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Renewable energy is crucial to tackling the climate emergency. To break the world's reliance on finite and polluting fossil fuels, it is vital that nations around the globe work towards a more sustainable future. The transition to a zero-carbon future will involve a multi-pronged approach. Impressively, there are top renewable energy countries already seeing positive results. Read more Top Countries Using Renewable Energy › The post Top Countries Using Renewable Energy appeared first...
Renewable energy is crucial to tackling the climate emergency. To break the world’s reliance on finite and polluting fossil fuels, it is vital that nations around the globe work towards a more sustainable future. The transition to a zero-carbon future will involve a multi-pronged approach. Impressively, there are top renewable energy countries already seeing positive results.
Many countries have set ambitious targets for the use of renewable energy, and the market share of renewable energy continues to rise. Yet, globally, the energy transition is slow. The most recent year-on-year increase of the global average score on the WEF Energy Transition Index was the lowest of the last five years.
This shows us the scale of the problem, and what more we can still do. Experts predict that global energy demand will increase by another 25% by 2040. Meeting that demand through renewable power generation is crucial.
Around half of the current total global carbon emissions are a result of electricity and heat production. A decarbonized grid in the near future is more than just desirable – it is essential to our planet’s survival. Renewables provided more than 26% of global electricity generation in 2018, and that figure is steadily rising.
But there is a long way to go if we are to avoid worsening climate catastrophe in the coming years. We have to do a lot more and do it faster. Into the near future we must completely overhaul our energy systems, invest, legislate and innovate.
We should make sure we eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and take full advantage of renewable, green sources. To power, heat, and cool our homes and businesses, to transport people and goods, and to fuel industry in all its forms. The power is abundant – solar energy, wind, geothermal, hydro, and more. We just have to harness that energy and put it to good use.
As in most issues, some countries and jurisdictions are further along the curve than others when it comes to renewable energy. We must continue to hold nations to account, and make sure that we know where we are going wrong, and where we are doing well when it comes to this sector. Here are some of the countries leading the pack when it comes to this essential green energy transition.
Iceland leads the world in renewable energy. The country’s electricity production is 100% renewable and has been for some years. Now, around 85% of the total primary energy supply in Iceland comes from domestically produced renewable energy sources. This is the highest share of renewable energy in any total national energy budget.
Iceland heats around 85% of its homes with geothermal energy and through hydropower and wind power. Iceland is the world’s largest green energy producer per capita and the largest electricity producer per capita too.
Scotland is also extremely close to meeting 100% of its electricity means through renewable power generation and easily on track to do so this year. Onshore wind accounts for the largest percentage of renewable energy generation in Scotland, producing 70% of installed capacity. Offshore wind, hydropower and solar are Scotland’s other major renewable power sources.
The focus is now on decarbonising the heat and transport sectors. The government has declared a climate emergency and committed to reaching net-zero total emissions by 2045 – five years ahead of the rest of the UK and, crucially, without carbon offset purchases. The Scottish Government has also adopted an ambitious new target to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 – this is the toughest statutory target of any country in the world for this date.
Costa Rica is another country that is close to getting 100% of its electricity from renewables. In 2019, 99.62% of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources – largely through hydropower but also electricity from wind, geothermal energy and a small proportion from solar. With a population of fewer than 5 million, Costa Rica will find it easier to meet its energy targets than larger countries. But the country is on track for its goal of becoming 100% carbon neutral this year.
Currently, 97% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower. The government is pushing its population towards a 100% renewables goal through wind farms and solar power. An impressive number of startups and innovators in the country have helped to speed up the shift towards renewables.
While Norway is far from detached in the world’s petro-chemical reliance – we can link half of its total exports to oil and gas – Norway is leading the way with the transition to electric vehicles. More than 200,000 pure electric plug-in vehicles are now on the road and the country has ambitious goals to make all newly registered cars zero-emission within the next five years.
Norway and Sweden have a joint electricity market, with a green energy certification scheme that applies to both countries. Sweden is one of the EU countries contributing most significantly to the decarbonisation and renewable energy targets of the block.
Amongst developing nations, several markets for clean energy policy and practice are also emerging. While everything is up in the air due to the current global health crisis, it is increasingly crucial that countries continue to make progress, and speed up progress, towards a renewable energy future.
China is the world’s leading country in terms of electrical production from renewable energy sources, with more than double the generation of the United States. By the end of 2019, the country had 800 GW of renewable power, mostly from hydroelectric and wind power.
China has installed more hydro, solar and wind power generation than any other nation in the world, though its huge energy requirements mean that, although market share is increasing, the share of renewables in the mix is still only around 30% of the country’s total power generation comes from non-fossil fuel sources (including nuclear).
In the coming 2021-25 period, wind and photovoltaic power across China should fully achieve power grid parity. This is the tipping point at which their generation costs are the same or less as electricity from the power grid and so could lead to a rapid expansion of the sector.
The Indian government has set ambitious renewable energy targets and aims for 175 GW by 2022. The power comes from solar, wind and other sources. Renewables, excluding large hydro, account for over 22% of India’s total energy capacity and this figure continues to rise as lower-cost renewables take up a larger share of the market.
Chile is another developing nation which green energy investors view as attractive. The government’s targets include a goal of generating 20% of power for utilities from renewables by 2025, 60% by 2035, and 70% by 2050. Wind and solar continue to see investment and currently account for over 15% of installed capacity.
Brazil has not been lauded for its environmental practices in recent years. Hydropower has long dominated the power supply, but other renewable generation has increased and continues to attract investment. While deforestation and other environmental atrocities continue to hit the headlines, there is some hope that investment in renewables that the country is attracting could speed the energy transition in the country.
Kenya is the largest producer of geothermal energy in Africa. Geothermal energy accounts for almost 20% of Kenya’s total energy generation. Total renewable energy capacity in the country is at 70%, mostly from hydropower, though in 2019 the country opened the largest wind power plant in Africa, and has an ambitious goal to reach 100% green energy for its national power grid this year.
Despite progress in renewables uptake, energy efficiency and energy access, the world is not on track to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. In 2018, only 47 countries had targets for renewable heating and cooling. Renewable energy penetration in the transport sector remains low.
While a growing number of countries now have more than 20% variable renewables in their electricity mixes, and some countries have gone much further, there is still a long way to go in decarbonising electrical grids. Furthermore, even bigger challenges are on the horizon, as we tackle the global decarbonisation of the industrial sector.
Every nation, and every individual, must take their lead from the top countries using renewable energy. We must come together to tackle the crises we all face. And even those nations leading the charge must do more, and do it faster if we are to come through the crises and transition to a sustainable future for all.
Renewable energy is the future and hydropower plants are its biggest global suppliers. Hydropower, in the right locations, is a sustainable way to cut our reliance on fossil fuels. This source now accounts for 54% of the world’s renewable energy supply. Let's take a close look at the 10 biggest hydropower plants in the world, along with a few plants that are under construction, and may well soon knock some of these other examples off the list. Read more 10 Biggest Hydropower Plants in the...
Renewable energy is the future and hydropower plants are its biggest global suppliers. Hydropower, in the right locations, is a sustainable way to cut our reliance on fossil fuels. This source now accounts for 54% of the world’s renewable energy supply.
In certain parts of the developed world, there has been a major shift away from large-scale hydro towards wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. This is in part because, although hydropower is renewable, it comes at a cost to the environment.
Big dams have taken a huge toll and can continue to take a huge toll, on people and the planet. They have flooded areas of our precious ecosystems, degraded landscapes downstream, and displaced people from their homes. The best environmental results from hydropower come from the small scale plants.
Regardless, hydropower continues to dominate in many parts of the globe. Whereas the US and parts of Europe have decommissioned several dams, hydro still dominates the industry. Particularly in China, South America, and Africa, where hydro is likely to continue to be an important part of the renewable energy mix for many years to come.
Let’s take a close look at the 10 biggest hydropower plants in the world, along with a few plants that are under construction, and may well soon knock some of these other examples off the list.
China dominates when it comes to hydroelectricity, generating more power than any other nation in the world. The largest hydropower plant in the world is the Three Gorges Dam, in Yichang, Hubei province. It dams the Yangtze River and resulted in the flooding of a staggering 1,084 km2.
Developers installed this power station with a capacity of 22,500 MW and completed the project between 2008 and 2012. Though it generates a huge amount of renewable power, this dam is controversial – to say the least. Some of the environmental impacts of this project are often questioned as well as displacing over a million people.
The Baihetan dam on the Jinsha River is currently under construction. Work commenced on this project in 2008. The developers expect to complete this project between 2021-2022, and they expect that it will have a capacity of 16,000 MW.
The Jinsha River is a tributary of the Yangtze River in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Once finished, this will be the second-largest hydropower plant in the world. (check this site out for some pics of this monster dam under construction)
Though the installed capacity of this dam is far lower than the Three Gorges Dam, with 14,000 MW installed capacity, the annual production of this dam is higher. This is because the Parana River that feeds this dam has much less seasonal variance inflow. So the energy output here is more stable.
China completed another massive dam on the Jinshu River, Xiluodu in 2014. This is one completed section of the massive dam project on the river. It is one of four dams on the downstream that is part of phase one of the project.
In the future, there are plans for eight dams on the middle section of the river and eight more on the upper stream. This dam has an installed capacity only slightly lower than the Itaipu Dam, 13,860 MW, yet does have a significantly lower energy generation figure.
Brazil built Belo Monte between 2016 and 2019 on the Xingu River. It has an installed capacity of 11,223 MW. Like other mega hydropower plants, this project is mired in controversy. Indigenous people and other groups have strongly criticized it, including environmental organizations in Brazil, and organizations and individuals around the world.
Damming the Caroni River, Venezuela completed this project in 1978 and 1986. It has an installed capacity of 10,235 MW. The creation of this enormous project involved the flooding of 4,250 km2. Although the dam is key to Venezuela’s economy, it has had profound negative effects.
Flooding from the dam created a lake that destroyed huge areas of the ecosystem and resulted in the loss of countless wildlife species. And the problems did not end with construction. Since its construction, many have criticized this plant for its several generating failures and blackouts, most recently in 2019.
The second-largest hydropower plant currently under construction, the Wudongde project is, like the Baihetan project and the Xiluodu Dam mentioned above, on the Jinsha River. Developers expect this plant to have a capacity of 10,200 upon completion. They also expect to complete this project between 2020 and 2021.
We can find the Tucurui hydropower plant on the Tocantins river in Brazil. Developers completed the first phase of the project in 1984, then made additions in 2007. This site has an installed capacity of 8,370 MW.
This project in Amazonia is archetypical of non-environmentally-conscious development. Like other large dams, this project has had significant negative environmental effects.
The Grand Coulee hydropower plant is the largest in the United States. It dams the Columbia River. Constructed between 1942 and 1991, in phases, this dam has an installed capacity of 6,809 MW.
Since the US completed this project, the Grand Coulee Dam has provided many long-term jobs, and annual irrigation to more than 2,000 Washington farmers. It is one of the top producers of hydroelectric power in the United States.
Slated for completion in the next couple of years, developers expect this grand hydropower project on the Blue Nile River to have an installed capacity of 6,450 MW. It has been under construction since 2011 and, once completed, will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa.
The reservoir could take between 5 and 15 years to fill with water after completion. The country expects this project to have immense benefits for Ethiopia, and serve as the backstop of the national grid. However, there are concerns over the environment and the health of regions downstream. Experts have also raised concerns that the dam is oversized.
This is another part of the hydropower generation scheme in China’s Jinshu River. It was, like the Xiluodu Dam, completed in 2014 long after work commenced in 2006. This hydropower plant has an installed capacity of 6,448 MW and is currently the third-largest hydropower station in the country.
Completed between 2001-2009, the Longtan Dam is another of China’s biggest hydropower projects. Located on the Hongshui River, a tributary of the Xi and Pearl Rivers, this hydropower plant has an installed capacity of 6,426 MW. Many have raised concerns, not only surrounding environmental issues but also surrounding the safety of this dam.
This is the largest hydropower plant in Russia. Construction took place in phases between 1985 and 2014 on the Yenisei River. It has an installed capacity of 6,400 MW.
This dam has been problematic in a range of ways over the years. There have been some accidents here, including a catastrophic one in 2009 which killed 75 people and caused environmental damage through a large oil spill.
From these largest hydropower plants in the world, we can see both the immense benefits and negatives that large-scale hydropower can bring. Hydropower generates large amounts of needed power. But that power can come at a cost, just like every other renewable energy source.
Hydropower will inevitably play an important role in increasing the amount of renewable energy, required to power the green energy transition. But it is important to look at all factors when determining whether or not a scheme should go ahead. And it is also clear that we must not be blind to the toll these massive engineering projects can take on the planet and people.
Our experts Rana Balkis and Selva Ozelli alongside collaborators Teymur Rzayev and Renan Kaleli recently participated in the United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives - help stop the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus art competition. Sixteen thousand artists from around the world participated in the competition and all of the submitted artwork by our experts was selected by the UN. We'd like to congratulate them all on this achievement. A selection of their work is below and you can view all...
Our experts Rana Balkis and Selva Ozelli alongside collaborators Teymur Rzayev and Renan Kaleli recently participated in the United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus art competition.
Sixteen thousand artists from around the world participated in the competition and all of the submitted artwork by our experts was selected by the UN. We’d like to congratulate them all on this achievement. A selection of their work is below and you can view all the winning entries here.
Simply trying to survive portrait of vitalik buterin
Simply trying to survive portrait of cem sayer
Simply trying to survive -portrait of prof erdal arikan
once upon a time
corona virus spreads around the world
not like before
moment of realisation
A selection of work from Atelier Teymur Rzayev's Climate Change Art Show held in Balat Culture Center in Istanbul from May 30 to June 12. Read more Kuresel Isinma sergisi – Climate Change Art show › The post Kuresel Isinma sergisi – Climate Change Art show appeared first on...
Atelier Teymur Rzayev will hold a Climate Change Art Show in Balat Culture Center in Istanbul from May 30 to June 12. This show will be attended by the following artists two of which are our expert contributors:
More information can be found in the show’s brochure, here.
We hope you enjoy this selection of work:
Rana Balkis, Eskisi Gibi Degil / Not Like Before
Oya Gali, Irma kasirgasi / hurricane Irma
Askin Akman, Agac 284 / Tree 284
Fatma kadir, Agac tacizi / Tree abuse
hulya sahin, tek yaprak- bin damla / one leaf – a thousand rain drops
Fatma kadir, Evsiz kumrular / homeless doves
hulya sahin, gri gok yuzu- huzunlu agaclar / grey skies – sad trees
ilhan sayin, goz kamastirici kaktus / glamorous cactus
ilhan sahin, kirimzi kaktus / red cactus
Ismail soysal, Ciftcinin hasreti / farmer’s longing
Serife akkan, vahaya kosu / running to the oasis
selva ozelli, Tsunami
Semine kutuplar eriyor / artic melting
Do you ever give much thought about what country your food has come from, or how far it has travelled to land on your plate? An avocado bought in the UK might come from Peru, meaning it has travelled 6321 miles to get to you. That sort of distance is pretty shocking, isn’t it? Consider also the environmental impacts of transporting this food, however, it travelled, whether by plane, boat or road: there’s going to be a significant impact. Learn what is seasonal in your country and preference...
Do you know where your food comes from? Or how far the milk, apples, avocados, coffee beans, and other items you consume, travel to reach you? Many of us are conscious of the health implications of what we eat. But too many of us have very little idea about our food miles and their environmental impacts.
Starting to check your food miles is one important way to reduce the negative impact of what you eat on people and the planet. What we eat shapes us. But the decisions we make when it comes to what we consume also shape the world around us in profound and significant ways.
Food miles refer to the geographic distance travelled by the food you eat before it reaches you. From farm to fork, the shorter the distance involved, generally speaking, the better the food will be for your health, and the environment – both local and global.
We talk about the concept of food miles when we want to take into account the carbon (and other) costs to the environment of moving food from place to place.
Superficially, many people don’t think much beyond the journey food takes from the stores to their homes. But a lot of the food we consume daily has come a lot further. Food travels, often long distances, from the ground where a farmer grows it, to processing facilities, to distribution hubs and on to stores and homes.
Buying local fresh produce from local farms, and better yet, produced in our own gardens, cost a lot less in terms of carbon and the environment. But many of us still choose options that have travelled to us halfway around the world.
Food miles are a rather modern phenomenon. Throughout most of human history, people have eaten food grown or sourced very locally. Without access to our contemporary distribution channels and hyper-connected world, everyone relied on the resources in their more immediate environments.
But today, since the transportation innovations of recent centuries, we have become used to accessing a wide range of global foods. We have lost touch with locally grown produce, and many have forgotten about seasonality altogether.
People buy strawberries in winter when the fruit blooms in June. We buy tropical fruits rather than those grown in their local climate. We expect fresh, green produce on tap, in staggering variety and immediately, even when there is snow on the ground.
Food makes up a big proportion of an individual’s carbon footprint. We play a significant role in this supply chain. By making the right choices when it comes to what ends up on our plates, we can make our environment better. Plus the right choice can help to reduce food waste which is a global problem in itself. We can make sustainable and ethical choices surrounding food. Food miles should be a significant factor in our equations.
Our current food systems are fragile and wasteful. They are not sustainable long-term and are a major problem in our fight to transition to a post-carbon world. Thinking carefully about what we eat and where it has come from is crucial. Which is why food miles are such an important thing to consider.
Around 12% of the carbon cost of the food we eat comes from the transportation of that food. The journey from farm to fork accounts, therefore, for a small yet significant proportion of food’s cost to the environment.
But the carbon costs of transportation, while significant, are still only a relatively small part of the equation. The land, energy and water use of growing and processing crops are all hugely important too. Food miles matter – but it is important to remember that they are only part of the picture.
That said, by paying more attention to food miles – to where our food comes from – we can build a better picture of what we are eating, and what it truly costs. Transparency in food chains is crucial. The more we know about our food and its origins, the better informed we will be. And the better equipped we will be to make the right decisions.
Another important thing to consider is that by choosing food grown as locally as possible (or even growing at least some of our own) we can help to build resilience in local food systems.
In many locations, we are in the ludicrous position of being surrounded by farm fields which grow food for foreign sale. While local people don’t have access to the food grown right there on their doorsteps. This has to change. By buying as locally as possible, we can all play our part in improving our local food production and help them to improve and endure.
When we are trying to work out food miles for the items we consume, it is important to take a range of different factors into account. When we calculate food miles, we should not just think about the literal number of miles involved. We should also think about the complex factors that determine how damaging those miles have been.
For one thing, of course, the mode of transportation matters. Not all food miles are equally damaging to the environment. Understanding not only how far the food has come, but also how exactly it reaches us, is crucial to making the right decisions.
Airfreight is important in our ‘just in time’, ‘on-demand’ food systems. Air travel and chilled or frozen transportation have allowed food to travel quickly and efficiently around the globe. But these speedy delivery systems come at a high cost. Transporting food and other goods by air carries a carbon footprint around 50 times higher than transporting food and goods more slowly by sea.
When determining the cost of food miles, it is also important to think about the type of food. Certain foods have longer storage times and we can safely transport them much further, much more slowly. Longer shelf-life foods often cost less to the environment because suppliers transported the foods using slower and less polluting means.
When calculating food miles, take all stages of the system into account. You should look not only at the miles from farm to store but also from the store to your home. Making multiple trips in a motor vehicle for only small quantities of food (for example, to a farm shop) can sometimes be more damaging than making one trip to a local market in your town or city.
A widely accepted formula for calculating food miles is WASD (Weighted Average Source Distance):
When trying to work out the environmental credentials of the food that we eat, it is important that we are not blinkered to other environmental costs. Transportation and food miles are important. But as mentioned above they are only part of the picture.
Sometimes, paradoxically, it can be ‘greener’ to buy certain foods from abroad than it is to buy them locally. For example, warm-season crops grown in energy-guzzling greenhouses in cooler climate zones might be more damaging overall than those grown in warmer climes and transported to their final destinations.
At certain times and in certain locations, it may also be a more environmentally friendly choice to buy imported pulses for protein rather than eating locally-reared meat. Reducing meat and dairy consumption can sometimes be a more profound way to make a positive difference.
It is important to think not only about what we eat and where it comes from but also about when we eat those things. It is best to not only eat food grown locally but also to make sure that, whenever possible, we eat food which is in season.
Calculating the environmental cost of what we eat can be a complex business. But the simple and profound truth is that most of us can do far better than we do now. Reducing food miles is one of the steps we can all take, right now, to reduce our negative impact. So how can we do so?
One of the most important steps we can take is to buy, whenever we can, directly from (ideally organic) producers. Rather than buying our staples and fresh produce from supermarkets or chain stores, we can go directly to farmers growing in our areas.
We can visit farmer’s markets or farm shops or join a CSA or veg box scheme. We can visit wholefood stores (or the aisles often found in zero waste supermarkets) to bulk buy and reduce the trips we take to the store. Tips to reduce food waste include reducing our overall consumption by making the most of leftovers and learning how to store and preserve fresh food for longer.
It could be stressful to worry about your food choices every time you eat. To avoid that mental dilemma, restructure how you source for food. Support local farmers and markets and consume in-season fruits and vegetables. When you buy food that has travelled far, make the most of it.
You can also take the ultimate green step and start growing our own. If you have a garden, it is important to remember what a valuable resource this is. No matter how large or small your outside space may be, you will be amazed by how much food you can grow. Even without a garden, you can reduce food miles to nil by growing at least a little food on a sunny windowsill.
Every year, renewable energy technology becomes better, cheaper, and easier to access. Yet, renewable sources are only responsible for 20% of our global energy consumption. There are challenges for renewable energy introduction to our daily use. Thankfully, we can identify these challenges. This is the first step towards the innovation needed to take renewable energy from a subject of wonder to a norm in every home. Read more Challenges for Renewable Energy › The post Challenges for...
Every year, renewable energy technology becomes better, cheaper, and easier to access. Yet, renewable sources are only responsible for 20% of our global energy consumption. There are challenges for renewable energy introduction to our daily use.
Thankfully, we can identify these challenges. This is the first step towards the innovation needed to take renewable energy from a subject of wonder to a norm in every home.
Many people imagine that there is an energy shortage on our planet. But the sun that fuels our earth provides much more energy than we could ever need. And that’s one source.
Renewable energy sources also include wind, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, and more. We need only to harness these resources to meet all our needs.
Technologies for renewable energy are trending upwards. A range of new and disruptive developments and inventions in the green energy industry means that it is rapidly transforming our energy supply systems around the globe.
This is great news for the sustainability and survival of our planet. To achieve our energy goals and rid ourselves of polluting fossil fuels, we must face the challenges in our way. The issues explained below provide a great starting point.
The first of the seven challenges to consider is the issue surrounding efficient, affordable and reliable energy storage. Historically, one of the major problems with renewable energy generation is that supplies are far more variable than other means of energy generation.
Fluctuations in sunlight levels and wind mean that supplies are less consistent than those derived from fossil fuels. Owners, therefore, require batteries to store energy for later. And to even out discrepancies in the energy supply.
We have made amazing strides in this arena in recent years. Advancements in battery technologies have brought prices down significantly. Energy storage has become less of an issue as batteries have improved and battery prices have come down.
However, there is progress ahead of us. Further innovations and roll-out of existing technologies over the near future will surely continue to tackle this challenge moving forward.
But the sustainability challenges remain – and there are questions to ask surrounding the environmental costs of technology; mining the precious metals and rare earth minerals that battery technologies require.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by the renewable energy sector is economics. Specifically, the financial issues involved in bringing renewable technologies and renewable energy to the masses. New business forces are dramatically increasing investment in the sector. Yet the transition away from carbon is a massive shift, and like any major shift, comes with a huge financial cost.
Investment in renewables has resulted in a surge of innovation and emerging technologies over the last few years. But economic pressures do still stifle innovation. And a lack of financial backing from large organisations and governments unwilling to change as quickly as required can often slow the progress we need to see.
Sometimes alternatives are sought, such as crowdfunding renewable energy whereby startups and even more mature companies are turning to a volume of smaller investors to get projects off the ground.
Inextricably linked with economic concerns are the political challenges of the transition to renewables. As authorities in certain countries continue to take great strides in the right direction, other jurisdictions are being left behind. Political posturing, isolationism, popularism and anti-science rhetoric all pose a threat to the renewable energy sector.
Politicians also face immense pressures as they struggle to reconcile the requirements for rapid and immense change with the reticence of the voting public to make the needed changes. Public perception of renewables is increasingly positive, and most people are aware of and support the need for an urgent response to the climate emergency. But self-interest and other concerns in daily life can sometimes push renewable energy further down on the political agenda.
Wholesale, widespread use of renewables to meet the energy demand is essential. But the transition will be harder to achieve due to the lack of reliable large scale energy grids in several developed nations. In the Western world, there is a huge and troubling infrastructure gap. Like other forms of infrastructure, energy infrastructure is, in many regions, shockingly underfunded, poorly maintained, and insufficiently stable or resilient to meet the demands of the future.
As the requirement for renewable energy continues to grow – due to growing domestic use, increased electric vehicle uptake, and industrial transition – the insufficiency of many electric grid systems will become ever more apparent.
In a world in which natural resources are increasingly strained, land use is often a major point of contention. One of the other challenges for the renewable energy sector is balancing the demands for energy with other land-use requirements. Which land should we use for solar farms and wind turbines? How can we balance this need with the need for land for housing, food production etc.?
Using agricultural land for wind power generation is certainly not without contention. Yet the most valuable land is often optimal for energy generation. Increasingly, in the coming years, the renewable energy sector must find ways to balance the needs for power with the need to make optimal use of land. This has been and continues to be a major challenge within the industry.
The problem in decarbonising the industry is that energy transition pathways are not yet clearly defined. Things are changing – fast. Air pollution and environmental pollution in various forms continue to degrade our ecosystems. We strain our land and resources as never before.
The industrial sector is an economic powerhouse on a global scale, and yet also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The decarbonisation of the industrial sector is crucial to meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees C. above the pre-industrial temperature.
Manufacturers have scaled up solar photovoltaic modules and other renewable energy technologies, thereby reducing their cost in recent years. Industry, by comparison, lags far behind. Less innovation and cost reduction have taken place in this arena, and so the path forward is far less clear.
Yet this is not the only challenge posed by industry decarbonisation. Technical reasons also make it more difficult to reduce CO2 emissions within this arena. We cannot alter 45% of emissions from feedstocks by a change in fuels, only by changes to processes.
Using alternative fuels such as zero-carbon electricity to generate the high temperatures required for the processes in the target sectors would be difficult. It would need significant changes made to the furnace design.
Industrial processes are highly integrated and so any change to one part of the process would have a knock-on effect and require further changes. Since production facilities have long lifetimes, changing processes would require extensive (and costly) rebuilds or retrofits.
Energy is central to industry decarbonisation. Completely decarbonising the industrial processes in the main industrial sectors will, of course, have a major impact on the energy system.
Research by McKinsey estimates that it would require around 25-55 EJ per year of low-cost, zero-carbon electricity. At present, in a business-as-usual world, industry only needs 6 EJ per year. It is clear that decarbonisation would lead to a significant increase in electricity requirements.
A collaborative approach from public and private sectors is what resulted in the progress, cost reduction and scale-up in renewable power generation. We now require the same thing for industrial decarbonisation. The energy transition and industry decarbonisation must go hand in hand. It is also clear that this will be one of the major challenges for the renewable energy sector moving forwards.
Economic realities further add to the challenge of the decarbonising industry. Cement, steel, ammonia and ethylene (the industrial products that account for the majority of carbon emissions) are commodity products, and the cost is a decisive consideration in purchasing decisions. There is not currently a willingness to pay more for sustainable products, and so companies who decarbonise will be the ones who have to foot the bill, finding themselves at an economic disadvantage.
This brings up the last of these major challenges for the renewable energy sector: public perception. Public willingness not only to intellectually agree with but to financially support the energy transition is crucial.
With these challenges for renewable energy in mind, it may seem difficult to foresee a future with clean energy. However, it is possible if we all take a collaborative approach. Countries like Iceland and Paraguay are already at 100% renewables. We can replicate these results globally.
It is only through a concerted effort, not only from politicians and business but also from individuals and communities, that we can find a pathway through the energy transition.
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