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Our renewable energy future (& Paris climate summit)

The International Energy Agency's 2015 edition of its flagship annual report, World Energy Outlook, was published on 10th November. Whilst observing clear signs that the energy transition to renewables is underway, the IEA warned that strong direction was needed from the COP21 Paris climate summit (30th November to 11th December 2015). Renewables contributed almost half of the world's new power generation capacity in 2014 and have already become the second-largest source of electricity (after coal). Renewables are set to become the leading source of new energy supply from now to 2040.

The IEA advises that the lower oil prices currently experienced is the moment to reinforce the world's capacity to deal with future energy security threats and not mistakenly relax our attention to energy security. The oil market is in unfamiliar territory: facing a well-supplied market and lower prices, producers have cut operating costs and investment plans.

The IEA predicts the following global trends:

  • The single largest energy demand growth story of recent decades is near its end; coal use in China reaches a plateau, close to today's levels, as China's economy rebalances and industrial coal demand falls.
  • Broad-based growth in global natural gas demand (up 47%) is led by China and the Middle East. By 2040, oil and coal collectively relinquish 9% of the global energy mix, with renewables growing by five percentage points and gas and nuclear each growing by two.
  • The report sees the share of renewable energy in global power generation rising to over 26% by 2020 from 22% in 2013 - a remarkable shift in a very limited period of time. By 2020, the amount of global electricity generation coming from renewable energy will be higher than today's combined electricity demand of China, India and Brazil.
  • In the IEA's New Policies Scenario more than 60% of power generation capacity investment from 2015-2040 is likely to go to renewables, led by China, the European Union, the United States and India.
  • The world's appetite for electricity lifts demand by more than 70% by 2040, and there is a concerted effort to reduce the environmental consequences of power generation.

The IEA website is at www.iea.org.

For keeping up with the discussions and decisions made during the COP21 climate summit in Paris, the Guardian newspaper website provides comprehensive coverage which you can access from this link: News and comment from the Guardian.


Oil-rich countries are choosing renewables

Some welcome news from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena): oil-rich countries are choosing renewables as a means to create jobs, increase GDP and improve livelihoods whilst also reducing carbon emissions. Perhaps the UK and other Governments could learn from this approach as delegates gather for the COP21 climate summit in Paris.

According to Irena (www.irena.org), as reported on the Guardian website on 19th November, dramatically falling solar photovoltaic costs, and forward-thinking commitments by regional governments, are changing the economic equation in favour of solar power. A solar photovoltaic tender in Dubai earlier this year resulted in a record-low price of $0.06 per kilowatt hour - cheaper than domestically produced gas generation. Jordan's recent tender outcome locked in power prices of between $0.06-0.08.

For oil-producing nations that use a substantial share of the gas or oil they produce for power generation, solar is increasingly the quickest, lowest-risk investment to add export capacity and revenue while satisfying their own rapid growth in demand for electricity.

This shift is causing huge development and investment across the oil-producing region. For example Morocco is building the world's largest concentrated solar power plant, which will provide half the country's energy by 2020. The UAE is building what could eventually be one of the world's largest solar photovoltaic plants. Additional projects are in progress in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

November 2015

Bank of England Governor speaks out on financial risks caused by climate change

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, spoke on the topic "Breaking the tragedy of the horizon - climate change and financial stability" at Lloyd's of London on 29 September 2015. He said that there was a growing international consensus that climate change is unequivocal. While there is always room for scientific disagreement about climate change (as there is with any scientific issue), he said that he had found that insurers were amongst the most determined advocates for tackling it sooner rather than later.

Key points he made included:

We don't need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors - imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.

The horizon for monetary policy extends out to 2-3 years. For financial stability it is a bit longer, but typically only to the outer boundaries of the credit cycle - about a decade.

In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.

He concluded his speech by saying:

Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges.

The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity.

While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.

Others will need to learn from Lloyd's example in combining data, technology and expert judgment to measure and manage risks.

The December meetings in Paris will work towards plans to curb carbon emissions and encourage the funding of new technologies.

We will need the market to work alongside in order to maximise their impact.

With better information as a foundation, we can build a virtuous circle of better understanding of tomorrow's risks, better pricing for investors, better decisions by policymakers, and a smoother transition to a lower-carbon economy.

By managing what gets measured, we can break the Tragedy of the Horizon.

The full text of Mark Carney's speech can be found on the Bank of England website from this external link.

October 2015

Closure of Climate SouthWest

Due to financial cuts a decision has been taken by supporting partners that from 1 October 2015 Climate SouthWest will cease its activities. For all adaptation related advice and guidance please visit the Climate UK website: climateuk.net.

September 2015

Open for business, even in severe weather?

Two-thirds of small businesses have been hit by the negative impacts of severe weather in the past three years, says a new report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) published in July. 'Severe weather - a more resilient small business community' also shows that many small businesses need further support if they are to be resilient to severe weather. Recommendations from the FSB include encouraging small businesses to develop their own resilience plans, and calling on the government to take steps to ensure affordable flood insurance.

According to the report:

  • the financial cost of these severe weather events over this period was, on average, just under 7,000 for each affected business;
  • disruptions to people (customers and staff) and logistics (supply chain, utilities and transport) are the most frequently occurring problems for small businesses during severe weather events;
  • only 25 per cent of microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees) have a resilience plan in place that specifically includes severe weather;
  • small businesses with previous experience of severe weather are more motivated to prepare resilience plans;
  • 93 per cent of small businesses believe severe weather poses a risk to some part of their business.

The FSB report can be downloaded from this link: http://www.fsb.org.uk/frontpage/assets/fsb-severe-weather-report-final.pdf (300kb pdf from external site, opens in new window).

August 2015

A cleaner, solar powered future?

The sunlight that hits the earth in an hour contains enough energy to run the global economy for a year
Sustainable Business magazine

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) the role of renewable sources of energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, bioenergy and ocean power) in the global power mix continues to increase rapidly as renewables maintain the lead as the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expands in absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by next year (2016), becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal.

Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011. The IEA expects solar to become the biggest single source of energy by 2050 and the dramatic falls in cost of solar PV means that the sector in 2014 was around five years ahead of where the IEA had previously thought it would be.

The IEA's 2014 report "Technology Roadmap - Solar Photovoltaic Energy" envisioned that up to 16% of global electricity will be from solar PV by 2050. For bulk power on the grid, PV electricity can already be price competitive at times of peak demand, especially in areas where peak electricity is provided by burning oil products.

A more rapid move towards solar energy has many benefits, especially as improved energy storage technologies are developed. As the IEA points out, solar energy is widely available throughout the world and can contribute to reduced dependence on energy imports. As it entails no fuel price risk or constraints, it also improves security of supply. Solar power enhances energy diversity and hedges against price volatility of fossil fuels (oil and gas), thus stabilising the cost of electricity generation in the longer term.

Once PV panels have been manufactured, solar PV entails no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during operation and does not emit other pollutants (such as oxides of sulphur and nitrogen); additionally, it consumes no or little water. As local air pollution and extensive use of fresh water for cooling of thermal power plants are becoming serious concerns in hot or dry regions, these benefits of solar PV become increasingly important.

The faster than expected advancement in the efficiency of renewable energy technologies such as solar PV, has meant renewables are projected to generate more electricity than the UK Government had previously projected. This has in part led to the Government's announcement on 22 July that it planned to reduce or end support for renewable energy. Whether this puts at risk investor confidence and future investments that might otherwise have further accelerated the downward cost of solar PV electricity production remains to be seen.

July 2015

Industrial nations agree to phase out fossil fuels

Climate change is not an environmental issue, but much more to do with security and economics
- Jonathon Porritt

The G7 leading industrial nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States) have agreed to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century at their summit in June. Summit host German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they had committed themselves to the need to "decarbonise the global economy in the course of this century". They also agreed on a global target for limiting the rise in average global temperatures to a maximum of 2C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Whilst G7 leaders did not support Angela Merkel's proposal to agree to immediate binding emission targets, they agreed to back the recommendations of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at the upper end of a range of 40% to 70% by 2050, using 2010 as the baseline.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, will be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. The objective will be to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. The G7 commitment on phasing out fossil fuels is a hopeful sign that real progress will be made in Paris.

June 2015

Other relevant news websites

  • GOV.UK - news announcements from all Government Departments

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Editorial note

The views expressed on this website are not necessarily the views and opinions held by the editor. For further information about 'our south west' including sponsorship policy and archived pages, visit the about OSW page.

Contact details

Managing Editor: Phil Harding*
*(Phil is also Chairman of Saltford Environment Group)

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1. Management of oursouthwest. From 1999 - 2010 this website was originally managed by Phil Harding whilst a Senior Policy Adviser (climate change, resource efficiency and sustainable development) at the Government Office for the South West (GOSW) in Bristol (UK). GOSW closed in 2011 but this site continues to be managed by Phil Harding on a freelance not-for-profit basis.

2. Archived material. For ease of reference, some of the key pages and papers that were on this website up until 2011/12 are listed on the About OSW page. The British Library holds archived copies of the some of the original content of the www.oursouthwest.com website in its early (and now dated) format from 2008 to 2013 on its website at www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/target/9175112/source/alpha.

This website is managed by Phil Harding and supported by Cotswold Energy & Environmental Management Group (on behalf of South West Energy & Environmental Management Groups).

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