Opinion - 26/November/2019

Time to shift our focus

While the growth of renewables is accelerating, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. Getting serious about climate change mitigation requires a significant shift of focus, says Morten Dyrholm, Group Senior Vice President at Vestas Wind Systems. If each part of the energy sector continues working in isolation, we will miss opportunities to collaborate on solutions.

To tackle the greatest challenges mankind has ever faced, we cannot afford to continue with scattered and uncoordinated initiatives

 

I have been in the renewables sector long enough to look back and measure our progress. While we are seeing tremendous growth in renewables, we still get regular reminders that time to limit global warming to 1.5°C is running out and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. Compare the stated policies of the recently published World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency with its sustainable development scenario, which is consistent with meeting targets agreed in the Paris Agreement, and you will see a huge gap.

During my time in the industry, we have made progress and I have become a parent, increasing my sense of urgency about addressing that gap. I see kids in the streets fighting for change and I know that we as an industry need to do better for the coming generations. Doing better means acknowledging a new perspective: low cost renewable electricity should be used for so much more.

 

BRIGHT FUTURE FOR RENEWABLES BY COLLABORATING ON INTEGRATION

Some might see this gap as a challenge, but I see it as a huge opportunity. Global political commitment to mitigating climate change is increasing. Renewables have become so cost-competitive that investors and lenders are turning away from coal, oil and natural gas. And industry’s thirst for renewables is increasing with more and more corporations shifting to clean energy.

To take advantage of this opportunity, and to keep making progress on integrating renewables into the energy system, we need to start collaborating on measures that are available to us now. Although most countries are still in early transition phases — where renewables have only minor impacts on the system — some power systems, like those in Denmark, Ireland and South Australia, are showcasing success in integrating double-digit shares of variable renewable energy. This experience is producing evidence and adding to a growing body of knowledge on how to successfully decarbonise our energy systems.

What we now need to do is take a holistic view about how to further energy system flexibility and acknowledge that political decisions, regulatory frameworks, technologies and infrastructures mutually shape each other. Despite this, when I go to wind energy events, discussions on future energy systems predictably divide into camps with the wind, solar and fossil fuel sectors arguing from their own perspectives, not to mention the system operators and so on. Policy makers are very confused as we shoot at them from different angles.

For the sake of future generations, this approach cannot go on. To tackle the greatest challenges mankind has ever faced, we cannot afford to continue with scattered and uncoordinated initiatives. Denmark is aiming to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 70% in ten years. It is, of course, some task to get started with many unknowns. But this is exactly the conversation we want to start having. We must start collaborating in a more effective way and provide governments and policy makers with options that reflect a system-wide greater good.

 

 

THE WAY FORWARD REQUIRES FACTORING IN VALUE

How do we do this? Let’s start by moving discussions on renewables and their competitiveness from being heavily focused on cost to concentrating on the value they bring to society. By value I refer to the when, where, how and what kind of energy is generated:

  • With increasing shares of renewables in the grid, we need to boost power system flexibility. That includes adapting grids, building grids, sector coupling, spur demand side participation and look at storage options, so we can use renewable electricity to serve as many needs as possible.
  • Electricity and energy markets were designed for yesterday and made sense in the context of the past. But now we must focus on transforming today’s systems to integrate renewables and incentivise system friendliness.
  • And lastly, energy markets have to maximise system value and the interplay between positive and negative effects. In here we find questions on emissions, pollution, health impacts, water availability and quality, additional grid costs, sector coupling incentives, job creation, economy, investments and community benefits.

If we continue to focus solely in silos and on costs, we will continue to deny that many consequences of energy generation and consumption do not have a market price, but come with costs that will be borne by our generation and by those to come. This approach will lead us to take the wrong political decisions and incentivise the wrong technologies. I cannot accept that and neither should you.

To ensure that this does not happen, let’s shift focus, stop energy market silos, start working together across sectors and then talk about how we increase the value of a future-proof energy system. That will help us increase the value we bring to the society as a whole, for today and well into the future.

 


The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy

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