Renewable energy capacity on the rise

Renewable energy comprises around a third of the world’s generating capacity. That’s after a year when solar, wind and other renewable power capacity increased almost 8 percent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA. John Dyer reports.

Image credit: David Clarke via Flickr

“Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin in a press release. “The strong growth in 2018 continues the remarkable trend of the last five years, which reflects an ongoing shift towards renewable power as the driver of global energy transformation.”

IRENA also recently found that boosting renewable energy and transitioning to electric vehicles could reduce 75 per cent of emissions reductions under global climate accords. That would also result in $160 trillion in savings in healthcare, energy subsidies and climate change-related damages for 30 years.

Electric cars to play a major role

“The energy transformation is gaining momentum, but it must accelerate even faster,” said IRENA Director-General for Sustainable Development Francesco La Camera. “Speed and forward-looking leadership will be critical – the world in 2050 depends on the energy decisions we take today.”

Increasingly widespread access to renewable energy is also leading some to envision how cities will improve once electric, autonomous cars roam the streets.

Electric, interconnected cars will make strides in addressing the biggest woes facing the world’s biggest cities, the RobecoSAM Smart Mobility Investment Team wrote in a recent note.

Around 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 5050. Cars already are the source of many of the problems those people will be facing, including the health effects of pollution, traffic congestion and other issues.

Electric vehicles would reduce the levels of CO2 and other particulates in the air, however. Interconnecting road and transit networks in a citywide communication infrastructure that could include self-driving vehicles would revolutionize traffic management and other city operations.

Challenges to electrifying and digitizing city roads and tunnel remain, cautioned RobecoSAM Smart Mobility Strategy Senior Portfolio Manager Thiemo Lang. How electric car manufacturers use energy and materials in the production process, battery life, “range anxiety” and other questions that investors and experts must address, said Lang. Lithium batteries require materials sometimes supplied using forced labor in mines.

Overcoming these challenges is how asset managers might judge the success of sustainable efforts, Lang noted. Manufacturers have reduced their carbon footprints significantly, for example.

“In future, those that use renewable power – like Tesla’s planned Gigafactories – will have a much lower carbon footprint,” said Lang. “And as renewable power mix moves closer to 100 percent, it’s even conceivable that CO2 emissions drop to zero.”

Companies must come on board

Still, giants like Amazon are not necessarily pushing towards a future of renewable energy. As Gizmodo reported recently, in addition to coming under scrutiny for its labour methods and carbon emissions from delivery cars, the world’s biggest online retailer has dropped clean energy plans and sought out partnerships with oil companies.

“There is deep irony that the very companies that are supposed to represent the leading edge of technological innovation and advancement are actually taking us backward,” climatologist Michael Mann told the tech news website. “When it comes to their business practices, when it comes to the single greatest technological challenge we face: the challenge to decarbonize our economy rapidly enough to avert catastrophic climate change impacts.”

Government efforts to promote renewable energy also face uphill battled. The European Commission recently issued a report that said the bloc was making in progress in expanding renewable energy.

“From the daunting challenge of the energy transition we made an economic opportunity for all European,” said European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. “To do this, we had to truly transform our energy and climate policies: not just tweaks at the margins but systemic change.”

Those efforts have been mixed, though they have at least started a discussion of how Europe might collaborate further on renewable energy, said Piotr Arak, director of the Polish Economic Institute, in Euractiv.

The real growth and benefits of renewable energy are more likely to be seen in the developing world, said experts. Brooking Institution scholar Swati Dzouza wrote that solar and wind and other non-carbon-fueled power sources were expanding electrification, delivering a huge boost to the Indian economy.

“Renewable energy is not a pipe-dream with the sector seeing the fastest growth amongst all other competing energy sources, auction-based processes have replaced allocation, schemes to promote solar-based solutions (rooftop, pumpsets etc.) abound,” wrote Dzouza.

Amin agreed. “Countries taking full advantage of their renewables potential will benefit from a host of socioeconomic benefits in addition to decarbonizing their economies,” he said.

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