September was a month of new commitments, plans and strategies to reduce carbon emissions. China announced during the United Nation’s 75th General Assembly that it will scale up its climate commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. And South Africa became the 18th country to submit its low emission development strategy to the UN, which is aimed at reaching net zero emissions by 2050. (Engineering News Record)The European Commission (EC) unveiled plans to cut greenhouse gases by 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels), requiring an increase in clean energy investments of about €350bn ($444bn) per year. EC President Ursula Von der Leyen explained that revisions will be needed on EU directives on renewables, energy efficiency, energy taxation and the bloc’s Emissions TradingScheme carbon market. (Recharge News)These commitments come in the context of a 20% decline in global energy investments in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Business 20 (representatives of the business community across the G20) issued ajoint statement calling on G20 leaders to accelerate clean energy transitions for a resilient recovery. (Zaywa)Other notable news stories included:
Eight Baltic Sea countries and the EC signed a joint declaration to foster mutual collaboration in the context of the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP). Signatories to the Baltic Sea Offshore Wind Declaration are Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.The BEMIPHigh-level Group will draft a work programme for offshore wind development in the Baltic Sea, including consideration for hybrid offshore wind projects, smart grids, energy system integration and digitalisation.The Polish Wind Energy Association (PSEW), host of the declaration event, is particularly bullish on the future impact of this initiative. “Poland can build a new sector of the economy around its emerging wind industry and become specialised in manufacturing of selected components of offshore turbines. We hope for offshore wind to become Poland’s primary export industry, and for Polishcompanies to be strong links in the international supply chain for offshore wind”, said Kamila Tarnacka, Deputy CEO of PSEW. (Saur Energy International)advisors
GNS Science has received a NZ$8.4m grant from the New Zealand government o develop an affordable system of water electrolysis called polymer exchange membrane (PEM). According to GNS Science, PEM is better suited to working with the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy, in contrast to the more commonly used alkaline electrolyser. However, PEM systems rely on catalysts based on noble metals that are rare, expensive and suffer from inefficiencies. The research team aims to overcome these barriers with the development of new, high-performing materials. (NZ Herald)
In the Netherlands, Orsted is collaborating with fertiliser company Yara to produce their ammonia from green hydrogen. The anticipated 100MW electrolyser will use renewable energy from Orsted's Dutch offshore wind farms to supply Yara's Sluiskil plant,
located in the province of Zeeland. Orsted expects the project to be operational in 2024/25, if the required public co-funding is secured and the right regulatory framework is in place. (reNEWS.biz)
Green hydrogen could get a further boost in the European Union, as EC President Ursula Von der Leyen recently called for NextGenerationEU money to be spent on industrial “hydrogen valleys” where clean H2 would be produced and used at scale. It is expected that 37% of the €750bn post-COVID economic stimulus fund (NextGenerationEU) will be spent on European Green Deal objectives. (Recharge News)
Over half of offshore oil and gas workers in Scotland would be interested in renewables and offshore wind if given the option to retrain, according to a survey of the workforce produced by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace UK and Platform. These organisations are calling for the UK and Scottish Governments to sit down with workers to shape policy together to steer COVID-19 recovery packages and the energy transition. (reNEWS.biz)
SolarPower Europe and Google announced a new partnership that aims to raise awareness of the job opportunities in the solar sector. SolarPower Europe will provide introductory courses in partnership with Grow with Google. These courses will be available in multiple languages across Europe. (PV Magazine)
BiFab failed to win any of the work for the Seagreen array being built off the east of Fife. All of the platforms for its 114 turbines are being manufactured in China and the United Arab Emirates. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) Renewables, the energy firm developing the Seagreen wind array, said it had worked hard to ensure some of the work went to a Scottish contractor, but blamed the price gap between the Chinese and the Fife yards. (BBC)
This news comes on the tail of SSE Renewables choosing Danish company MHI Vestas to build the 114 turbines needed for the Seagreen array, and the building of blades going to a company on the Isle of Wight. (Daily Record)
Inter-institutional negotiations are expected to start as soon as possible, on setting up the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to mitigate the social impact of greening the economy. On Wednesday 16 September, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) adopted Parliament’s position on the Commission’s proposal on the JTF. MEPs also confirmed key provisions outlined in the draft recommendations by the Regional Development Committee:•“Providing support to people, the economy and the environment,•Creation of a ‘Green Rewarding Mechanism’, allowing 18% of the total JTF resources to be allocated to member states that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions more quickly than others,•A share of 1% of the total amount will be allocated for islands, and 1% for the outermost regions,•A co-financing rate of up to 85% of costs for eligible projects across the EU,•Possibility to transfer resources from other cohesion funds on a voluntary basis, advisors
In addition, only 50% of the national allocation will be available for countries which have not yet committed to a 2050 national target for climate neutrality, until such a target is adopted. (European Parliament)
In the month of July, the European Union (EU) leaders agreed on a seven-year post-pandemic economic recovery package of $1.23 trillion, of which, 30 percent will be committed to climate change. This follows the lead of the green stimulus announcement in the month of May 2020 by the EU president, Ursula Von Der Leyen, centred on hydrogen energy (Onset). Following suit, the South African Department of Science and Innovation, along with other stakeholders have put together a roadmap to develop hydrogen energy. Considering that the share of hydrogen energy within the renewable energy sector has been prominent over the past two decades (Onset), these commitments may further strengthen its share. In America, the state of New York took an account of the accomplishment of the climate law, one year after its enactment and at a corporate level, companies joined forces to assist the global economy reach climate neutrality by 2050.
Below, the stories that stood out in the month of July are detailed.
After five days of negotiations, the European leaders agreed on the 21st of July 2020, on a recovery package of €1.074 trillion to remedy the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic on EU economies. The recovery support will run through to 2027 and comprises a 30 percent portion (€500 Billion) committed to climate protection and investment in green policies. Although the stimulus package has been hailed as the largest green stimulus effort to date, it has been criticised for falling short of the expectation of the required funds needed to reach climate neutrality by 2050 (Oil Price).
Genuine anger among peat contractors over lack of compensation Independent TD (Teachtaí Dála or member of parliament), Carol Nolan has expressed concern over the government’s decision to not help compensate peat contractors for any loss of investments in peat harvesting machinery, which will lead to anger and alarm. Nolan also indicated that if such decisions are the outcomes of a Just Transition, then such a transition would be of concern (AgriLand). In Scotland, on the other hand, campaigners are lobbying for the government to ban the entry of new petrol and diesel cars by 2025 (The Herald).
The South African Department of Science and Innovation, together with industry stakeholders and government departments, has begun a process to develop a roadmap for a country-wide hydrogen economy (Mining Weekly). The announcement comes soon after the EU’s announcement of its economic recovery stimulus with a significant focus on hydrogen energy (Onset). The development of a local hydrogen economy can be expected to not only contribute to the much-needed electricity stability, but it can be expected to stimulate economic development and employment in the country.
On the 18 July 2019, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo had signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) into law. This meant that the state had committed itself to net-zero emissions by 2050. The accomplishments of the CLCPA, to date, include improving access to clean energy resources for low-income New Yorkers, via a grant of $10.6 million to improve the affordability of solar energy (grist). In Illinois, initiatives include a clean energy job training program which has proven to be a success, after 94 percent of the participants obtained jobs (Midwest Energy News).
The president of the New Zealand Council for Trade Unions (NZCTU), Richard Wagstaff notes that working people have expressed the desire to do more to address climate change. In addition, Covid-19 presents an opportunity to do things in a new way and the policies presented by the Green Party facilitate the aforementioned opportunity (Mirage News).
The Oil and Gas Technology Centre and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult have created a five-year collaboration, the Energy Transition Alliance (ETA) to help the United Kingdom transition to net zero faster. The ETA will work adjacent to the energy industry to direct funds for developing advanced technologies and hopes to also help create jobs in offshore wind by 2030. The initiative has been welcomed by politicians in Westminster (Energy Voice).
Following an announcement in January 2020, to be resource-positive by giving more to the planet than it takes, Starbucks has continued its sustainability commitment by joining the new Transform to Net Zero initiative as a founding member. The objective of the of the initiative is to accelerate the transition of the global economy to net zero by 2050. Companies that are part of this initiative include Nike, Mercedes-Benz and Microsoft among others (Global Coffee Report).
In May, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen heeded to calls from various climate activists and public servants, including a call from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to centralise climate change in the post-Covid-19 economic stimulus packages. At the global scale, on the 18th June 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA), in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), presented a case for a $3 trillion global clean energy stimulus package. The UK oil and gas industry on the other hand made a commitment to cut its carbon emissions, while the bankruptcy of Murray Energy cast further doubts on the future of coal. June also saw various protests around the world against racial injustices, driven by the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked again by the killing of George Floyd, followed by calls from some climate activists to merge movements. The calls note that the climate justice cannot be achieved outside racial justice as well
Below are the stories that stood out in the month of June.
IEA makes case for $3-trillion global clean-energy stimulus plan. On the 18th June 2020, the International Energy Agency released a sustainability report, in collaboration with the IMF where they outline and make a case for a $3 trillion green stimulus package to repair the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. They argue that investing $1 trillion a year from 2021 to 2023 has the potential of expanding global growth by 3.5 percent in 2023, above the GDP level that would have been attained without the stimulus in place. The would also result in an acceleration of the deployment of renewable energy and the creation of 9 million jobs (Mining weekly).
‘A Just Transition can and should be at the centre of all climate policy’. Holly Cairns, Irish Social Democrat spokesperson on agriculture, food, and the marine, highlights the importance of having a Just Transition and creativity at the centre of agriculture and fishing. She highlights that government climate action has not been satisfactory and that more ambitious climate actions need to be taken, which has led the farming and fishing communities to not know whether to be fearful of climate action or climate change (AgriLand). This initiative follows the footsteps of the European Union (EU)’s farm to fork strategy, proposed on 20 May 2020, where the Union seeks to put in place a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system (EC)
Merging movements — pursuing a just and green future should be done together. In an opinion piece, Shawn McCarthy reflects on the current crises. These being: the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to stimulate the economy due its negative effects, climate change and the anti-racism protests that have filled the streets of North America. Canada is already gearing up for a stimulus package that has a green economy focus. Prioritising economic justice in the proposed green stimulus, means that the present times provide an opportunity to address climate change whilst addressing deep, structural inequalities that stem from colonialism, racism, and unrestrained capitalism (ipolitics). This view is in effect supported by the Sunrise Movement’s Washington Hub, whose members highlight their intention to fully integrate racial justice in their climate change and Green New Deal work. Evidently, Whiney Tomes, executive of a green diversity initiative, called Green 2.0, highlights that the Sunrise Movement is giving hope that change is coming given the centring of equality and justice in all policies (inside climate news). Other activists posit that, simply, racial justice is climate justice and therefore climate justice cannot be achieved separate to ensuring racial justice (wbur).
UK Oil and Gas Industry Association: offshore oil and gas industry outlines plan to cut emissions as talks on transformational sector deal formally begin. The UK oil and gas industry has of 16 June 2020 committed to cutting carbon emissions by half by 2030, thereby pathing its commitment to becoming a net zero emissions industry by 2050. The industry is also one of the pioneers in the UK to commit to industry-wide carbon reductions and has outlined steps of how these will be achieved. The transformation is centred on jobs, supply chain and energy, and will seek to support a green recovery (MarketScreener).
Murray Energy bankruptcy still casts shadow on coal’s economic viability. In an opinion piece, Kathiann Kowaski brings to light that the Murray Energy bankruptcy case doesn’t resolve questions about the life expectancy of coal given the competition from natural gas and renewables. Howard Learner, president and executive director at the US based Environmental Law and Policy Centre, stipulates that the bankruptcy of Murray Energy is indicative of how uncompetitive coal is in comparison to renewable energy (Energy News Network). Cheaper renewables in comparison to coal have the potential to contribute to growth given the lower production costs market participants would encounter.
The energy transition is a step-change in the nature of how humanity functions. It is a break from a distinct mode of operating that began during the mid-to-late 1700s during the Industrial Revolution. For any step-change to be successful often divergent interests need to be unified. This is specifically true for the energy space that we currently find ourselves in: there needs to be a ‘synergisation’ of the interests of fossil fuel extraction and processing companies, renewable energy providers and the customers and consumers of energy products.
This ‘synergisation’ is happening through the innovation of mass-electrification; the mainstreaming of electric and low-carbon mobility and transformation; fuel switching for high-energy industrial processes; and wide-spectrum digital transformation to drive efficiency. For success, it also needs to be coupled with an enabling regulatory environment and the requisite financial backing. Up until now there have been few common threads available to pull together to unite the purposes of these critical actors. There are a number of emergent themes which are providing impetus to this. Some of the major ones are briefly described below:
1. The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the unwritten and written rules of the economic game are able to be altered significantly in the face of a commonly identified threat. This has emboldened lobby groups (such as WindEurope and others) to show renewed vigour in lobbying governments to use renewables-linked stimulus to revive economies after the COVID-19 lockdowns and resultant economic crises facing the various regions of the world. Governments themselves in the context of the EU are also holding this line and the European Commission has just announced a massive EUR750 billion stimulus package with alignment to these themes. This all points to the fact that the regulatory environment is evolving to allow for the energy transition to accelerate and drive value creation for the businesses and employees involved in these value chains.
2. The price parity of renewables with other forms of electricity generation is now a fundamental reality in all estimations of new-build LCOE. Coupled with the advance of utility-scale battery storage systems, this allows for scalable options related to seasonal storage and other supply-shaping innovations to receive real attention. This drives value for both the producers and the consumers of energy and allows for new energy sources to compete on an economic basis.
3. There is significant interest in the hydrogen economy from all quarters. Most recently, the emergent focus is on harnessing abundant renewable energy to produce “green hydrogen” in order to power the next generation of industry. The shift to a renewables and hydrogen-based economy is able to capitalise on existing gas infrastructure in much of North America, Europe and Asia. Large gas players such as Uniper and Siemens are readying brownfield assets for conversion to hydrogen fuel and adapting their transmission and storage infrastructure accordingly. There has already been a demonstration of intent by oil companies. A recent survey by standards authority DNV-GL of 1000 senior oil gas professionals recorded a more than 100% increase in the number of respondents who thought their organisations would invest in or develop hydrogen projects in the next year (20% in 2019 and 42% in 2020). The mining, industrial and transportation sectors will also appreciate the possibilities afforded by hydrogen. This is a major development that brings into line some of the competing and divergent interests that have slowed or diverted the energy transition process historically.
4. ESG-linked funding has increasingly become a feature of the financing landscape over the last 3 years, with specialised ESG-linked loans (where loan interest rates are set according to the achievement of specific ESG goals) being one of the fastest growing segments of this market. This funding incentivises corporates to put ESG at the centre of their operations in order to reduce their overall cost of capital. Usually, the energy transition forms part of these strategies and targets. This shows that funding providers understand that they form a critical part of the nexus which leads companies to act responsibly and that they are able to offer suitable products to the market that stimulate this behaviour.
These are exciting developments which remind us that we are at the precipice of an energy transition that will exceed the scale of the previous one almost 300 years ago.
The president of the European Union (EU), Ursula Von Der Leyen, has heeded the call to channel funds to renewable energy in order to provide for a dual benefit in lowering carbon emissions and stimulating economic recovery. This is on the back of calls and pressure from heads of states (like German Chancellor Angela Merkel), international bodies, trade unions, politicians, and industries to centralise climate change in post pandemic economic recovery plans. At the same time, the growth of the renewable energy sector is soldiering on in countries like Kenya and Australia, amid the global economic downturn. Below are the stories that stood out in the month of May 2020.
Hydrogen primed for key role in world’s greenest stimulus plan. The European Union (EU) remains relentless in championing the transition to renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The EU president, Ursula Von Der Leyen has of today announced an ambitious post-covid green economic recovery stimulus package, centred around hydrogen energy. Most notably, the economic stimulus package includes an estimate of tens of billions of Euros for hydrogen technology and infrastructure for clean energy. Implementation of the green proposal is subject to unanimous consent by all 27 member states of the EU (yahoo finance). This is indicative of a goal to combine assistance for company recoveries with attempts to bolster companies to reduce carbon emissions (Reuters). In addition, at a corporate level, the automotive industry had been increasing demands to the EU to expedite the transition to low carbon fuels, re-skill workers and encourage a Just Transition (Ends Europe). One can expect not only lower carbon emissions and economic recovery, but also inclusive economic development given a re-skilling of workers and the focus on the Just Transition.
COVID-19: Wind is ‘key building block’ for economic recovery. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), together with a number of global industry participants have released a statement calling on governments, intergovernmental institutions, and lending bodies to place wind energy at the core of the post pandemic stimulus packages. Wind energy is one of the fastest growing industries and is estimated to create about 4 million direct and indirect jobs (Renews.Biz). This sentiment is shared by South Africa’s wind energy association, South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), which released a similar statement to the South African government (Engineering News)
Get back round the table with unions, Chancellor – let’s agree a post-Covid plan. Trade unionists are urging the government of the United Kingdom to take advantage of the post pandemic times to reshape the economy to meet the challenges of the future, including the need to address climate change, which would play a part in creating millions of skilled renewable energy jobs. This would contribute to meeting the needs of the future and towards establishing local value chains (Labour List).
North America: Oil demand drop, renewable energy resiliency prompts calls for federal clean energy investment in economic recovery. In Canada, the Green Party MP, Elizabeth May is calling the government of Canada to support the renewable energy sector over the oil sector due to the resilience that green energy has shown in comparison to the dramatic drop in demand for oil caused by the pandemic (Hill Times). In the United States, former staff members who had assisted Jay Inslee develop his climate policy during his 2020 presidential campaign are calling congressional Democrats to adopt the policy in the coronavirus relief legislation (Common Dreams).
Africa: André de Ruyter on Eskom’s serious air pollution problems. Andre de Ruyter, the CEO of Eskom, South Africa’s national electricity provider, has reported that the entity is working towards the closure of its old coal fired plants (Moneyweb) in part to address Eskom’s serious air pollution output. In Kenya, the new renewable capacity facilitated by the Lake Turkana Wind Plant has increased the country’s energy sufficiency, ushering a reduction of the reliance on imports from Tanzania and Uganda (The East African). This sufficiency and expansion of wind projects can be expected to play a part in the much-needed economic stimulus in the face of the global downturns caused by the pandemic.
Oceania: COVID-19 recovery plans must heed climate science. The Australian network of the UN Global Compact, a voluntary global CEO commitment to support sustainability principles and UN goals, has urged the Australian government to include stricter measures on carbon emissions in the country’s post pandemic stimulus package (Financial Standard). In Queensland, Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Estate have partnered to work on the Central Queensland Project to deliver 2 GW of wind, solar, storage developments and new transmission infrastructure (PV Magazine).
Corporate: Citigroup launches new ESG Investment Banking Group. In response to the increasing emphasis on incorporating environmental, social and governance factors in business operations, Citigroup has announced that it is launching a business unit commissioned to assist clients on sustainability transitions across coverage areas. This is due to the increased pressure from activists and investors. As a result, companies that take ESG factors into account are rewarded (Reuters). Earlier this year, Larry Fink, CEO of Black Rock, wrote, in an open letter to CEOs, that climate change is reshaping finance and that the firm has committed to placing sustainability at the centre of its investment approach (Black Rock). In further support of this view, a study by the global law firm Ashurst shows growing investor awareness to find climate change solutions (Real Clear Energy).
A number of factors are indicative of the direction and positive growth of the renewable energy industry in the medium to long term. These are: the proposal of a green stimulus by the EU, the continuous calls for a green economic recovery from heads of states among others, the resilience of the sector during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic in comparison to the oil sector, and the increasing commitments of ESG factors in business operations. With the expansion of the industry and the focus on a Just Transition, one can expect lower carbon emissions and a gradual transformation of economies to engender inclusivity.