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What our editors are reading

Time to act on industry emissions is now

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Uptake of clean energy technology in heavy industry to-date has been slow. This is partly the result of a low carbon price meaning investing in new low-carbon technology does not yet make business sense for these companies, according to German green think tank Agora Energiwende. However, 30-53% of industrial assets will require major re-investments during the next 5-10 years. Policymakers must act now to provide a framework that provides clear incentives for investment along the entire value chain. Proposals include Carbon Contracts-for-Difference, recycling quality targets, and finance for clean-energy and CO₂ infrastructure for industry.

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Decarbonising America can create 25m jobs by 2025

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As many as 25 million jobs will be created in the US by an aggressive climate plan, and making homes all-electric will create more than 7.7 million of those new jobs. The report predicts that the average US household could save $1,000-$2,500 a year by going all-electric. To achieve this, the US must prioritise reductions in three areas: soft costs through regulatory reform, hard costs through massive industrial scale and steady technological progress, and finance costs through government–backed loans.

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Recommendations to solve US offshore wind growing pains

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Gaps between state targets, permitting timelines, and the grid operators’ interconnection queue could damage growth of US offshore wind development, says the Business Network for Offshore Wind, an advocacy group. States have committed to a total of 30 GW of offshore wind generation capacity by 2035. The report makes six recommendations to improve the approvals process: Integrated transmission planning should weigh all benefits; transmission planning should incorporate public policy requirements; planning must be proactive; it should consider a longer time period for benefits make an impact; all benefits must be quantified; and inter-regional planning must be more synchronised.

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Wind’s recovery role

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Trade body WindEurope touts the additional benefits the wind industry brings to local and national economies as Europe navigates its way out of the pandemic-induced financial crisis. In its latest report, WindEurope found that the industry generates €2.5bn of value added to the EU economy for each new gigawatt of onshore wind installed and €2.1bn for each new gigawatt of offshore wind. Wind farms also pay an average of €2.3/MWh in local taxes as well as providing jobs and additional community benefit to those living near projects.

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All-electric houses win on costs

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A new analysis from the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) finds that the building of all-electric single family homes is cheaper than multi-fuel houses. RMI looked at new housing across seven major US cities. Across most locations, multi-fuel homes have higher upfront costs than all-electric buildings that use heat pumps for heating and cooling. As well as the economic impact, it will also benefit the climate. All-electric homes in Seattle could see a 93% saving on carbon emissions over the lifetime of the equipment. New York homes could see an 81% saving, while new buildings in four other cities could save over 50% of emissions.

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Solar PV the new king of electricity

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Solar PV is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and now offers some of the “lowest cost electricity ever seen”, according to the IEA’s new World Energy Outlook 2020. “Solar becomes the new king of electricity,” it says. If today’s policies and goals remain the same, renewables will meet 80% of global electricity demand growth over the next decade. Emissions from the power sector could drop by more than 40% by 2030, with annual additions of solar PV almost tripling from today’s levels. However, the report shows that strong growth of renewables needs to be paired with robust investment in electricity grids.

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Oil industry’s climate plans fail to add up

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The oil industry’s plans to clean up their act well fall short of aligning with the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 1.5°C, according to Oil Change International. “An arsonist pledging to light a few less fires is still an arsonist,” says Kelly Trout at the NGO. Nearly all of the eight oil and gas majors examined are set to increase their contribution to the climate crisis by 2030. The NGO calls on governments to step in to manage the decline in oil and gas production.

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Energy transition in the US at tipping point

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Action by state and local leaders plus the falling costs of clean technologies have combined to push the energy transition to a tipping point in the US, finds a new report from The America’s Pledge Initiative, co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg. Demand for clean energy has continued despite the covid-19-induced economic crisis, and a further 13GW of coal power is slated for retirement in 2021. Federal support for initiatives to modernise the grid, increase uptake of electric vehicles, and addressing the fossil fuel industry legacy would accelerate the transition as well as boost the economy.

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UK needs more EV choices to aid uptake

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The UK’s punitive measures on polluting vehicles will not prompt the universal adoption of electric and other alternatively fuelled vehicles, according to the Automobile Association. Suitable alternatives to polluting vehicles must be made more available—or fleets will simply pay a fine and carry on as normal. Perceptions of the new vehicles need to change, and the reality of batteries, range, payload and charging infrastructure have to develop significantly. A far wider choice of suitable vehicles also has to be made available.

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To recover, US cities need localised green stimulus

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Federal stimulus investment is critical for cities to effectively recover from the covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn, says Rocky Mountain Institute. It outlines five strategies. Firstly, strengthen, automate and streamline permitting to build efficient, affordable housing, and rehabilitate abandoned properties. Secondly, improve energy security, tripling the number of jobs compared with fossil fuels and revitalising communities. Third, support public transit and transport modes for safer mobility, less pollution and increased access. Fourth, enhance resilience for communities and infrastructure, improving preparedness for climate change while creating jobs. Finally, create more green urban spaces, mitigating CO2 and other pollutants.

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Coal plans incompatible with Paris Accord

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Consultancy Ember and NGO Climate Action Network examine the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) of 18 EU member states that are still using coal for electricity generation. It finds that 11 of the NECP plans do not phase out coal by 2030 inline with the Paris Agreement. Total installed coal capacity across seven countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Poland, Romania and Slovenia) falls by just 42% in the next decade. Around 52GW of coal capacity is expected to be operational after 2030, roughly 90% of which is in Czechia, Germany and Poland.

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Electricity cannot decarbonise economies alone

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The latest, revamped version of the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives report analyses over 800 technology options to support the shift to a zero-carbon economy. As well as increased electrification, the IEA also predicts a significant rise in hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and synthetic fuel technologies in order to reach net zero emissions by mid-century. By 2050, electricity, hydrogen, synthetic fuels and bioenergy will make up a similar level of energy demand that is supplied by fossil fuels today. Achieving net-zero depends on how the emissions from long-lasting carbon-emitting assets is managed.

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Investment in renewables can still reach $1tn by 2030

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Investors remain optimistic about long-term renewable energy growth in the United States, despite near-term headwinds from the Covid-19 pandemic. A new report by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) finds that a private investment goal of $1 trillion by 2030 in renewables and enabling grid technology is still feasible. Following a record level of investment in 2019 driven by the phasing down of the federal tax credits, expanded state renewable energy standards, improved cost competitiveness and increased demand, one-eighth of the total $1T goal has been met. Covid-19 has led to the loss of almost 100,000 jobs in the renewables sector, strained renewable energy project financing and caused project delays, reducing renewable energy capacity expected online in 2020 by 21%.

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Plan to electrify long-haul UK transport

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The Centre for Sustainable Road Freight publishes its plan to install overhead catenary system on 7,500 kilometres of the UK’s major roads for heavy transport. Drawing on experience from Sweden and Germany, the three-phase plan would cost €21 billion and cover approximately 65% of all the roads used by heavy goods vehicles in the UK. The plan would additionally extend the electricity grid infrastructure, supporting the installation of charging points for smaller electric vehicles at motorway services and other locations across the UK, the authors argue.

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Future Energy Scenarios: July 2020

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The annual update from the UK’s transmission system operator National Grid, shows pathways to a net-zero energy system but called on immediate action to achieve the 2050 target. Its recommendations include an additional 40 GW of generation capacity by 2030. It also called on the UK power sector to become carbon negative using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in order to offset other areas like heating which will be unable to fully decarbonise by the deadline. Each scenario sees the role of hydrogen increase with round 80 TWh required by 2050 to decarbonise shipping and HGV sectors.

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Carbon Capture and Storage Is About Reputation, Not Economics

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Carbon capture and storage technology is still in the early stage of commercialisation and requires large amounts of support for new projects to be built, according to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Any government support for CCS could be better spent on renewable energy or energy storage. A return on investment into a CCS project also requires a price on carbon. Oil majors such as Shell, Equinor and Total, are simply investing in CCS in order to show they are acting on climate change, the analysts argue.

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Taking Stock 2020: The Covid-19 Edition

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Greenhouse gas emissions in the US fell 18% between March 15 and June 15 as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the Rhodium Group estimates. The US could see a 6-12% reduction in 2020, compared to what was forecast before the pandemic, while emissions could be 2-12% lower by 2030 depending on the length of the pandemic and the rate of recovery. Transport emissions in the US fell 28% in the same period compared to 2019 due to the rapid fall of air travel. Coal power has been hardest hit in the US, and the Covid-19 epidemic accelerated its decline.

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An EU Strategy for Energy System Integration

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The European Commission (EC) strategy wants to break down the silos of the energy system — where different energy types are produced for specific end-users — to optimise the links between them. The EC wants to encourage greater electrification of end-users as the cost of renewable energy generation continues to decrease, so electricity can cover 30% of demand by 2030 up from 23% today, with the eventual target of supplying 50% by 2050. The EC also highlights the role of hydrogen where direct heating or electrification is not possible.

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A sustainable energy recovery could boost global economies by 1.1% yearly

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Investment of some about $1 trillion annually over the next three years, equal to about 0.7% of today’s global GDP, would boost jobs in areas such as in retrofitting buildings, improving energy efficiency, and in the electricity sector, particularly in grids and renewables. Measures detailed in the IEA analysis on sustainable recovery, conducted with the IMF, could accelerate the deployment of low-carbon electricity sources like new wind and solar, and expand and modernise electricity grids.

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Offshore wind offers significant job potential for Denmark

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One gigawatt of offshore wind capacity in Denmark creates 14,600 man-years of employment, a new report by Danish Shipping, Dansk Energi and Wind Denmark finds. A project, like the proposed Thor site, secures 4900 man-years in direct work, with a further 9600 man-years created indirectly. Denmark’s dominant position in the sector also means for every 1 GW of capacity installed in Europe, 1400 man-hours are created for Danish seafarers offering a huge potential for firms as Europe targets 450 GW of capacity by 2050.

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Global EV sales remain strong despite Covid-19

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The number of electric cars on the road globally should near ten million this year, as sales continue despite the Covid-19 pandemic, says a new report by International Energy Agency. Electric vehicle sales this year are expected to match the 2.1 million sold in 2019, a record 2.6% of the total global car sales. Total worldwide sales of all passenger cars are expected to decline this year by 15%. The IEA warns that a second wave of the pandemic and a slower-than-expected economic recovery could affect the sales of EV and vehicles with internal combustion engines.

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Renewables costs continue to plummet, pushing coal aside

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Replacing the costliest 500 GW of coal with solar and wind would cut annual system costs by up to $23 billion a year and yield a stimulus worth $940 billion, IRENA says. Replacing coal with renewables would also slash annual CO2 emissions by around 1.8 gigatonnes, or 5% of the 2019 global total. Costs of utility-scale solar PV fell to $0.068/kWh in 2019. Onshore and offshore wind reached $0.053/kWh and $0.115/kWh, respectively.

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Planned transmission for US offshore wind could save $1.1 billion

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Phased transmission ‘backbones’ for offshore wind capacity off the northeast US coast could save $1.1 billion in onshore grid upgrades that would otherwise be needed with the current fragmented approach. Environmental impacts would also be significantly reduced because such a planned high-capacity offshore transmission system serving multiple wind farms would reduce marine cabling and optimise onshore landing points. The current approach may appear to have low initial costs but would likely increase substantially after the “low hanging fruit” is picked.

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US can reach 90% zero-carbon electricity by 2035

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The United States could achieve 90% zero-carbon electricity by 2035 while maintaining reliability and lowering customer electricity bills, says the University of California, Berkeley. Rapid buildout of additional renewable energy would help lead to a 27% reduction in carbon emissions and $1.7 trillion of investment and would increase energy sector jobs by up to 530,000 a year through 2035. Under this scenario, all existing coal plants would be retired by 2035 with no additional fossil fuel capacity built.

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Save contained carbon by reusing buildings

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Huge quantities of captured carbon can be saved if buildings are not demolished, explains a booklet newly translated into English by the Norwegian Green Building Council. More than 22,000 buildings are demolished each year in Norway. Buildings can be seen as materials banks, says the report. Refurbishment is the first step towards closing the flow of materials and adapting to a circular economy. The EU – of which Norway is not a member – stipulates that starting in 2020, 70% of all construction waste must be recycled.

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Renewables feel the Covid crunch

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The number of new renewable installations is set for its first annual decline this year, as the Covid-19 pandemic slows projects globally. Net additions are poised to drop 13% year-on-year – but still see an overall increase in renewable energy installed capacity of 6%. The bulk of new additions this year are solar and wind (86%). Projects delayed in 2020 are forecast to come online next year, which will see the rate of new installations return to 2019 levels. However, the IEA predicts longer-term issues around the availability of financing for new projects out to 2025.

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Progress on energy transition is significant in most countries

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The World Economic Forum’s annual energy transition index (ETI) finds that 94 of the 115 countries monitored have improved their ETI score during the past six years. They represent more than 70% of the global population and 70% of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. The likes of Argentina, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, India, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Sri Lanka and Ukraine, have made steady progress since 2014. Emerging demand centres like India and China show strong improvement, while Brazil, Canada, Iran and the United States are either stagnant or declining.

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Renewables only energy source seen increasing in 2020

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Demand for renewable energy is the only energy source seen growing this year, boosted by low operating costs and preferential grid access, says the International Energy Agency’s Global Energy Review 2020. Global lockdowns to stop the Covid-19 spread is estimated to drag down overall electricity demand by 5% in 2020, with an 8% fall in global CO2 emissions — or 2.6 gigatonnes — which would be the largest fall ever, says the agency. Emissions risk skyrocketing post-pandemic, however, if investment decisions do not prioritise clean energy.

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Falling prices make solar, wind more competitive

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Onshore wind and solar PV have overtaken other fuel sources as the cheapest for new installations in countries representing 85% of global energy generation, with a levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of $44/MWh and $50/MWh respectively. Analysts at BloombergNEF estimate that recently financed solar PV projects in Australia, China, Chile and the UAE could see an LCOE of $23-29/MWh, threatening existing fossil fuel fleets in those nations. Improved technology is enhancing the competitiveness of wind and solar, and the move by developers to increase the size of projects and portfolios has enabled cost efficiencies.

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Energy transition grapples with unknowns – including Covid response

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While the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant global lockdowns have led to increasing calls for economic recovery plans to put the energy transition at their core, it remains to be seen how policy makers will respond. This is one of the 13 unknowns in the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council’s Energy A-Z of the energy transition: Knowns and Unknowns, and the topic of a future report. Technological advances and the falling cost of renewables are, however, driving the transition regardless, accelerating the peak and decline of fossil fuels.

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Costing the hydrogen transition

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Up to $150 billion in subsidies is needed by 2030 to scale-up hydrogen, which in turn would lead to a one-third reduction in emissions from fossil fuels by 2050, finds BloombergNEF analysts. They predict the cost of renewable hydrogen will fall to $0.8-1.6/kg, which would allow it to compete with natural gas in China, India and Germany, and also enable it to be used in industrial processes at a carbon price of $50/t CO2. Challenges such as storage capacity and distribution infrastructure remain, however.

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China can afford to phase out coal

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China can achieve a 2°C compatible coal power phaseout by 2050-2055 with little economic impact and a more ambitious 1.5ºC phaseout by 2040-2045 with a carefully designed retirement plan and financial compensation, says a study by the University of Maryland, North China Electric Power University in Beijing and the National Development and Reform Commission of China. The roadmap for retirement is based on immediately halting new construction, the near-term retirement of older, small coal plants that use subcritical combustion technologies and the gradual retirement of remaining plants.

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Carbon pricing on the march

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Just over 40% of global GDP and 9% of global GHG emissions are subject to emissions trading, finds the International Carbon Action Partnership’s annual ETS Status Report. Such systems are delivering on decarbonisation, with notable falls in emissions from power generators in the UK, Germany and the north-east of the US, and a decoupling of emissions and GDP growth in California. Achieving the clean transition, however, will require complementary policies, such as building codes, performance standards and technology mandates.

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Retailers want electric trucks, but need more infrastructure, incentives

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US retailers want to electrify their fleets, but upfront costs for electric trucks and buses remain a major barrier, finds a report co-authored by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. Models suggest it can cost less to own an average electric lorry compared with a diesel or natural gas equivalent if there are adequate financial incentives and a comprehensive charging infrastructure. Energy and fleet management teams within retailers must also collaborate to keep costs down and companies need skilled technicians to maintain vehicles.

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Hermes reveals climate emergency metrics

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Hermes Investment Management has published its latest climate report, the first to be aligned with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The company lays out its approach to identifying and managing climate risks and seizing opportunities as a business, from involvement at the policy level in developing climate-related initiatives to ensuring all employees factor the climate emergency into their work. The report highlights how the company is implementing TCFD recommendations and where improvement is needed. Its clear approach and metrics offers a model for others to follow.

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Wind power is main US renewables source

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Wind energy overtook hydro in the US in 2019 to become the top source of renewables-generated electricity, says the US government’s Energy Information Administration. Wind generation was about 300 million MWh, exceeding generation from dams by 26 million MWh. Wind generation has increased steadily in the past decade, in part because of the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), which drove capacity installations and is now expiring. Wind costs have also dropped dramatically. Annual hydro generation varied between 250 million MWh and 320 million MWh in the past decade, but since 2017 has dropped significantly.

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More grist to the electrification mill

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Electrification of the transport, buildings and industrial sectors in Europe could slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 60% between 2020 and 2050, says a report from BloombergNEF (BNEF) and power companies Statkraft and Eaton. But the authors are clear concrete action is needed from policy makers to make change happen. This could include  incentives or requirements to cut emissions from building heat, supporting demonstration projects for electrification and ironing out barriers to the production of green hydrogen.  Engaging energy consumers and civil society is also important, they state.

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Sudden, inevitable policy shift increases risk of stranded assets

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New investments by oil companies over the next five years could see their value plummet as much as 50% if policy makers undertake a sudden, and inevitable, shift to increase action to counter climate change, warns a report by Carbon Tracker Initiative. This abrupt “handbrake turn” — assessed in the report to occur in 2025 — will lead to a subsequent fall in oil prices and negative impact on the valuation of oil firms. The report finds US firms, led by ExxonMobil, are most exposed, and suggests investors insist on higher rates of return to reflect this risk.

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Energy emissions decoupled from economy in 2019

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Increased renewables, fuel switching and an uptick in nuclear power saw static emissions growth from energy last year, even as the global economy grew by 2.9%, says data from the International Energy Agency. Emissions from coal dropped 1.3% year-on-year, with the IEA saying the data suggests the energy transition is underway. Advanced economies saw their emissions decline by over 370 million tonnes (or 3.2%), with the power sector responsible for 85% of the drop. Mild weather drove down emissions by 150 million tonnes.

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Climate action in China will save lives

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Ambitious climate action by China would also save lives and millions in healthcare costs by significantly increasing outdoor air quality, says a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. But to achieve these wins, the country needs to slash fossil fuel subsidies and invest more heavily in renewables. Subsidies to fossil fuel consumption in China amount to around $40 billion a year, while renewable energy subsidies are only a quarter of that at $10.5 billion a year, says the IISD.

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Utility-scale solar prices in the US have plummeted 70%

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Median prices for installed photovoltaics projects in the US have fallen by 70% or more since 2010, says the latest annual report on utility-scale solar by the governmental Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Levelised PPA prices for utility-scale PV power purchase agreements have also fallen dramatically, by $10/MWh annually in most years since 2013. The cumulative net AC capacity factor of individual projects — how much energy is produced compared with the facility’s maximum possible output — ranged widely from 12.1% to 34.8%.

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EIA: US renewables to surge in 2020

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Renewable energy is closer to pulling ahead of fossil fuels in the US. Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows wind and solar will represent almost 32 GW, or 76%, of new capacity additions this year. The EIA expects 42 GW of new capacity to start commercial operation in 2020. Wind power accounts for the largest share of new capacity at 44%, followed by solar and natural gas at 32% and 22% respectively. Wind’s previous record in the US was 13.2 GW in 2012.

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Sustainable investing is a win-win

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Research by S&P Global Market Intelligence shows investors are wrong to be wary of sustainable investing that takes into consideration environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. The analysis concludes: “Carbon-sensitive portfolios have similar returns and significantly better climate characteristics than portfolios constructed without carbon emission considerations.” It cites studies showing companies with lower carbon emissions are more profitable than those producing more emissions. Highly profitable firms are usually well managed and have the resources to adopt proactive environmental strategies to decrease regulatory liabilities, mitigate business risks and manage important stakeholders, it states.

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EU needs EV infrastructure plan

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Electric vehicles are increasing in Europe, but charging points need to come on line to keep up with and encourage this growth. Scenarios estimate there will be 33 to 44 million EVs in the EU by 2030. NGO T&E has designed a methodology, a Public Charging Supply metric, to help policy makers set public charging infrastructure targets. The organisation suggests 1.3 million public charge points will be required EU-wide in five years and close to three million by 2030, requiring investment of €1.8 billion in 2025, 3% of the EU’s annual investment in road transport infrastructure.

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Clean energy standards will require new policies

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A report by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) finds a market-based solution is needed to support the US’s clean energy standards (CES) if mid-century climate goals are to be reached. Many states in the US have CES requiring a certain proportion of retail electricity be renewable. But only a few have the most effective approach – a market-based model that prioritises performance and outcome rather than particular technologies. A federal CES could also be adopted that covers the industrial and transportation sectors as well as utilities.

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US states, cities and businesses driving a low-carbon future

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A coalition of US states, cities and businesses – representing 68% of the country’s GDP – are laying the foundation for a thorough national climate strategy which, combined with aggressive future federal climate action, could lead to a 49% cut in emissions, against 2005 levels, by 2030. Accelerating America’s Pledge, released at the UN climate talks in Madrid, reports that existing policies will already achieve a 25% cut by 2030. A well-planned, rapid change could bring benefits across the economy, including via lower power bills for consumers due to falling costs of clean technologies.

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Innovation at the grid edge

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This white paper by Siemens looks at technological developments at the grid edge — the interface between the grid, the final consumer and the technologies that connect to it — including artificial intelligence and data-driven systems. These technologies are creating new forms of connectedness and opening up new opportunities for generating and using energy. The paper examines these developments and their impact on the transition to a net-zero energy system: encouraging the move from a centralized energy system to one that is more decentralized, more local and more efficient.

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Put carbon pricing at heart of US climate agenda

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Carbon pricing must lead US efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, says the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. The agenda should also include: half of new light-duty vehicle sales becoming zero emission vehicles by 2035; new national standards for regulating methane emissions in the oil and gas sector; phasing out of subsidies for higher-carbon energy sources and adoption of tax credits for zero-carbon power generation; and setting state and local goals and building standards to decarbonise buildings through energy efficiency, electrification and other forms of fuel switching.

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EVs could shift LA’s residential peak load to night-time

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With a 10% penetration of electric vehicles, the car capital of the world could shift its entire residential peak load to night-time hours. In Los Angeles, even such a low penetration of EVs would create enough virtual power plants to discharge during peak evening hours. The annual cost savings would be $560 per EV customer even after accounting for the cost of overnight recharging. Deloitte forecasts a tipping point in 2022 where the cost of ownership of an EV will equal the cost of an internal combustion engine vehicle.

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Asian banks need more climate transparency

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There is a clear need for more transparency and standardisation around climate action policies and measures in place in all Asian development finance institutions, says a report by think tank E3G. It singles out the China Development Bank and Korea Development Bank in particular for making “very little information publicly available” on many of the ten metrics covered in its report aimed at measuring progress on actions to achieve the Paris Agreement, including mitigation and adaptation, climate risk and greenhouse gas accounting.

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California’s gas system must shrink and decarbonise

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California has committed to 100% clean electricity, a doubling of energy efficiency, widespread transport electrification and a carbon neutral economy by 2045. A report by Gridworks warns the state must plan the transition of its gas system or face “immense risk” as increasing infrastructure costs coincide with a rapid decline in demand. The volume of gas flowing through California’s gas delivery system will decline dramatically because of state and local policies. Even without electrification, gas use in homes will drop by 25% by 2050 because of efficiency.

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Climate is top concern for global CEOs

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Top CEOs globally believe climate change is the leading risk to organisational growth in 2019, ahead of technological disruption, return to territorialism, cyber security and operational risk, shows KPMG’s 2019 Global CEO Outlook. This is the first time in the five-year history of the survey that climate change ranked first. Of the 1300 CEOs across 11 markets and 11 industry sectors, 76% said their company’s growth will depend on their ability to navigate the shift to a low-carbon, clean-technology economy.

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EU coal power losses to reach €6.6 billion

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Almost 80% of EU coal power plants are running at a loss due to competition from cheaper renewable energy technologies and gas, and are on track to lose as much as €6.6 billion this year. Apocoalypse now, by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, finds that Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic are the most exposed. RWE, with nearly 18,000 MW of installed coal capacity, could post a loss of €975 million. Given the worsening economics of coal-burn, analysts forecast the fuel could be phased out entirely by 2030.

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Pathway to sustainable finance in New Zealand

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New Zealand’s financial markets are largely not aligned with sustainability initiatives, writes the Aotearoa Circle Sustainable Finance Forum in its interim report on why and how the country needs to shift to a sustainable economy. The solutions lie in three themes: changing mindsets, particularly among leadership, to drive the change; greening the finance sector, including by pricing the social and environmental impacts of business; and by redirecting capital to projects which deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Renewables poised for 50% growth by 2024

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Falling costs and supportive policies will help push the total global installed renewable capacity up by 1200 GW by 2024, an increase of 50% on current levels, finds the International Energy Agency. Renewables will account for 30% of global power generation by 2024, compared to 26% today. Solar PV will drive this surge, with the agency forecasting a 60% increase. But this growth will still fall short of global sustainability targets with policy uncertainty, system integration and high investment risk remaining barriers.

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Renewables not gas cheapest for reliability

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A combination of wind, solar, battery storage, energy efficiency and demand flexibility is already a cheaper means of securing reliable power supply in the heavily fossil-fuel dependent Canadian province of Alberta than building gas fired capacity, concludes the Pembina Institute, a non-partisan think tank. Despite the low cost of gas in Alberta, the zero-carbon mix is the winner for security of supply and lowest cost. Pembina’s conclusion supports similar US modelling and assumes no subsidies for any technology.

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Wind’s role in power supply could boom

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Wind’s role in power supply could be nine times larger than it is today by 2040, says a study by KPMG. Wind could supply up to 34% of global electric power demand compared to 4% today, says a report for Siemens Gamesa. That is 14,000 TWh, equivalent to today’s total power generation in China, Europe and the US. The industry could offset 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2, equal to the annual emissions of the world’s 80 most polluting cities, by 2050.

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Reducing building construction emissions

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Building and construction are responsible for 39% of all global carbon emissions. Energy to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of emissions, with the remaining 11% from embodied carbon, emissions associated with materials and construction processes. The Green Building Council, backed by companies such as HeidelbergCement, Skanska, a construction group, and Google, has issued a report showing how carbon emissions could be eliminated throughout the whole building lifecycle, but warns change will not happen without a radical shift in how industry works together

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China leads renewable jobs table

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Renewable energy employed 11 million people at the end of 2018, according to the sixth edition of the Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2019 by the International Renewable Energy Agency. Thirty-nine of all renewable energy jobs were in China, and 32% of renewable energy jobs were held by women, says the report. Solar photovoltaic (PV) remained the top employer among renewable energy technologies in 2018, comprising a third of the sector’s jobs. Asia hosted over three million PV jobs, nearly nine-tenths of the global total

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Bumpy road ahead for oil

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Introducing the concept of Energy Return on Capital Invested (EROCI), this report from BNP Paribas looks at the economics of oil versus renewables for road transport and warns the rapid decarbonisation of the utility sector — and resultant stranded fossil fuel-based assets — should serve as a warning to the oil industry. Renewables combined with electric vehicles yield six to seven times more energy than a similar outlay on oil for gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles and three to four times more than diesel-powered vehicles

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Nordic clean energy progress too slow

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All five Nordic countries (Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland) have significantly increased renewable energy use, but must do more to decarbonise industry, transport and buildings, says a report tracking clean energy progress. Norway leads the deployment of electric vehicles, but they only make up 3% of the total Nordic car fleet. The average energy demand of Nordic buildings has decreased only slightly over the last ten years, and the exploitation of residual heat and further decarbonisation of industry are major technological and political challenges, says the report.

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US states show energy efficiency makes sense

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Despite climate change denying rhetoric from the White House, the latest scorecard from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy describes 2019 as a “whirlwind year for energy efficiency” at the state level. Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York top the list. Particular highlights were the adoption by Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, New York and Maine of 100% clean energy goals coupled with plans to ramp up efficiency investment. The scorecard shows utilities in the US spent $8 billion in 2018 for efficiency programmes, achieving electricity savings of 27.1 million megawatt hours.

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EU needs to stop paying ships to pollute

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A paper from the NGO Transport & Environment estimates the EU gives more than €24 billion a year in subsidies to the maritime sector in the form of fossil fuel tax exemptions. Shipping is not subject to any formal emissions reduction targets under EU legislation and T&E wants the sector to be brought under the EU Emissions Trading System. This move would generate over €3.6 billion a year in revenues that could be invested in greening the EU economy, including the maritime sector in green port infrastructure and operational subsidies for first-movers, says the organisation.

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Big figures, but still not enough

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Global investment in new renewable energy capacity from 2010 to 2019 should hit $2.6 trillion, led by growth in solar power capacity, finds the latest Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report. Overall green power has helped the world avoid around 2 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, conclude the authors. But they warn the figures, as impressive as they may seem, represent only “a small share of the overall economic transition required to address climate change” and call for the pace of the global switch to renewables to be rapidly stepped up.

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Oil majors failing to take climate emergency seriously

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In 2018, all major oil companies sanctioned projects that fall outside the international agreement to keep warming “well below 2°C” and that will fail to deliver adequate returns in a low-carbon world. In its report, Carbon Tracker Initiative singles out “large European companies doing their most to reassure investors they are responsive to climate concerns”, namely BP, Shell, Total and Equinor, as being equally guilty as other firms. Overall, it cites $50 billion of recently sanctioned projects across the oil and gas industry that are not aligned with the Paris climate agreement.

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Think big and believe in the energy transition

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If investors and policy makers accept that a rapid clean energy transition is taking place, this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, enabling emissions to be reduced in line with the Paris climate agreement, concludes a White Paper from the World Economic Forum. If, on the other hand, leaders opt for gradual change and only half-heartedly accept and advocate for a rapid move from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, progress will be too slow and runaway climate change likely to be the result.

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US offshore wind industry is booming

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The pipeline of offshore wind projects in the US is over 25.8 gigawatts (GW), of which 21.2 GW is in sites won through government auctions, says the US Department of Energy. The 2018 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report shows US offshore wind capacity could grow to 11–16 GW by 2030. Offtake prices for the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in Massachusetts were lower than expected. The first-year price for the power purchase agreement was $74 a megawatt-hour (MWh) for phase 1 of the 800MW Vineyard Wind project and $65/MWh for phase 2.

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How to green China’s Belt and Road initiative

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The 126 countries involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative need to ensure investments in infrastructure and real estate are low-carbon and in line with the commitments of the Paris climate agreement if the world is to have any hope of keeping climate change and its effects under control, say researchers from China, the UK and the US. The report proposals a series of solutions, including forming an international coalition to support green financing and promoting green investment principles with global investors.

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EU not walking the renewables talk

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In 2018, the European Commission published its vision of how the European economy can become climate neutral by 2050 and countries around Europe are declaring climate emergencies. Yet, research shows not one EU member state comprehensively reports on its fossil fuel subsidies or has plans to phase them out. Worse, five EU countries — the UK, Germany, Greece, Poland and Slovenia — are looking to introduce new fossil fuel subsidies by 2030. The information comes from the countries’ draft National Energy and Climate Plans.

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Top companies flock to US solar investments

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Leading companies are increasingly investing in solar energy in the US because it makes economic sense, says an industry report. Most of the top ten are household names. Apple is the leading procurer of corporate solar in the US with nearly 400 megawatts of total installed capacity. The tech giant is followed by: Amazon; chain retailers Target and Walmart; data centre company Switch; Google; health company Kaiser Permanente; global property and supply chain logistics  firm Prologis; Belgian chemical company Solvay; and Fifth Third Bank.

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Investing in storage could help slash CO2 emissions

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A study by researchers at the University of Michigan, US concludes that without storage, adding 60  GW of renewables to California would achieve a 72% reduction in CO2 emissions compared with a zero-renewables case. Adding energy storage technologies would allow a 90% reduction in CO2, they find. In Texas, the same renewables deployment level of 60 GW would lead to a 54% emissions reduction and storage could increase this to 57%. A carbon tax could help pay for energy storage, they suggest.

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US wind energy costs plummet to all-time lows

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Low wind turbine pricing continues to push down installed project costs, a report by the US Department of Energy finds. Wind turbine prices have fallen to $700–$900/kW, helping push the average installed cost of wind projects in 2018 to $1470/kW, down 40% since the peak in 2009 and 2010The median and generation-weighted average wind power purchase agreement prices from contracts executed in the past three years are also consistently below the low end of the projected natural gas fuel cost range, says the report.

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Fossil fuels offer ever poorer return on energy investment

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Fossil fuels come out on top when their energy return on energy investment (EROI) — the ratio of how much energy a source such as coal will produce compared to how much energy it takes to extract— is compared to renewables. But researchers from the University of Leeds, UK, say this is because historically EROIs have been measured at extraction. Taking into account the energy required to transform oil, coal and gas into finished fuels brings the ratios much closer and makes a strong case for rapidly stepping up investment in renewable energies, say the scientists.

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Coastal states must cooperate to support US offshore wind

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US states must do more than compete with each other for ocean energy power. They must cooperate to create a winning industry for the country, says the Leadership 100 Work Plan by the Business Network for Offshore Wind. This is because US states, which are independent in some ways from each other and from the federal government, often compete to be home to the nascent offshore wind supply chain. Cooperation between states is also key to developing the grid and transmission lines needed to support large offshore wind projects.

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Investors and pensions at risk from reduced fossil fuel shipping

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Fossil fuels make up over 40% of the annual cargo tonnage of all maritime trade. If the world changes its energy sources to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement, investors in shipping and ports will be exposed to substantial financial risks, says a study by Maritime Strategies International. If the average global temperature rise is limited to 1.5°C, the value of the world’s dry bulk ships will more than halve from $195 billion in 2018 to $90 billion by 2030 with significant implications for investment banks and major institutional investors.

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Renewables are here to stay

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Solar photovoltaics and wind are now mainstream options in the power sector, with an increasing number of countries generating more than 20% of their electricity from these energy sources, shows the Renewables 2019 Global Status Report from REN21, a think tank. But a lack of ambitious and sustained policies to drive decarbonisation in the heating, cooling and transport sectors means countries are not maximising the benefits of the clean energy transition, including cleaner air and energy security, says the report.

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Yeti-sized digital footprint

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At over 300 million tonnes, online video emits as much carbon dioxide a year as Spain, says a report by French think tank The Shift Project. The main use of digital tools worldwide, online video accounts for 60% of global data flows and is the biggest producer of GHG emissions in the digital sector. Overall, the digital sector is responsible for 4% of global emissions, as much as civil aviation, and its global energy consumption is growing by 9% a year. Left unchecked, its emissions may double by 2025, reaching the same share of global emissions as passenger cars today.

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US state policies boost renewable energy

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About half of the growth in US renewable energy generation since 2000 is because of state requirements, says a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Iowa was the first state to establish a renewable portfolio standard, which mandates utilities to source a certain proportion of electricity from renewables. More than half of states have since established such requirements. But the role of RPS policies has diminished because of declining renewable energy costs and the adoption of other state policies such as net metering.

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Energy sustainability could boost workforce diversity

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The US clean energy economy workforce is old school. Compared with other sectors, including fossil fuels, the clean energy workforce is older, more male-dominated and lacks more racial diversity, says a report, Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs, by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Programme in Washington DC. The authors argue the clean energy transition will bring high-paying jobs, especially to those with fewer academic credentials — and it is therefore a great opportunity to include women and minorities. 

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Over slow coal phase out

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To meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the EU should phase out coal by 2030. Analysis by Sandbag and Climate Action Network Europe shows Europe is not on track. After examining the draft National Energy and Climate Plans of 21 countries still using coal for electricity generation, the NGOs found only eight will end coal by this date, leaving 60 gigawatts of installed capacity, a reduction of only 58% compared to current levels. As the report says, member states need to make sure the transition is more than just talk. 

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Financing a just transition

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The just transition has become a trendy term, but financing the move away from coal and fossil fuels to a sustainable and clean economy based on renewables and efficiency is complicated. The EU office of the WWF has produced this briefing paper showing how EU-level funds can help pay for this transformation in the form of seed money for the development of comprehensive and locally developed, strategic long-term transition plans based on assessments of early economic needs.

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Wind leading US energy transition

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Annual generation from wind will surpass hydro power generation for the first time in 2019 to become the leading source of renewable electricity generation in the US, forecasts the Energy Information Administration. Wind will maintain that position in 2020, says the government agency’s monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. Renewables will produce 18% of the country’s electricity in 2019 and almost 20% in 2020, it adds. In contrast, coal consumption, already at a 39-year low of 687 million tonnes (Mt), will fall to 602 Mt in 2019 and to 567 Mt in 2020.

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EU moves closer to green finance laws

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The EU Technical Expert Group on sustainable finance has released three new reports related to taxonomy, green bonds standards and climate benchmarks. These will form the basis for a package of legislation on green finance, stipulating which economic activities can be labelled “environmentally sustainable” as the EU aims for a net-zero emissions economy. WWF called the report on taxonomy “a robust starting point”. The green bonds standards “add value beyond current best market practice”, said the NGO, encouraging adoption by bond issuers, underwriters and investors. 

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Energy efficiency is the heart of the transition

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Analysis from the Energy Efficiency Council, an Australian non-profit, underlines the growing importance of energy efficiency. Global private and public investment in energy efficiency was AU$346 billion (€212 billion) in 2018. Energy savings are not a marginal issue with energy efficiency improvements since 2000 reducing China’s annual energy demand in 2017 by nearly 10%, notes the report. In short, in 2017 China saved more than twice as much energy as Australia used. The main message:  put energy efficiency at the centre of energy policies.

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Targets and cheap construction costs boost wind

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Just four states provided 52% of US wind energy in 2018, says a paper by the US Energy Information Administration. Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas are not only very windy, but they also have either mandatory renewable energy requirements or voluntary goals as well as relatively cheap construction costs. Five other states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and Colorado—provided another 20% of total wind generation. US producers generated 275 million megawatt hours of electricity from wind power in 2018, says the federal agency. 

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Tax incentives to spur power sector innovation

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Tax incentives are inherently less efficient than direct federal spending at transmitting incentives to the private sector, say researchers at Columbia University, US. But new predictable, long-term tax incentives are important to enable the deployment of technologies to make the power sector more flexible and integrate significant amounts of renewable energy, they add. Support should be ramped down as technologies mature, they insist. Eligibility for America’s federal tax credit for wind energy projects expires in December 2019 and the incentive for solar will start being phased out in 2020.

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Urgent need to overhaul US grid

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The US power grid is ageing and urgently needs an update, says a report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Grid Vision: The Electric Highway to a 21st Century Economy. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave America’s electricity infrastructure a grade of only D+, highlights the report. Dozens of studies confirm that an investment in transmission will pay for itself many times over, says AWEA. Well-designed transmission projects provide consumer benefits two to four times greater than their cost, the trade group says. 

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Solar needs right support

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Solar power is forecast to increase significantly in the coming years, says the Global Market Outlook For Solar Power 2019-2023, an industry report. It cites the continuing fall in solar’s power generation cost, which decreased by around 14% year-on-year in 2018 to $0.02 a kilowatt hour in many sunny places around the world, as an important element. But the report warns: “Low generation cost alone is not enough to facilitate growth; it also needs the right policy frameworks and energy market designs”. 

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Slow progress on renewables in heat and transport

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Increasing progress towards the global energy targets set in the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals requires “stronger political commitment, long-term energy planning, increased private financing and adequate policy and fiscal incentives to spur faster deployment of new technologies”, says a report from the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the World Bank and others. The use of renewable energy in heat generation and transport still lags far behind the goals, it states.

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Electric vehicles save energy

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Policies, targets and fiscal incentives are important to grow the electric vehicle (EV) market, says the International Energy Agency in the 2019 Global EV Outlook. Technology developments are bringing down costs and this trend is set to continue. The report also underlines the need for policies and market frameworks to ensure electric mobility plays an active role in increasing the flexibility of power systems. It likewise confirms electric cars save more energy than they use, significantly contributing to reducing emissions and oil use by 2030. 

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Urban waste heat potential

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The potential for waste heat for district heating and cooling was a big subject at the recent Euroheat & Power Congress. The Accessible Urban Waste Heat report published in 2018 by ReUseHeat, an EU research project, is worth (re-)visiting to help assess opportunities. It shows enough waste heat could be recovered from urban sources, such as data centres, metro stations, service sector buildings, and waste water treatment plants to supply more than 10% of the EU’s total energy demand for heat and hot water.

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Cities’ investment needs

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new publication by Energy Cities, a Brussels-based NGO, illustrates the energy transition investment needs of five European cities (Ghent, Belgium, Frederikshavn, Denmark Bordeaux-Métropole, France, Sevilla, Spain and Tallinn, Estonia). The amounts vary significantly between €750 million to €3 billion. The report also provides guidance on where financial support is needed locally in an effort to steer funding change at an EU and national level to ensure spending supports actions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. 

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Countries told to improve net zero emissions plans

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All EU member states need to rewrite draft plans aimed at showing how they will get on a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, according to analysis by the Ecologic Institute and Climact, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation. Too many countries have limited plans for phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies, offer few indications on much needed investments, have included “too much unsustainable biomass” in their planned energy mix and are failing to consult adequately with the public. Final versions are due by the end of the year.

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Energy transition business leaders

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For businesses wanting to lead the energy transition, the World Economic Forum has put together a report entitled Two Degrees of Transformation: Businesses are coming together to lead on climate change. Will you join them? It cites companies from a variety of sectors that have reinvented their businesses to thrive in a low-carbon future. It focuses on: different industries working together to develop low-carbon products and technologies; creating sustainable value chains; harnessing data and connectivity; and financing change.

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Recommendations to reduce financial climate risks

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The Network for Greening the Financial System has published its first report setting out financial risks linked to climate change and outlining six recommendations for central banks and financial supervisors. These include: integrating climate-related risks into financial stability monitoring and sustainability into portfolio management; bridging data gaps; building awareness, intellectual capacity and encouraging knowledge sharing; robust and internationally consistent climate and environment-related disclosure; supporting a taxonomy of economic activities.

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Heavy industry costs to achieve net-zero emissions

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Products from Europe’s heavy industries are needed to power the clean energy transition, yet these sectors release over 500 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, 14% of the EU total. These emissions can be reduced to net-zero by 2050, concludes a report by Material Economics. The change will have little impact on end-user/consumer costs, but industry will need to introduce new costlier production processes with significant near-term capital investment equivalent to a 25–60% increase on today’s rates required, reaching €40-50 billion a year.

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Investors need to wake up to climate change

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BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, warns the US economy is at risk of severe consequences because of climate change and urges investors to wake up. Rising sea levels, increased and more violent hurricanes, wildfires and droughts are all threats that should be factored into investment decisions, it says. Its report examines four scenarios based on different levels of climate action, showing that an immediate and decisive move away from fossil fuels to reduce stop emissions and climate change spiralling out of control will also reduce investment risk. 

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Renewables and electrification to deliver climate goals

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Scaling-up renewable energy combined with electrification can deliver more than 75% of the energy-related emission reductions needed to meet global climate goals, says the International Renewable Energy Agency. An accelerated energy transition based on this approach would also save the global economy up to $160 trillion cumulatively over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages. Every dollar spent on energy transition would pay off up to seven times, says the report, with the global economy growing by 2.5% in 2050.

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Lower gas volumes in all scenarios

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The second Gas for Climate study published by Navigant for a group of seven European gas transport companies and two renewable gas industry associations looks at the role of gas in a decarbonised EU energy system. It compares a “minimal gas” scenario with an “optimised gas” scenario. Both arrive at a net-zero emissions system by 2050 via a large scale-up of wind and solar, and blue hydrogen being replaced by renewable green hydrogen towards 2050/2060. In both scenarios, gas volumes used in networks are lower in 2050 than in 2019.

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