You speak passionately of the need for a “radical energy transition” to reach the 1.5°C target by 2030 - what are the main bottlenecks in this effort and how are they being addressed?
More than 130 countries have committed to net zero, so the political will seems to be there. But translating political will into realities is a whole other matter. There is a question of time, because moving markets and switching energy systems alongside supply chains is not easy, especially given today’s markets and infrastructure are still designed to support the old, centralized energy systems based on fossil fuels. Shifting to renewable energy also means changing the type of contracts, and integrating new fuels such as hydrogen, as well as new energy storage technologies. There is an entirely new world that needs to be built to make the transition happen and turn political will into reality.
The transition needs to be understood for what it is - a way to increase everyone’s well-being and design a more equal world. By accelerating a just transition, we also address the need for job creation and fairer and cleaner work environments. The challenges are global. Decarbonization is not just a European or North American issue, it must be tackled globally through cooperation with countries that are still heavily reliant on oil and gas. International cooperation is key to support all countries in their energy transitions.
Industry 5.0 for the first time is making ESG a necessity for companies - what are the most exciting technological advances paving the way for the transition?
IRENA organizes innovation days, pioneers technology knowhow and has many other technology focused initiatives every year. We look at three main pillars in the transition: technology, policies and the socioeconomic benefits. Considering current and upcoming technologies in wind and solar energy, for instance, or storage and hydrogen, they are already up to par with what is needed to support the climate and sustainable development goals. Technology is not the issue. The technology is available but needs a functional supply chain, to be able to scale up quickly. We need reliable access to the raw materials and minerals to produce equipment and components. This is a concern that can be fixed through planning, the right policies, technology choices and international cooperation.
As an example, I recently visited a small factory in the Walloon region of Belgium where they are building batteries without batteries. They just had two big steel cylinders working to provide energy for the village for 24 hours, powered by solar panels. The connected company is using steel and sand for energy storage, without the need for a battery, and there are many similar innovations. But importantly, we must look at innovation and the efficient use of materials and there are advances in the circular economy where nearly 95% of minerals can now be recycled.
In what ways can the supply chain be optimized, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the midst of the Ukrainian crisis?
The Ukrainian crisis has made the need for energy independence an imperative. The world knew that investing in renewables was profitable and indispensable for the planet and job creation. However, the need for independence brought it all to a new level, as the solution for a reliable and decentralized energy system became paramount. Over 80% of countries are still fossil fuel dependent while renewables are available everywhere.
The clean energy supply itself has fallen under criticism for carrying a heavy carbon footprint, from mining to the final product. How is this being mitigated?
We at IRENA see the two main drivers for the energy transition in the electrification with renewables and the efficient use of energy in end-use. Improved energy efficiency means saving energy, less energy consumption, and a better carbon footprint after all. And we must always look at science. Science clearly tells us without any shadow of a doubt that renewable energy is the most efficient and environmentally friendly solution to mitigate CO2 emissions.
What is your vision for the future of the energy transition, do you remain optimistic?
This year we have been even more vocal and categorical about the need to act. Given the ongoing pace and scope of the energy transition,
Anything short of radical and immediate action will diminish the chance of staying on the 1.5°C or even 2°C path.
In IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook we laid out what needs to be done to accelerate the transition: triple investment in installed renewable energy capacity between now and 2030, building the hydrogen market (standards, certifications etc.), and prioritizing the social aspect of the transition through a just transition. Will governments be up to the task? That remains to be seen. The upcoming COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the UAE must be COPs that drive action. We, and science, have a single message for the world - the window is closing.
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