Nations and organisations face a difficult balancing act around energy transition. On the one hand, COP26 held in Glasgow last year, pushed net zero and sustainability to the top of many nation’s priority list. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the consequential dramatic rises in energy costs put energy security and costs on an equal footing again.
Figuring out how to manage this balance, whilst keeping nations focused on developing and implementing renewable energy was front and centre of discussions at COP27’s energy day. Some even went as far as to suggest that energy affordability and security should lead to faster energy transition.
There was, however, a real concern that oil, gas and coal projects are expanding despite science warning that these fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert the worst impacts of climate change. There was also a call to action to move away from fossil fuels and move faster to increase our global renewable power capacity by 2030. Currently, only 29% of global electricity generation comes from renewables. 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by electricity generation so this is a key target for nations.
The recent Sharm-el-Sheikh Adaption Agenda, launched at COP27, states that the outcomes for energy must also meet the needs of the 733 million people still living without access to energy. Justice around energy transition has been a big discussion point at COP27. An interesting debate around the use of gas demonstrated some of the potential issues around this issue. Some African nations, perhaps understandably, want to use fossil fuels to power development and bring electricity to their many citizens without access. Most nations oppose this though, citing it as an unsustainable solution at a time when the climate cannot afford any new fossil fuel emissions. Herein lies one of the key difficulties in energy transition, and sufficient climate finance needs to be provided to bridge that gap.
Some significant initiatives to increase climate finance and investment into the energy sector were announced during COP27, including:
The UN climate chief announced that South Africa has launched a multimillion-dollar plan to shift from coal towards green energy, calling it a key moment in the global push for the transition away from fossil fuels.
At the G20 in Bali, a coalition of countries, led by the United States and Japan, announced that they will be investing $20 billion to sharply reduce Indonesia’s reliance on coal and to transition the Southeast Asian nation to renewable power. Currently Indonesia is one the world’s largest consumers of coal and the world's fifth largest greenhouse emitter.
The COP27 Presidency launched the ‘Africa, Just and Affordable Energy Transition Initiative (AJAETI). To be achieved by 2027, its three key objectives are to offer technical and policy support to facilitate affordable energy for at least 300 million people in Africa; provide access to clean cooking fuels and technologies; and increase the share of renewable energy generation by 25%.
The Green Hydrogen Organisation, International Hydropower Association, the Global Wind Energy Council and the Global Solar Council have joined forces to launch the Planning for Climate Commission, a global initiative focused on speeding up planning and approvals for the massive deployment of renewables and green hydrogen needed to address climate change and energy security.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has committed to freely share insights from its recently launched reports into renewables.
The Global Renewables Alliance was launched. Organisations representing solar, wind, green hydrogen, hydropower, geothermal energy and long duration energy storage industries will officially join forces to ensure targets are met and position renewable energy as a pillar of sustainable development and economic growth. This is an unprecedented step, bringing together for the first time, all the technologies required for the energy transition with the aim of accelerating energy transition.
The United States announced that they were creating an ‘Energy Transition Accelerator’. This is a carbon offset plan that would allow companies to fund renewable energy projects in developing nations that are struggling to transition away from fossil fuels. This has been met with a lot of criticism though.
DJB Partner Matthew Needham-Laing commented: “Dealing with CO2 emissions then power generation is probably high on the agenda for everyone, more so given gas and electricity prices (again because of successive governments’ policy in ’the dash for gas’) with 43% of electricity in the UK generated by fossil fuels (the majority being gas powered generators). Government policy has lacked foresight with a failure to invest in alternative energy sources, instead relying on the private sector.
For example this country is blessed with being surrounded by seas which have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world. The benefit of this is that the rise and fall of the tide is free, predictable, and twice daily (in some areas they have double tides due to topography). The problem is that sea water is also very aggressive, so the machinery required needs to be robust and maintenance is not easy, and consequently the initial cost is more expensive than solar or wind. However tidal power has the capacity to generate approximately 11% of the UK’s energy requirements – which is the same as the contribution by solar and biomass power combined last year. Last year the government finally announced that it would (hasn’t happened yet) invest £20 million per year in tidal power, but as usual it is too little too late and the technological advantage that the UK previously enjoyed with this technology has been overtaken by other countries who have invested.
Another example would be tidal lagoons such as the Cardiff Bay Barrage, originally conceived in 1980, construction work finally commenced in 1994 (14 years in planning!) and opened in 2001 (7 years in construction), it had the potential to meet the annual electricity requirement of every home in Wales. I don’t think it generates any electricity as the government insisted that the power generation be financed by the private sector who could not meet the initial capital costs. Similarly the Severn barrage (the Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the World) has been shelved because of the initial capital costs (estimated £30 billion) but if constructed could meet 10% of the UK’s electricity requirements!
Nuclear power is another area where the UK was once a world leader but due the successive governments’ policy we have now fallen behind and are having to use Chinese/French technology (which is now frankly out of date) to construct Sizewell C – estimated costs £20 billion – construction not yet started and expected completion and operational 12-15 years from commencement of construction. Expected to power 7% of the UK’s electrical requirements.
Fortunately, Boris did approve the construction by Rolls Royce of 16 small Modular Nuclear reactors by 2045. These are tried and tested and developed in nuclear submarines, so we know they work, they are about the size of a couple of football pitches and if all 16 are built they will generate about 440MWe of power (approximately 20% of the UK’s electrical requirements).”