issues that its impact over the years vastly outstrips that of any one state or region. Europe’s renewable energy boom, for example, is unthinkable without the EU’s opening of energy markets and the prying apart of energy production and distribution sectors (called “unbundling“) in the 1990s. In Germany, for example, the dismantling of the energy-market monopoly of four giant utilities paved the way for tens of thousands of small producers, citizen’s collectives, localities, and cooperatives to forge ahead with renewable energy generation, known as the Energiewende.
The EU has pushed hard on many fronts, such as the stubborn transportation sector, where its directives on lowering emissions for cars and trucks sets the bar in Europe (much to the consternation of Chancellor Merkel and German automobile manufacturers.)
Among the most salient measures of all, last year the EU agreed that renewables must make up 32% of energy consumed in Europe by 2030 (binding target) and that by there be a 33% increase in energy efficiency. Thanks to its targets and pressure – as well as communism’s fall and the financial crisis — the EU as a whole has already hit its 2020 goal of sinking greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (compared to 1990.) And the EU has pledged that from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro of the EU budget — one trillion euros ($1.2 trillon dollars) — will go toward climate protection.
For Europeans concerned about climate change, and polls show it’s the vast majority, these are solid reasons to back pro-EU and climate-serious parties in the May European Parliament elections.
No other energy resource in the Czech Republic has been as discussed in the media and political debate as solar has been in recent years. The technology entered the Czech energy sector in 2010 with a big initial bounce, but its development stagnated during the next decade. Those interested in Czech photovoltaic technology are now attempting to revive it, says Martin Sedlák.
Czech photovoltaic cells – a wild history
Over the past decade, ministers of industry in the Czech Republic have alleged that solar has no potential and is expensive. However, a wave of interest in solar did come to the Czech Republic from the dynamic global developments in this unique technology – and the Czech system was not prepared. The first wave in 2009 sparked solar growth and was followed by exponentially increased growth in 2010. The Czech Republic suddenly had almost 2 000 MW of solar capacity installed.
This jump-start of growth was also projected into the cost of electricity, given that consumers in particular were paying for state support of solar. The problem was not how the amount of such support was set up. However, the Czech Republic had no aims for how many new renewable projects should be brought online per year.
Unfortunately, solar park owners became labeled as the culprits, and politicians began using the derogatory label “solar barons” for them in the media. Today this shorthand is exploited mainly by Czech President Miloš Zeman, but in the past it was also commonly part of statements made, for example, by the chair of the Energy Regulatory Authority. The main problem was, however, a mistake made by the regulation. However, nobody was looking for it there.
As a corrective measure, the previous administration pushed through a special solar charge, the so-called solar tax of 26 % imposed on installations dating from 2009 and 2010. The charge was to have applied for three years, during which project owners lost part of their state support. The charge was then extended for solar parks dating from 2010, set at 10 % for as long as they drew on state support.
Solar owners believed the measure was not just retroactive, but contradicted the aim of increasing renewables. However, their lawsuit failed before the Constitutional Court. Several international arbitrations are still underway.
The impact of these moves on solar has been merciless: Since 2011, no big solar projects have been implemented in the Czech Republic. What is annually growing is rooftop solar, with a capacity of 6 MW to date.
Support for small installations
2018 appears to have been slight promising: Rooftop solar growth has doubled year-on-year. During the first 11 months of 2018 there have been more than 1 500 applications for support paid out with a capacity of 6 MW.
From the perspective of new project growth in other European countries, the Czech example appears embarrassingly small. Nevertheless, domestically it appears to be a success after the years of decline. Firms performing installations now enjoy a predictable, stable environment. They are able to offer solar solutions for heating water, either alone or in combination with batteries or heat pumps. Families are able to request support for installations, depending on the type of system, that ranges from CZK 30 000 to CZK 150 000 (EUR 1 150 – 5 770) from the New Green Savings program.
Bigger projects of up to 1 MW of capacity can also be commercially implemented. The Czech Industry and Trade Ministry has already issued two calls through which firms can request investment into photovoltaic electricity generators. However, the condition is that the power generated be used directly on the firm’s own premises and that the equipment be installed on that particular building. During 2018 several projects on the order of hundreds of kilowatts have been built. Unfortunately, no other call has been announced and the companies are thus postponing their investments into renewables.
Opportunities for Czech solar have exponentially increased
The solar energy association has presented a study mapping the potential for solar in the Czech Republic. From its calculations, contributed by the renowned consultancy EGÚ Brno, it follows that there is technical potential for as much as 39 GW of solar. This includes opportunities to install panels on facades and rooftops as well as the building of photovoltaic electricity generation projects in brownfields. In total, this could mean up to 2,2 million solar systems (<10 kW) on rooftops and thousands of bigger installations
Within the economic (i.e. feasible) potential, the installed capacity of solar plants could increase up to 3,5 GW in 2030 and 5,5 GW in 2040.
For the repeated startup of such constructions, however, bigger solar projects in the Czech Republic lack two basic things: Good laws and political support. The Czech Industry and Trade Ministry is currently drafting an amendment to the law on state-supported energy. After about a year of debate with experts, a bill has been drafted to introduce auctions for new renewable projects, inspired by a German law which began a very interesting reduction to the costs of new projects there, especially for photovoltaic parks. However, the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry bill does not count on auction opportunities for new solar parks.
According to associations of modern energy professionals, the Czech ministry’s move makes no sense. In the associations’ view, the law should be neutral with respect to technology. Moreover, it is exactly solar that has the greatest chance of offering consumers cheap electricity, which would be advantageous.
The same ministry is pushing the Czech Government to support new nuclear reactors, which are exponentially less advantageous than solar for consumers.
Unfortunately, chances to build new solar parks, whether located in brownfields or on the grounds of spacious industrial campuses, are also not part of the Czech climate-energy plan the Government is meant to send to the European Commission by the end of the year to present its strategy for fulfilling its emissions-reduction obligations by 2030. According to the versions of the plan that have leaked to date, the Industry Ministry only wants to support solar projects with a capacity of 30 kilowatts or less.
Despite these small steps forward, the Czech solar energy sector is still waiting for somebody with a clear political vision to arrive on the scene. For the time being the Industry Minister, Marta Nováková, unfortunately remains behind the current energy trends.
With the ink barely dry on Germany’s Coal Commission report recommending a phase out by 2038, the oil and gas industry is breaking out the champagne. While environmentalists criticize the plan’s particulars, the other side is celebrating the slaying of their strongest competitor. And they’re translating that joy into furious lobbying aimed at ensuring that renewables don’t fill the majority of the void as coal plants are shuttered. L. Michael Buchsbaum explains.
Gas infrastructure set to expand in all directions
With the environmental community and media otherwise focused on the Commission’s report, in late January Chancellor Angel Merkel (CDU) addressed the 49th Annual World Economic Meeting and let the cat out of the proverbial bag: “if we phase out coal and nuclear energy, then we have to be honest and tell people that we’ll need more natural gas.”
Calling the growing tug-of-war over where that future gas supply comes from “a bit over the top,”she reassured the gathered industry and politicians that gas will “play a greater role for another few decades. We’re thus expanding infrastructure in all directions.”
Merkel’s candor and bluntness might be rather shocking for those more accustomed to her usual opaque pronouncements. But the fact that coal’s demise was really just a smokescreen for a gas play shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who has followed the US’ rapid transition from billion-ton-a-year-coal-burner to the world’s largest oil and gas producer. As new technologies came into play, beginning in 2005, fracking companies there covertly funded the nascent “Beyond Coal” movement, directly or indirectly, while ensuring the media labeled fossil gas as a natural bridge fuel to renewables.
It was a very successful campaign, as evidenced by the fact that today coal is slipping to only 25% of total US electrical generation, as gas closes in on 40%. Its meteoric growth has always been framed as clean energy, blunting the demand for non-hydro renewables, which have been politically fenced in to only 10% of total capacity.
The German playbook’s version similarly calls for bottling up burgeoning wind and solar capacities to about 50% and then ensuring that gas takes up the capacity that coal will eventually leave behind.
The “gas bridge” scam
One of the key components of this play is repeating ad nauseum that burning fossil gas produces only half as much CO2 in comparison to hard coal or lignite, the most polluting of all coals. Until recently, little media attention was given to the fact that fossil gas is essentially methane, which constitutes at least one-third of global warming and is leaking into the atmosphere all across the gas production and delivery chain. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the first 20 years after its release, methane causes an approximately 87 times greater negative climate effect in the atmosphere than CO2. For a period of 100 years, the climate effect would still be 36 times greater compared to CO2.
In order for the world to meet its Paris-pledged goals of ensuring less than a 1.5 degree temperature rise, gas usage will have to decrease slightly through 2025 and decrease sharply thereafter. But that’s nowhere near current trends.
Instead, throughout the US, 60 percent more fugitive methane was being released into the atmosphere through leaky oil and gas production than previously measured, the journal Science reports. In retrospect, when “including methane emissions released during production and transport, in particular the massive fracking emissions which have quickly increased, natural gas is no better than coal,” said climate researcher Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute in Cologne in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “If all emissions are considered, natural gas could actually be worse,” he said.
Germany’s Federal Environmental Ministry (BMU) came to this same conclusion as well (in German here). “We assume that natural gas imported by fracking and imported by LNG (liquefied natural gas) will generally not reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal,” stated BMU to DW. While piped-in gas from Russia might be a bit better compared to LNG, the country barely has any fugitive methane controls, and is the leading producer and shipper of gas to Europe and Germany.
Don’t let gas cut out renewables
Sitting in the middle of Europe, Germany is already the world’s largest importer of fossil gas. Though only partially used for generating electricity (about 13% of total), its historically high prices lead many energy experts to assume that it won’t be able to compete with ever-cheaper renewables and take over the space left behind as coal is phased out.
But current trends indicate that green energy expansion is in fact, being deliberately fenced in. While on and offshore wind expansion slows, Nordstream 2 and a plethora of other new pipelines from Russia and newly discovered gas fields in the Middle East as well as the construction of a fleet of new LNG ships and terminals are set to flood the European gas market, dropping gas prices dramatically.
Thereafter, cheap gas will enable a business case for simply switching from one fossil fuel to another, allowing existing under-utilized gas plants more generating capacity and convincing lenders to finance more retrofits of coal plants or the building of new “cleaner” gas plants. Once that infrastructure is built, fossil gas use “will only be prolonged, ensuring it’s harder for renewable energies” to expand said Green Bundestag member Julia Verlinden.
Under this scenario, German gas usage could actually rise by up to 8 percent through 2022 alone according to gas lobbying group Zukunft Erdgas. Coal currently provides about 40% of total capacity. As the first cuts take place under the Coal Commission’s plans by 2022, the gas industry is already planning on jumping into that space.
Likewise, executives at utility Uniper, Germany’s single biggest customer of imported Russian gas and a partner in the Nordstream2 pipeline and various LNG terminal projects, are assuming “that there will be additional gas import demand of 150 billion cubic metres per year by 2030 in Europe,” chief financial officer Christopher Delbrueck said at a news conference on the presentation of the company’s 2018 earnings. Evident of the new gas rush: shipments of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) have also increased through March following Russia’s record gas flows to Europe in 2018.
So why again does anyone wonder why school kids throughout Europe and worldwide are striking for the future climate?
On Friday, March 15, an estimated 1.4 million pupils worldwide skipped school to protest climate change. The Fridays for the Future protests mark the onset of a global mass movement based on civil disobedience. What’s next? asks Paul Hockenos.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it before: so many young faces – mostly teenagers but younger children, too – acting with purpose and political vision.
This display of determination – over 20,000 overflowed from Invalidenpark in Berlin as part of the worldwide school strike for climate justice – turned our cultural order on its head: children were acting more maturely, more responsibly than their parents, even scolding their elders for their self-centered, reckless behavior. The kids loudly called out their parents’ (and grandparents’) generations, but they went further than that, too.
Kids walked out of their classrooms in 222 cities in Germany, and 2.000 cities and towns in 120 countries worldwide, breaking the law to protest climate change. The demos of March 15, 2019, may well prove a seminal moment in the history of the fight against global warming: the start of an international mass movement of young people that relies on civil disobedience. In contrast to some of the media reports, there was nothing naïve or amateurish about it.
The political savvy, energy, and creativity on display showed why these young citizens will be taken seriously and why March 15 wasn’t a one-off event but rather the beginning of something with staying power.
Take, for example, the site of the Berlin branch’s demo: downtown Berlin next to the Natural History Museum, where speakers and musicians underscored in every speech, song, and chant that the future of the planet is at stake.
And take the astounding scope and organization: the coordination of well over a thousand such demos across the globe. The Berlin leg, which police and the organizers expected to attract just 5,000 activists, brought out five times that number – and oodles of media. The youngsters know exactly how to use social media for maximum impact, and how to get coverage that landed them on the front pages of newspapers and on the evening news just everywhere in the world.
The chants and signs exhibited originality and wit that I haven’t experienced at a demonstration in a long time, certainly not at the dour events that climate NGOs hold regularly. The kids fully realize how dire the situation, is but the sea of hand-made posters weren’t glum. On the contrary, in Berlin these messages floated above the kids’ heads: “System change, not climate change,“ “Make the planet Greta again!,” “Why go to school if there’s no future?,” “The oceans are rising and so are we!,” “Cool kids for a cool Earth,” and “Make Earth cool again.”
Wake-up call for adults
And, yet, there was anger too, directed at the generations of parents and politicians who let things get as bad as they are. One felt more than a little spirit of the 1968 student protests in their brutal critiques of their elders. The kids directed their rebuke at the broadly defined generation that has the largest carbon footprint ever to its name, that knew about climate change for decades, that invented renewable energy, but that couldn’t bring itself to change lifestyles and economic systems fast enough to make a difference for them. The chant that rippled through the crowd all day: “Wir sind hier, wir sind laut, weil ihr unsere Zukunft klaut!” (We are here, we are loud, because you’re robbing us of our future!”) Among the signs, many pointed fingers: “You save banks but destroy the planet,” “You’ve fallen asleep, we’re the alarm clock,” and “Grandpa, what’s a snowman?”
But the Berlin demo, and those that I saw on television and the Internet, weren’t just bitter tirades against parents. The kids were directing much of their frustration and emotion toward politicians who have the power to take serious climate action, but haven’t done so.
The speakers on the podium talked about the Paris treaty, the promise of renewable energy, the footprint of our transportation and agriculture sectors, and individual responsibility. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who triggered the movement, did so by camping out on the steps of Sweden’s parliament to demand that her country reduce carbon emissions. Then she was alone. That was two short months ago.
The hail of critique that has rained down on the kids for skipping school truly misses the point. Had the young people staged the protests only during their free time, they wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact – or message. By being truant, they broke the law, underscoring how important their cause is and, implicitly, that they’ll break the law in the future too, if they’re not taken seriously.
Support from scientists, politicians
And as for naivety, this barb was dispelled by the new Scientists for the Future group, namely 23,000 German scientists and other experts who supported the strike. A handful of them were at the demo, and from the podium they told the students that they are right. They get the point. Countries like Germany, they said, were going in the right direction but not nearly fast enough. It has to happen five times so fast, said renewable energy expert Volker Quashning of Berlin’s Technical University. Keep it up, kids, they told them, science is on your side.
Indeed, the kids get it, namely the existential threat of global warning. And that they are the last generation that will have the opportunity to do something about it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the few world leaders that dared to praised them (once again in the face of her own conservative party, most of which shook their fingers at the naughty truants); and she seems intent on doing more for the climate in her final years in office. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, also commended them, promising he’ll double his efforts to bring leaders together in September for a climate action summit in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.
This, though, is not nearly enough for Greta Thunberg and her peers who announced themselves as a critical new part of the global climate protection movement. They may not be old enough to vote, but they are obviously capable of serious civic action, this much they proved on Friday beyond a doubt.
But skipping school alone will not further their aims. They have to take their cause to the offices of the politicians, business and industry leaders, and, of course, their teachers and principals too. Civil disobedience is now integral to their movement and they have to find new ways to wield it. Occupying offices and buildings, the way the Central America movement did in the US in the 1980s, is one option. But these tuned-in youngsters will surely come up with better ideas. They’ve already proven they’re capable of that.
The United Kingdom’s embattled Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised on Friday that “Brexit will not be a race to the bottom” for the country as she spoke at Danish energy giant Orsted’s offshore wind factory in Grimsby, heralding the importance of offshore wind to the future of the country a day after her government had launched its long-awaited Offshore Wind Sector Deal. Joshua Hill takes a look.
As reported last week, the UK finally launched its long-awaited Offshore Wind Sector Deal which will see the country’s offshore industry invest at least £250 million so as to ensure offshore wind generates more than 30% of the country’s electricity by 2030. The plan also calls to triple “green collar” jobs by 2030 and ensure that at least a third of all these jobs are held by women.
“This new Sector Deal will drive a surge in the clean, green offshore wind revolution that is powering homes and businesses across the UK, bringing investment into coastal communities and ensuring we maintain our position as global leaders in this growing sector,” said Claire Perry, Energy & Clean Growth Minister. “By 2030 a third of our electricity will come from offshore wind, generating thousands of high-quality jobs across the UK, a strong UK supply chain, and a fivefold increase in exports. This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action.”
A day later, UK Prime Minister Theresa May toured Orsted’s Grimsby offshore wind factory and gave a speech regarding the country’s much-ballyhooed Brexit — its disastrously messy attempt to leave the European Union.
“Your work in offshore wind does not just provide skilled jobs here in Grimsby, it makes a direct contribution to the UK’s efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and protect our environment,” said May. “Achieving the economic benefits of the global shift to sustainable green growth is one of the four Grand Challenges in our Modern Industrial Strategy,” — of which the country’s several Sector Deals — “Partnerships between the government and industry on sector-specific issues can create significant opportunities to boost productivity, employment, innovation, and skills” — are a key part.
“The UK is the world-leader in oﬀshore wind, and yesterday we launched our Offshore Wind Sector Deal to build on that success,” May added.
The focus of May’s speech, however, was on the impact of Brexit on the country. “We have … committed to protecting the rights and standards currently set at the EU level – from workers’ rights to environmental protections,” May said, adding that “Brexit will not be a race to the bottom.”
“In fact in most of these areas the UK has led the way, ahead of the EU. And this week we have said that if the EU expands workers’ rights, we will debate those measures in Parliament and decide if we want to follow suit.”
The focus for many in the UK at the moment, albeit briefly, remains on the mammoth Offshore Wind Sector Deal announced last week, which will see the UK offshore wind industry invest £250 million, including new an Offshore Wind Growth Partnership to develop the UK supply chain — as global exports are set to increase five-fold to £2.6 billion by 2030 — which will help to triple the number of industry jobs to 27,000 by 2030.
“Now that we’ve sealed this transformative deal with our partners in government, as a key part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, offshore wind is set to take its place at the heart of our low-carbon, affordable and reliable electricity system of the future,” said Benj Sykes, Ørsted UK Country Manager for Offshore and Co-Chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC), which was involved in negotiations with the Government.
“This relentlessly innovative sector is revitalising parts of the country which have never seen opportunities like this for years, especially coastal communities from Wick in the northern Scotland to the Isle of Wight, and from Barrow-in-Furness to the Humber. Companies are burgeoning in clusters, creating new centres of excellence in this clean growth boom. The Sector Deal will ensure that even more of these companies win work not only on here, but around the world in a global offshore wind market set to be worth £30 billion a year by 2030.”
The news was unsurprisingly welcomed by the country’s renewable energy groups.
“The Sector Deal is about creating opportunities for the people who will be part of our 27,000-strong offshore wind workforce,” added Chief Executive of RenewableUK, Hugh McNeal. “We’re setting up a new body to develop the right skills for years to come, not only by offering apprenticeships, but also by helping experienced people from other parts of the energy sector, as well as the military, to make the change into offshore wind. We also want to ensure far more diversity in the industry, by reaching a target of at least 33% women employees by 2030, and by recruiting people from a wider variety of ethnic backgrounds.”
The Sector Deal was also unsurprisingly hugely appreciated by companies of all sizes across the United Kingdom.
“The Sector Deal marks the coming of age of offshore wind as both a significant part of the UK’s energy transformation and an industrial powerhouse driving economic growth,” said Matthew Wright, UK Managing Director at Ørsted. “We should see the offshore wind industry as a huge UK success story. Costs have been driven down dramatically so that offshore wind is now competitive with conventional forms of energy generation, and at the same time the sector has delivered jobs, investment and growth across northern towns and cities. Ørsted alone will have invested over £13 billion in the UK by the end of 2021. This transformative Sector Deal will unlock significant additional investment from the whole industry and put offshore wind at the front and centre of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.”
“Today’s launch of the Sector Deal sets the long term context for MHI Vestas’ continued growth and job creation in the UK by putting the UK on a path to deliver at least 30GW by 2030,” said Julian Brown, Vice President and UK Country Manager of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind. “Our recent investment on the Isle of Wight is already delivering on the Sector Deal ambitions, creating nearly 400 new highly skilled jobs in 2019, exporting over three quarters of our 2019 output and investing £1 million in a four-year skills programme. I’m excited that MHI Vestas will play an important part in the UK’s offshore wind revolution in the next decade.”
“Siemens Gamesa (SGRE) welcomes the Sector Deal as recognition that Offshore Wind can be a key driver in a buoyant low carbon economy for generations to come,” said Clark MacFarlane, Managing Director of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy UK. “It confirms the confidence we had to invest in our Hull facility, now employing over 1,100 people. The Sector Deal elements of innovation, developing skills, creating a more diverse work force and supporting local people is in the DNA of our company.”
RenewableUK, the country’s trade body for wind (both onshore and offshore) and marine technologies, collated a number of comments from its association members, found here
On February 13th, the Colombian Constitutional Court decided to abolish local referendums on land use in Colombia. Kathrin Meyer elaborates on the consequences of this development and whether the international community should act.
The Mining Engine
Colombia is one of the major coal exporters in the world. Since its liberalization, the mineral-rich country has increasingly relied on extractivist projects. Extractive mega-projects within Colombia have great repercussions for local human rights. The most important export commodity of the mining industry is hard coal, which is at the same time a main contributor to the destruction of local livelihoods.
Colombia’s resource policy has been shaped by extractive mega-projects for decades. Foreign investment and projects of transnational companies within the mining sector are now typical. El Cerrejón, a well-known mining project in the northern part of Colombia, incorporates one of the largest hard coal mines in the world. The vast majority of entrepreneurs are appointed by foreign companies aiming at further expanding the booming mining business in Colombia while representing the interests of their own national energy sector.
In addition, unequal trade agreements in the past contributed to low commodity prices. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the development of national processing industries, hence promoting Colombia’s greater dependence on resources.
Expropriation, Expulsion and Environmental Damage
The open-cast mining taking place in Columbia is based on constant expansion of new coal mines. Those residents who are not forced out by coercive relocation have to leave to escape water and land scarcity. In recent years, this development has led to a significant deterioration in local living conditions.
The resistance towards those extensive mining activities is constantly growing among the Colombian society. Since 2015 democratic referendums, also referred to as consultas populares, have been increasingly used to initiate local votes against extractive mega-projects. Thus social movements had to gather more than twenty percent (20%) of the respective electoral census in order to initiate such votes.
Harnessing information and network meetings, citizens were informed about the relevance of the issue, subsequently seizing their right to vote regarding future extractive projects. A number of referendums even resulted in the complete rejection of intended mega-projects, such as in 2017, when the Cumaral municipality in Meta prevented a project of the oil company Mansarovar Energy.
However, the oil producing company Mansarover Energy,which was restricted by a referendum held in the municipality of Cumaral, filed a suit against the vote and finally won the case at the Colombian Constitutional Court in October last year. The notion arose that local consultas populares should not determine the implementation of national mining projects. After the judgment of the case, the court found in general that there were no appropriate mechanisms to ensure both civic participation and the way to reconcile the principles of coordination and interaction of the nation and territorial units in Colombia. Therefore, the Congress of the Republic was asked to introduce new mechanisms as soon as possible.
At the national level has been an effort to propagate the superiority of national over local interests. For example, Colombian President Ivan Duque’s election program devalued the effectiveness and legitimacy of consultas populares. Likewise, the Congress proposed a law that referendums on land management were no longer legal, which was then passed on 13 February 2019 by the Colombian Constitutional Court.
This verdict invalidates Law 136, allowing citizens of municipalities to hold consultations when the development of tourism, mining or other projects has resulted in a significant change in local land use. Hindrance of social participation regarding mining questions leads both human rights violations and the continuation of a vicious cycle of increased national dependence on natural resources and further environmental damage.
This means that now, the only remaining option for consultations is through referendums initiated by mayors. But due to the known cases of corruption among politicians, this approach reduces social participation and cannot be considered constructive.
While politicians of the Global North perceive themselves as sustainable and promote national coal phase-outs, coal extraction continues within other countries such as Colombia. This further increases greenhouse gas emissions, not only on the national level, but also in the international context.
However, if global CO2 emissions were to be assessed on the basis of mining company ownership and not the country in which they are emitted, countries that are significantly involved in mining sites in Latin America, Africa or Asia would score immensely higher. German companies such as RWE and E.ON or the Australian-British raw materials group BHP are just a few of many international companies involved in the mining of Colombian hard coal and thus making a significant contribution to CO2 emissions. While Germany and Australia show off with sustainable guidelines, national companies simply shift their CO2 output to other countries. This hypocritical policy continues in order for the Global North to maintain their own energy security.
Looking at the international context, it becomes clear that the abolition of consultas populares in Colombia is not a decision based on only local and national dynamics. It was also a decision determined by economic dependence on international investors.
The abolition of consultas populares and the associated devaluation of democratic participation is a step towards increasing extractive activities, and hence towards rising C02 emissions. This responsibility for this dramatic development, however, should not only be seen within Colombia itself, but worldwide.
Australia’s path to a carbon-neutral nation could be leveled by 2050. To achieve this, however, Australia has to take drastic actions in the area of reducing CO2 emissions. An analysis written by Anna Skarb and Anna Malos provide clarity.
This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.
Strong action on climate change is vital if Australia is to thrive in the future. Lack of consensus on climate policy over the past two decades has cost us dearly. It has harmed our natural environment, our international reputation and our economic prospects in a future low-carbon world.
The next two years will be crucial if Australia is to meet its commitment, along with the rest of the world, to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst ravages of global warming.
In 2015, nearly all nations signed the Paris climate agreement. They pledged to limit global warming to well below 2℃ and to reach net zero emissions. By our calculations, Australia needs to reach net zero before 2050 to do its part.
As a first step, Australia has committed to reduce its total emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris Agreement it will have to submit progressively stronger targets every five years. Unfortunately, Australia is not yet on track to meet even its comparatively modest 2030 goal.
Analysis by ClimateWorks Australia found that although Australia’s emissions have fallen by around 11% economy-wide since 2005, emissions have been steadily climbing again since 2013. In 2013 Australia emitted the equivalent of 520 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. By 2016 that had bounced back up to 533 million tonnes.
While some parts of the economy cut emissions at certain times, no sector improved consistently at the rate needed to hit the overall 2030 target.
Emissions are still above 2005 levels in the building, industrial and transport sectors, and only 3% below in the electricity sector, based on 2016 figures, the latest available. The overall fall was mainly delivered by the land sector, thanks to a combination of reduced land clearing and increased forestation. Increased energy efficiency and the growth of renewable energy also made modest contributions.
Unfortunately, progress in reducing emissions has now stalled in most sectors and reversed overall.
How fast should we be cutting emissions?
We calculate that Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to deliver on the 2030 target. We will have to triple it to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Hitting net zero by 2050 means going much further than the Coalition government’s 2030 target of 26-28%, or the 45% proposed by federal Labor. Australia would need to cut total emissions by 55% below 2005 levels by 2030 (the middle of the range recommended by the Climate Change Authority) to get there without undue economic disruption.
Fortunately, there are enough opportunities for further emission reductions in all sectors to meet our Paris targets. We can probably do better than that, given the falling costs of many key technologies.
The gap to the 2030 target could be more than covered by further activity in the land sector alone, or by the electricity sector alone, or by the combined potential of the building, industrial and transport sectors. Emission reductions from energy efficiency – through better buildings, vehicles and white goods – can even save money in the long term.
Clearly, not all sectors have the same potential to reduce emissions based on current technological progress, but all have significant room for improvement.
We calculated that:
- the electricity sector was on track to cut its emissions by 21% by 2030, but could cut them by nearly 70%
- transport sector emissions are set to be 29% above 2005 levels by 2030, but with projected technology improvements could be 4% below
- the land sector is set to hit 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, but with more support for planting could be 103% below – well into “negative emissions” territory. The land sector would then be sucking up carbon and making up for emissions from other sectors.
How do we get there?
To ensure a smooth, cost-effective transition to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050, some sectors will need to do more sooner, to avoid putting too much onus on other sectors where emissions savings are harder and more expensive.
This will require major upgrades to Australia’s current policy settings. Since 2013 Australia’s efforts to cut emissions have focused largely on the land sector via the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and the electricity sector through the Renewable Energy Target. With the ERF due to run out of funds soon and no clear energy policy even as our ageing power stations shut down, policy certainty is urgently needed in both these areas to encourage investors.
Renewable energy is powering ahead and starting to tap into Australia’s huge potential in clean energy resources. However, ongoing policy support is needed to ensure our energy remains affordable and reliable through the transition.
Despite the importance of the electricity and land sectors, we need emission reductions throughout the economy. Fortunately, there is plenty that Australia can do to cut emissions further, in many different ways:
- in the land sector through revegetation and forestation
- in electricity by increasing renewables and phasing out coal
- in industry by bolstering energy efficiency, fuel switching and reducing non-energy emissions
- in transport by introducing vehicle emission standards and shifting to electric vehicles and low-carbon fuels
- in construction by increasing standards for buildings and appliances.
With well-targeted policies across all sectors of the economy, we can get back on track and meet our Paris targets.
Australia’s states and businesses are recognising how much they can and should do. For instance, 80% of Australia’s emissions are in states and territories with goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050, while many large companies and universities are pledging to be carbon-neutral or use 100% renewable energy.
There is more than enough opportunity, but we have to act now.
This article has been republished from The Conversation.
Honduras is only responsible for a tiny margin of global greenhouse gas emissions – 0.1 percent to be precise. Yet its economy will be destroyed by the impacts of climate change, Rebecca Bertram reports.
The fact that climate change poses a threat to global economic growth is not a new insight. As far back as 2007, Nicholas Stern in his team at the London School of Economics found that it could lead to a recession of 20 percent of global if the world did nothing about climate change. Of course, these economic effects are felt differently depending on a country’s geographic position and economic wealth.
It is therefore vital for countries such as Honduras whose economy depends heavily on agriculture to take a holistic approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Let’s take a look at the two most pressing climate change impacts in Honduras, which cost the country millions of dollars every year.
Water scarcity could cause food shortages, economic crisis
Severe water scarcity is perhaps the most acute threat. Although the country has abundant water resources, access to clean water remains a problem in many areas. Surface water accounts for 90 percent of the country’s total water supply, yet its quality is severely affected by high levels of deforestation and pollution from the agricultural and mining sectors. Just as so many other areas of the world, rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall levels cause droughts, reduce surface water and lower groundwater levels, especially in the so-called Dry Corridor in the southern part of the country.
As a result, the Honduran agricultural sector, which employs more than 40 percent of the total labor force, is already seeing considerable impacts. Anyone who has visited Central America will know how important major crops such as maize, beans and rice are for the daily diet. These depend on stable rainfall levels, but current projections indicate that increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall will directly cause decreasing harvest levels in maize by 12 percent and beans by 32 percent by the year 2050 compared with 2000 levels.
In addition, the country’s important coffee sector has already been significantly impacted by climate change in recent years, when changing rainfall patterns and higher temperatures reduced production by almost 25 percent. As these weather patterns become more frequent it will result in producers cultivating coffee at higher altitudes, and this change is likely to induce further land degradation and deforestation in previously uncultivated parts of the country.
Finally, climate change is putting an extra strain on already stressed ecosystems, such as forests. For example, a hotter climate resulted in a bark beetle outbreak in 2013, which has resulted in a quarter of all forests in Honduras being destroyed.
Reforestation is a way in which Honduras can help mitigate climate change. But this area leaves much room for improvement as the country maintains the highest rate of deforestation in all of Central America, a large part of which is illegal. In 2015, however, the country committed itself to the reforestation one million hectares by the year 2020 in exchange for US$314 million.
No strategy to address climate change in Honduras
And here lies the problem: although the Honduran economy is directly affected by climate change, the government has not yet realized that it requires a holistic approach if the country is to succeed in managing the economic risks posed by a changing climate.
Climate change cannot just be an issue that is taken care of by international donors and multilateral organizations, which support the country’s rather weak Environment Ministry in writing basic climate reports. As part of the Paris climate agreement, Honduras committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030 compared to a business-as-usual scenario (for which there is still no definition). But this includes the caveat that this is if international donor conditions remained “favorable”. In short: we will reduce our emissions if you pay for it!
You may think that a country as poor as Honduras – it ranks in 108th place in global GDP – is right in looking for funds to support its climate mitigation and adaptation. I am not arguing that it is not. But I am saying that while it is not responsible in causing the rising temperatures, it is severely affected by the phenomenon and therefore should develop a strong and holistic policy on the issue to avoid economic losses that result in job losses, poverty and migration.
It is high time that the government understands that climate change impacts every aspect of Honduran life. Leaving the issue outside of serious government policy will put increased pressure on the government’s already weak capacity to address existing development issues, such as social and economic inequality, high levels of violence as well as low education levels.
As European onshore wind energy growth slows, investors and analysts pin the blame on political infighting and faulty auction systems. L. Michael Buchsbaum reports on recent figures illustrating a particularly sharp drop in Germany.
Part two of on-going series: Read part one here
Worldwide wind power still growing
First the good news: According to preliminary figures from the World Wind Energy Association, overall global installed wind energy capacity increased by over 53 new Gigawatts by the end of 2018 to over 600 GW worldwide.
Supplying some 14% of total European energy and some 6% of global electrical demand, wind power has grown to become a major force in the global energy transition. Despite the numbers, WWEA Secretary General Stefan Gsänger says that faster wind power deployment “is imperative not only to achieve the objectives of the Paris Climate Change agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, but also for every country to participate in the full socio-economic advantages of renewable energy.”
But now the bad news: new onshore wind installations in Europe, the birthplace of the on-going energy revolution, dropped almost a third last year. The worst two performing markets were in Germany, which was down by more half compared to 2017, and the UK, where the rate of expansion seemingly collapsed. Reflecting on the numbers, “It’s very unfortunate that Europe seems to lose track,” lamented Gsänger from his offices near the United Nation’s Sustainability Secretariat in Bonn, Germany.
Overall, new European installed capacity slumped down to numbers not seen since 2013, with just 11.7 gigawatts of gross wind power added. Throughout the European Union, twelve countries failed to install a single wind turbine last year, said Giles Dickson, CEO of industry body WindEurope. The numbers broke down to 8.6 GW of new onshore and 2.65 GW of new offshore wind capacity. (Note: these totals were also further affected by the decommissioning of 0.4 GW of wind turbines, most of which was onshore).
New capacity additions were led by Germany, which installed 3.37 GW, followed by the UK with 1.9 GW and France with 1.56 GW. Despite falling rates, Germany remains the European leader with just under 60 GW installed cumulatively, constituting the third largest fleet globally. It is trailed in Europe by Spain, the UK, France and Italy (see preliminary WWEA figures here).
Overall, wind power remains the EU’s second largest form of power generation and is expected to overtake natural gas in terms of new capacity additions in 2019, WindEurope said. But the pace of expansion is rapidly falling, threatening the realization of the entire group’s 2030 renewable energy goals.
What is killing onshore expansion? Permitting problems and unwieldy auctions
In an example of polite understatement, CEO Dickson commented that “there are structural problems in permitting, especially in Germany and France,” challenging the onshore wind industry’s growth.
How big are those problems? Well, Germany’s new installations dropped over 55% last year, according to new figures from the German Wind Agency. Worse, unless there is a dramatic turnaround, new construction will likely fall at least another 20% to just two Gigawatts this year. If these rates continue, there is virtually no way the 65 percent renewable energy target set by the German government could be achieved by 2030, the industry groups warn.
Why the drop? Industry groups blame Germany’s permitting process, which has become so complicated that it “can now take over two years compared to just 10 months” to get a green light for development. Worse, “even projects that get a permit are increasingly being challenged in the courts.” Current reports suggest that over 750 MW of wind farm projects are currently stuck in legal proceedings. As moods continue to shift, individual German states are also becoming more reluctant to identify new locations for wind farms.
Germany’s new wind auction processes have hindered growth even further, seemingly driving away bidders. At its most recent auction, grid regulator BNetz only awarded 476MW of onshore wind capacity, well below the 700MW on offer. Now the third onshore wind auction in a row to be under-subscribed, “it’s clear the permitting process is not fit for the purpose,” said Dickson.
Following the dismal results, the president of the German government’s grid regulator, (BNetz), Jochen Homann seemingly acknowledged that the problem was becoming systemic. “We must work together with the industry and the relevant authorities to find solutions to the licensing situation,” he said. Supposedly intended to enhance the participation of both community and industrial wind developers, the recent German Omnibus Energy Act set a higher tender volume over the next three years from 3,675 MW of new available wind energy capacity in 2019 to over 4,200 in 2021. Instead it’s had the perverse effect of slowing down Germany’s Energiewende further as the barriers to entry in the form of scarcer permits have only grown.
Future investment trends suggest a political fix is needed
Even though wind and solar energy are becoming increasingly competitive against coal, fossil gas and nuclear, all across Europe there seems to be a collective pause as Brexit, strikes in France, political disarray in Germany and reactionary governments elsewhere continue to stall green energy’s progress. Worryingly, “the outlook for new investments is uncertain,” said Dickson as the slump in the larger western European markets is matched (with the exception of Lithuania) with a “lack of ambition” in Central and Eastern Europe,” he continued.
As European parliamentary elections come closer, political solutions might be able to solve what seem to be mainly politically-created problems. “The 2030 National Energy & Climate Plans are a chance to put things right,” continued Dickson. “But the draft Plans are badly lacking in detail: on policy measures, auction volumes, how to ease permitting and remove other barriers to wind investments, and how to expand the grid.”
In December 2018, EU legislators hammered out a political agreement on a new energy market design. As the dust settles, it’s time to determine whether all Europeans will have the tools to become active energy citizens. Josh Roberts takes a look.
Europe’s energy market design: finding a new approach
Europe’s energy policy is outdated. Regulation still supports a centralised energy system dominated by large companies that produce energy from nuclear and dirty fossil fuels.
If we are to address the climate crisis, our energy system must be rapidly decarbonised. The good news: the momentum is there. Renewables are becoming cost-competitive and flexible, the energy system is becoming more decentralised, and technology now allows citizens to become active – individually and through community initiatives.
This trend will only continue. According to a CE Delft study, almost half of EU households could produce renewable energy by 2050, about 37% of which could come through involvement in a cooperative. The study concludes that when demand response, energy storage and energy efficiency are included, 83% of Europe’s citizens could participate in the energy sector by 2050.
In order to realise this potential, regulation and policy need to catch up. National markets are currently incapable of valuing benefits of renewables self-consumption, flexibility, and storage. Individuals and communities that participate in the energy market are treated by decision-makers, at best, as an afterthought and, at worst, a threat to be quashed. Governments have also further undermined markets by introducing new ‘capacity mechanisms’ that remunerate dirty power plants to sit unused.
Energy democracy: an essential ingredient for a successful transition
Energy transition advocates have waited with cautious optimism for the conclusion of a new energy market design (the Electricity Directive and the Electricity Regulation, respectively). Much anticipation has built up around new rules that empower citizens and new actors such as aggregators (that is, a third party that packages together small amounts flexibility or production so they can participate in larger markets) to become active in the market.
The final political agreement is far from perfect. Nevertheless, together with the Renewables Directive, which we recently summarised, the new market design includes a potentially transformative concept: active energy citizens and communities.
Why is this so groundbreaking? For perspective, in the EU’s Third Energy Package (concluded in 2009), citizens as active market participants were not mentioned even once. Now, citizen participation is a governing principle of Europe’s energy market. It is an important step in challenging the existing orthodoxy that ‘the market’ alone should guide the energy transition – all citizens and communities should have a fair opportunity to participate.
Similar to the Renewables Energy Directive, which now defines ‘renewable energy communities’, the Electricity Directive will contain a definition of ‘citizens energy communities’ (CECs).
Significantly, CECs are defined as a type of market actor based on membership, governance and purpose that is different from traditional profit-oriented energy companies. CECs can focus on renewables, but also any activity throughout the power sector.
Originally, the Commission proposed ‘local’ energy communities. The change to ‘citizens’ is a significant win as it sends a political signal that this initiative promotes ownership by citizens, SMEs and local authorities, not larger industry or energy companies that simply want to create and control CECs to sell new services.
Most importantly, CECs will have a right to ‘equal’ and ‘proportionate’ regulatory treatment and to access all markets on a level playing field with larger market actors. Citizens must also be able to establish CECs without facing discriminatory or burdensome hurdles, supported by enabling national frameworks.
Likewise, Member States are required to maintain priority dispatch for smaller renewable generation projects at least until 2026. This will ensure that community-owned renewables projects can feed generated electricity into the grid.
Moreover, CECs will have a right to share energy. This will empower citizens living in apartments, shared buildings or neighborhoods to innovate with storage, peer-to-peer trading, and other flexible technologies.
CECs will not be required to be autonomous in their internal decision making. This safeguard – which is contained in the renewable energy communities definition – would have ensured democratic governance, preventing members with more resources to invest, like larger companies, from exercising disproportionate influence.
Unfortunately, it will be optional for Member States whether to grant CECs the right to set up, own and operate local power networks. Many governments will simply ignore this text.
EU oversight of capacity mechanisms will also be weak. While Member States will be required to assess whether capacity mechanisms are needed and must exhaust other options before adopting one, there is little the Commission can do if a Member State implements a capacity mechanism that is not warranted. Furthermore, loopholes such as exemptions for installations finished before 2020 and CO2 limits that only apply to existing installations after 2025 allow new coal power plants to benefit from these mechanisms at least until 2035. This will shoulder consumers with huge costs, slow coal phaseouts, and undermine incentives to encourage citizen participation.
Lastly, rules on how network operators charge CECs to connect and use the grid are contradictory. Rules promote both efficient and flexible use of networks while also allowing practices that cause inefficient use of the network. Complex debates between citizens, industry and governments on this issue are therefore likely.
Now: the real work begins. Are all these changes really transformative? In truth, the real impact will only be visible after Member States transpose the new EU rules into national legislation. Success will be determined by the ability of governments to take their commitments, and the voices of citizens and communities, seriously.
The transition to energy democracy will be long and hard. As for its role, the EU has given citizens an early win.
Josh Roberts serves as Advocacy Officer of REScoop.eu, a federation that represents citizen cooperatives and energy initiatives around Europe that work on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other clean energy technologies. He was in charge of coordinating REScoop.eu’s input into the negotiations on the EU’s clean energy package legislation.
Exhibiting the fastest growth among all fuels in the electricity sector, renewables are about to fundamentally change the energy system. This change is hoped to bring about important social and economic co-benefits, including sustainable and affordable energy for all, green job opportunities, and increased human health and wellbeing. But there may also be some fundamentally political implications of the low carbon shift. This is what a high level group of global leaders was tasked to look into, the result of which was published in their recent report titled A New World The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation, published by IRENA, the international renewable energy agency. Three authors of the IASS Potsdam reviewed it:
To be sure, the IRENA report is not the first one to ponder the geopolitics of the low carbon transition. For example, a recent book took a deeper look into the geopolitics of renewables, Harvard’s Belfer Center put together a group to tackle similar questions, Nature, the journal, featured a piece on low carbon policy risk, and a recent paper offers some important conceptual insights for the fate of oil producer economies whose business case might wither away. But the report by the Global Commission is the first one which comes close to representing a political document. So what do we learn from it?
The rise of renewables does not automatically lead to a simultaneous decline of the fossil industry
To be upfront about it: the report asks the right questions and highlights a number of important aspects, including the risk of stranded assets, the challenge facing fossil fuel exporters in adapting to the new energy world, and the fact that countries must prepare for the transition ahead. Yet, the report relies on several key premises which seem questionable.
First, it falls into the trap of equating the rise of renewables with an inevitable decline of the fossil industry. Indeed, a dominant narrative in the energy transition debate posits that falling unit costs for clean energy technology, in conjunction with high innovation rates and strong market mechanisms will end up pushing renewables into the energy mix. Costs for PVs, for example, have come down by more than 70 percent over the past 10 years, a function of economies of scale and rapid advances in technology. This, however, does not mean renewables will smoothly take over. In fact, the fossil fuel system has proven remarkably resilient. States tend to cling to their fossil energy infrastructure, for it secures jobs, votes and economic rents – both in resource rich countries and in the OECD world. As the costs and benefits of a low carbon transition are distributed unevenly, political decision makers will not always focus on the Pareto optimal outcome that is best for the nation (and secures a clean long-run energy transformation). Instead, they prioritize the short-term gains for incumbent industry, inefficient but well-organized (and vocal) business sectors and vested interests. As a testimony to this, energy subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $300 billion in 2017, roughly twice the amount that went into supporting renewables. In short: it is political economy that matters, not unit costs.
Clean tech is an uneven playing field
Second, clean tech, which is crucial to the transition process from a high to a low carbon economy, is all but subject to a global level playing field. To the contrary, states have made low carbon tech the subject of their industrial strategies, with the Global North (i.e. by and large the OECD world) and China leading the way in securing patents and ring-fencing their clean tech industry. The report indeed acknowledges that. Yet, with the zeitgeist shifting toward economic nationalism rather than Ricardian free trade, we can expect this trend to only gain further traction, with deep implications for the global low carbon technology value chain. Moreover, as clean tech leaders seek to secure their economic advantage, developing countries, whose access to crucial energy technology is limited, risk dropping out of the global division of labor in a low carbon economy for good. Similar risks exist for low carbon finance: out of $279.8 billion invested in renewables globally in in 2017, only $33 billion found their way into the developing world other than China, India and Brazil. The Global South risks getting stuck in a fossil economic pathway whilst the rich world goes happily green. It also runs the risk of new structural dependencies arising between low carbon leaders and laggards.
Third, while there are important geopolitical benefits of reduced fossil fuel import such as lower dependency on politically dubious countries, some of the key challenges remain unchanged. A case in point are currency fluctuations and balance-of-payment problems which will not disappear because of a shift from molecules to electrons. To the contrary, these risks are inherent to trade imbalances and could also come into play when trade in renewable energy or even low carbon technologies picks up as envisaged. So whilst the low carbon transition might do away with some of the energy geopolitics of old, the geoeconomics of it are likely there to stay.
Low carbon shift may be used to safeguard autocratic leadership
Finally, while the low carbon shift promises to improve human health and security, it does not necessarily bring about more democracy. The transition process from a high to a low carbon paradigm can indeed be managed as a participatory process, empowering citizens and communities. However, as the examples of China’s low carbon efforts or Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 drive home, this process does not necessarily lead to more empowered citizens. Instead, it may well end up being a tool to keep intact existing social contracts and to safeguard (autocratic) political leadership against the challenges arising from a fossil system coming under pressure. Couple this with the large amounts of data collection required to make grids smarter and more efficient, a not unlikely outcome is higher levels of political control and repression. It is also not inconceivable that rising internal political pressure will make petrostates a potential source of regional conflict. Energy-related conflicts will therefore not necessarily become less likely, contrary to what the IRENA report suggests.
Where does this leave us? Overall, the importance of the report of the Global Commission lies in the fact that it puts the geopolitics of the energy transformation on the political map. Where it falls short is when it comes to the implications of that transformation, i.e. the question around the winners and the losers, which systemic risks characterize in the transition to a low carbon world, and how can we anticipate them so that it will be a success. The real work starts now.
Prof. Andreas Goldthau leads the ISIGET project focusing on energy justice and the Global South. He holds a Chair in International Relations at Royal Holloway College, University of London and is an Associate with the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Laima Eicke joined the IASS as Reasearch Associate in January 2019 and works at the ISIGET project on strategies for a global energy transition, its systemic impacts and special vulnerabilities of countries of the global south.
Silvia Weko joined the IASS in 2019 as a research associate for the project Investigating the Systemic Impacts of the Global Energy Transition (ISIGET).
This article has been republished from IASS Potsdam.
Poland’s energy supply is still based on fossil energy. The dream of expanding renewable energies has been bursting over and over again in the recent years. Michał Olszewski reports on political mistakes and a poor energy strategy.
The latest report by the Supreme Audit Office (NIK), Poland’s most important auditing body, is a deeply depressing read for anyone even slightly interested in the fate of renewable energy in Poland. The report shows how years of neglect, mistakes and indolence have accumulated and now threaten Poland with not just European-wide disgrace, but also serious financial consequences.
Let’s look at things step by step: back in 2013 the share of renewables in the country’s total gross energy consumption amounted to 11.4% and it seemed that the target Poland had committed to (15% by 2020) was within reach. Three years later, instead of rising, the share of RES in Poland’s total energy balance was decreasing. At the same time, most EU member states were steadily increasing their percentage share of RES without any major disruption to their local energy markets.
So, what has brought about this stagnation, or, indeed, regression? There were several causes that slowed down the RES market.
The political responsibility can be shared equally between politicians from parties that are now in conflict – the previous government coalition of Civic Platform and Polish Peasants’ Party – and the current ruling party, Law and Justice. A large proportion of the revenue from derogation, an instrument designed to transform savings from free emission allowances into modernising the energy sector, was used to strengthen the coal sector. Short-term thinking and a search for financial means to renovate outdated energy generators prevailed. It seems there wasn’t enough money or ideas left for, for instance, cogeneration or the construction of gas power plants.
In hindsight, we are able to see how erroneous this energy strategy was, also from a geopolitical point of view: in order to safeguard their energy system, Poles, who are so sensitive about their resource independence, are now importing increasingly more coal from Russia.
In order to find other reasons behind the deep crisis, we must go back to 2015 and early 2016. NIK reports revealed numerous irregularities that accompanied the construction of wind farms (e.g. bribery, no public consultation). Under mounting pressure from opponents of wind energy, and state monopolists worried about the expansion of the renewable sector and potential market fragmentation, the government passed a law that effectively blocked the growth of renewables in May 2016.
Lawmakers applied such rigour to investments that they simply became unprofitable. The same rigour applied to micro installations, which were intended to bring about the growth of prosumer and local energy, aimed more at the needs of detached houses or small farms than at powering the grid.
Reports by Poland’s Energy Regulatory Office (URE) clearly indicate how much power of connected RES sources decreased. In 2016, it amounted to a total of 796 MW. One year later, it was five times less.
Moreover, the transition from the complicated and ineffective system of green certificates to a bidding system ended in failure. In 2016, only four bids took place and in 2017 there were only two. Instead of helping to solve the crisis, the bidding system has increased it even further.
If to all this we add one of the highest indicators of CO2 emissions per kWh of produced energy in Europe, we arrive at a deeply unsettling outlook.
The year 2020 will be a breaking point for Poland. If the country does not meet its renewable targets, it will be forced to engage in a so-called statistical transfer from countries who will have met their target with an excess. NIK’s initial calculations indicate that it may cost Poland as much as 8 billion zloty.
And then there is the increasing cost of electrical energy resulting from ever more expensive emission allowances. The aspect of simple ambition is of least importance here (just to be clear: the target RES share for Poland was very reasonable). Let’s just say it outright: because of mistakes made by politicians, renewable energy sources aren’t working in Poland. We can already see that the consequences might turn out to be very painful for the entire country.
The Green New Deal yields a transition to renewable energies and the reshaping of national economies. Does the Green New Deal represent a greener version of the capitalist system, or does it further take a critical look at the debate on growth and energy consumption? Paul Hockenos reports
The buzz around U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (GND) for the U.S. skirts a keen discourse that’s been happening for a decade in Europe, namely that pitting green growth ideas against degrowth economics. This confrontation has to happen in the U.S., too – though for now AOC and her allies are taking a middle path with their program for ecological modernization. This is tactically smart. But in order to decarbonize global economies the GND has to jettison contemporary capitalism’s will to expansion.
The GDN that AOC has presented so far – and it is, admittedly, a work in progress – bridges the camps of the no-growth and green-growth advocates. Perhaps, this is exactly what she intends to do; its vagueness on this issue may well be a clever tactical ploy to circumvent, or push down the road, a highly contentious critique of capitalism that would surely scare off some of her Democratic colleagues in Congress, more than 70 of whom have signed onto the GND.
The cornerstone of green growth philosophy is that a greening of the economy – replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, creating jobs in the cleantech sector, making agriculture and transportation sustainable – can happen within structures much the same, or even identical, to those of our current capitalist economy. In other words, there’s no contradiction between, or need to decouple, economic development and environment protection. Technology and investment can make the transition painless or even lucrative – for those with vested interests in the status quo.
This is argued by some within Europe’s Green parties (though others buck it) as well as by the OECD and the UN development programs. In fact, in Germany, much of the country’s industry and private sector is now on board with the the idea of a green economy – after badmouthing it for nearly two decades as a business killer.
Green investment, it is now argued, whether private sector or government, will create economic activity and wealth that grows the economy to everybody’s benefit (i.e. commercially created largesse will “trickle down” to lower-income strata.) There’s mountains of money to be made in green tech and the transition to a low-carbon economy, businesses and their lobby arms now claim. And they want in on it. Switching from one energy source to another can happen without sending a destabilizing jolt to the system, they argue. Business as usual can continue and even thrive when greening the economy.
And then there’s the no-growth advocates who contend that green capitalism can’t stem climate change or the general, ongoing degradation of the planet. The neo-liberal system itself, predicated on unlimited growth, the exploitation of natural resources, economic inequality, and capital accumulation, has to change fundamentally, they contend. Economic growth, measured by GDP, means more production and ever higher rates consumption, which logically require ever more resources and energy to process them. This harms the environment in more ways than one, not least by exacerbating climate change. This is the argument of growth critics like German economist Niko Paech, author of the Liberation from Excess: The Road to a Post-Growth Economy.
“What goods or services are such that their production, use, and disposal do not consume land, energy, or other resources?” asks Paech. “Passive houses, electric vehicles, eco-textiles, photovoltaic systems, organic food, power lines, combined heat and power plants, solar thermal heaters, cradle-to-cradle beverage packaging, car sharing or Internet services: none of them fulfill this condition.” Even digital services, he argues, require fossil resources, minerals, rare soils and metals – and they leave behind vistas of non-biodegradable tech-junk. A green makeover of the economy would probably increase production and energy use and thus our carbon footprint.
Paech wrote those words in the weekly Die Zeit in 2012. Since then, investment in greentech and renewable energy has soared while — after dropping during the financial crisis — production, productivity, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions have crept slowly upward in economies that have rebounded. Germany is the most glaring example: its record-shattering growth since the crash has offset any significant beneficial impact of the sprawling Energiewende that has, among other achievements, turned 40% of Germany’s electricity use green.
The degrowth camp’s arguments are all the more relevant in light of the earth’s rapid population growth and the development of undeveloped countries, which will only spur more consumption and thus greenhouse gases. The UN Environmental Program predicts that with nine billion people on the planet by 2050 we are likely to see resource consumption triple.
Paech calls for a radical scaling back of our economies and lifestyles – an axiomatic condition of the degrowth movement. This means “de-globalizing” and “de-industrializing” our lives. In a post-growth economy, our work week would be slashed by half, giving people more time for one another and to fix things (rather than throw them out and buy anew.) Also, half of highways and 75% of airports should be closed down. Regional economies must be delinked from global value chains. Other de-growth thinkers call for innovative transition towns that offer social banking, taxation according to environmental consumption, and basic income models.
AOC’s green deal doesn’t reflect the green growth planners’ naïve optimism in an easy fix, nor does it call for turning back globalization. There’s lots of capitalism critique in it, although the word “growth” doesn’t come up. She talks about using the restructuring to reduce wealth inequality, create decent jobs, and spur “economic transformation.”
One of the leading voices of the no-growth movement, the British scholar Tim Jackson, says the GND’s emphasis on proactive green investment as a stimulus goes in the right direction. It can boost renewable energies, energy efficiency, and investment in communities, he says. “This can be the beginning of a systemic, structural transformation,” he says, “if it doesn’t cling to the old, broken ideology that’s hooked on growth at all costs. If there’s a recognition that the growth-based model’s day is over, then we can begin to wean ourselves off of it. It will open up a new tool box that can be used to begin a transition.”
Hopefully, this is exactly what will happen. A “growth” versus “no growth” debate within the context of the GND is exactly what can push it in this direction. It can help make explicit the shortcomings of our neo-liberal model and the possibilities of revamping our economy and our lifestyles for the better.