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Renewable energy capacity is set to expand 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar energy. This is according to The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s ‘Renewable 2020’ report, which found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years, making for the argument that the future lies in using renewable energy. 

The Future of Renewable Energy: Growth Projections

Renewable energy resources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024. The resurgence follows a global slowdown in 2019, due to falling technology costs and rising environmental concerns.

Renewable energy in the future is predicted that by 2024, solar capacity in the world will grow by 600 gigawatts (GW), almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall, renewable electricity is predicted to grow by 1 200 GW by 2024, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the US. 

The IEA is an autonomous inter-governmental organisation that was initially created after the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. It now acts as an energy policy advisor to 29 member countries and the European Commission to shape energy policies for a secure and sustainable future.

Solar Will Become 35% Cheaper By 2024

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Industry experts predict that the US will double its solar installations to four million by 2023. In 2018, the UK had over one million solar panel installations, up by 2% from the previous year and Australia reached two million solar installations in the same year. A big reason for this increased uptake is the fall in prices to install the panels.

The cost of solar PV-based power declined by 13% in 2018, while Carbon Tracker predicts that 72% of coal-based power will become globally unprofitable by 2040. The IEA report found that solar energy will account for 60% of the predicted renewable growth, primarily due to its accessibility. Compared with the previous six-year period, expansion of solar energy has more than doubled. The cost of solar power is expected to decline by 15% to 35% by 2024, spurring further growth over the second half of the decade.

Future Capacity of Solar Energy

Wind and hydropower often require users to live in specific locations, but solar offers more freedom; the sun rises and sets on a predictable schedule, and it’s not as variable as running water or wind. Residential solar power is expected to expand from 58 GW in 2018 to 142 GW by 2024, and annual capacity additions are expected to more than triple to over 20 GW by 2024. China is expected to register the largest installed residential solar capacity in the world by 2024, with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Solar facilities will continue reducing their variability rates by storing electricity during the day and running at night. However, advanced solar plants will operate on higher DC to AC ratios, meaning they’ll deliver more consistent service for longer durations.

Commercial and residential buildings will keep running at full capacity even in periods of low sunlight. Closing the gaps between sunlight collection and electricity generation will spur residents and corporations to join the solar movement. Therefore, it’s imperative for governments to implement incentive and remuneration schemes, as well as effective regulation policies. For example, California has mandated that after 2020, solar panels must be installed on new homes and buildings of up to three storeys.

Commercial and industrial solar energy capacity is forecast to constitute 377 GW in 2024, up from 150 GW in 2018, with China predicted to be the largest growth market. This market remains the largest growth segment because solar power is usually more inexpensive and has a relatively stable load profile during the day, which generally enables larger savings on electricity bills.

You might also like: Top 5 Fastest-Growing Renewable Energy Sources Around the World

Onshore Wind Energy Capacity Will Increase 57% By 2024

To generate electricity using wind, wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity.

The adoption of wind power is becoming more prominent due to increased capacity.

Onshore wind capacity is expected to expand by 57% to 850 GW by 2024. Annual onshore wind additions will be led by the US and China, owing to a development rush and a policy transition to competitive auctions respectively. Expansion will accelerate in the EU as competitive auctions continue to keep costs relatively low. These auctions will mean that growth in Latin America, the MENA region, Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa will remain stable over the forecast period. 

Offshore wind capacity is forecast to increase almost threefold to 65 GW by 2024, representing almost 10% of total world wind generation. While the EU accounts for half of global offshore wind capacity expansion over the forecast period, on a country basis, China leads deployment, with 12.5 GW in development. The first large US capacity additions are also expected during the forecast period. 

Japan Expands Wind Energy

Japan is experimenting with the idea of installing offshore turbines to replace many of their nuclear reactors, a result of the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The company Marubeni recently signed a project agreement to build offshore farms in northern Japan, with each farm able to produce 140 MW of power.

Japanese lawmakers have created regulations to give developers more certainty in constructing sources of wind-based electricity; legislation outlining competitive bidding processes has been passed to ensure that building costs are reduced and developers consider potential capacity issues. The country’s Port and Harbour Law has also been revised to spur wind turbine construction in port-associated areas and other locations favourable to wind turbines. 

Grid integration, financing and social acceptance remain the key challenges to faster wind expansion globally. 

Hydroelectric Capacity Will Rise 9% By 2024

Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy.

According to the IEA, hydropower will remain the world’s primary source of renewable power in 2024. Capacity is set to increase 9% (121 GW) over the forecast period, led by China, India and Brazil. 25% of global growth is expected to come from just three megaprojects: two in China (the 16 GW Wudongde and 10 GW Baihetan projects) and one in Ethiopia (the 6.2 GW Grand Renaissance project).

However, there has been a slowdown in the two largest markets, China and Brazil; growth is challenged by rising investment costs due to limited remaining economical sites and extra expenditures in addressing social and environmental impacts.

Nevertheless, annual additions are expected to expand in sub-Saharan Africa and in the ASEAN region as untapped potential is used to meet rising power demand. 

Geothermal Capacity Will Increase 28% By 2024

To generate geothermal energy, hot water is pumped from deep underground through a well under high pressure. When the water reaches the surface, the pressure is dropped, which causes the water to turn into steam. The steam spins a turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity. The steam cools off in a cooling tower and condenses back to water. The cooled water is pumped back into the Earth to begin the process again.

The US market for geothermal heat pumps will exceed $2 billion by 2024 as demand for efficient heating solutions increases. Transformed building codes will encourage a move to renewable heating and electricity systems in commercial and residential real estates. 

Geothermal capacity is anticipated to grow 28%, reaching 18 GW by 2024, with Asia responsible for one-third of global expansion, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines, followed by Kenya, whose geothermal capacity is set to overtake Iceland’s during the forecast period. 

The same research from Global Market Insights predicts the commercial market will experience the most considerable uptick; according to the Department of Energy, geothermal solutions will generate 8.5% of all electricity in the US by 2050. 

The Future Lies in Using Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will continue to rise in the upcoming decade, edging out fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is a pivotal time for renewable energy,” said the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol. “Technologies such as solar and wind are at the heart of transformations taking place across the global energy system. Their increasing deployment is crucial for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution, and expand energy access.”

Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuel technologies have been driving economic growth, so reducing emissions may appear to threaten developing countries’ progress, but to meet the Paris target, this is exactly what needs to happen. Is there a way for developing countries to prosper without increasing their emissions? 

How Do Developing Countries Contribute to Climate Change?

A study from the World Resources Institute in 2017 reveals that the world’s top three emitters of greenhouse gases, namely China, the European Union and the US, contribute more than half of the total global emissions while six of the top 10 emitters are developing countries. 

The World Economic Forum recognises that carbon emissions and developing countries being lifted out of extreme poverty are linked. An increase in carbon emissions observed over 30 years shows that poverty has been reduced within East Asia and Pacific and South Asia, while sub-Saharan Africa has, during the same time period, reduced their emissions and almost doubled the number of people living in poverty.

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Moreover, The Paris Agreement acknowledges that the efforts toward reducing carbon emissions will be common but not equal among developed and developing countries. The fairness of these contributions will be determined by national circumstances so that there will be equity in the responses and responsibilities to address climate change. This means that developing countries will be allowed to emit more carbon until they have developed enough that they no longer need to rely on carbon-intensive industries. 

However, data compiled by the World Resources Institute shows that since 2000, 21 developing countries have reduced annual emissions while simultaneously growing their economies, indicating that the decoupling of economic growth with emissions is possible.

Similarly, The Low Carbon Index found that several G20 countries have reduced their economies’ carbon intensity while maintaining GDP growth, including countries classified as ‘developing’, such as China, India, South Africa and Mexico. 

While global carbon emissions have nevertheless been rising exponentially over the past decade, the International Energy Agency reported three years of flat emissions globally, from 2014 to 2016, as the global economy grew. A study conducted in 2017 investigated whether renewable energy has anything to do with this decoupling. The findings indicated that the nations that generated more electricity from renewable resources had lower carbon emissions overall, illustrating that renewable energy is able to support economic growth while reducing emissions. 

Clean Economic Growth for Sustainable Development

According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century’s (REN21) yearly overview of the global state of renewable energy, it made up 24.5% of global electricity generation in 2016. This went up to 26.5% in 2017, but by the end of 2018, it had gone down to 26.2%. While the adoption of renewable energy is steadily increasing, it is not enough to have a significant impact in the long term and needs to be adopted on a much larger scale. 

According to an International Energy Agency report, Africa has the richest solar resources but has installed only 5 GW of solar photovoltaics (PV), less than 1% of global capacity. Aiming to provide electricity for everyone on the continent would require a significant increase in electricity generation, with only 43% of Africans currently having a reliable power supply. According to the report, electricity demand on the continent will more than double by 2040.

The report indicates that with the right policies, Africa can meet the demand by relying on renewable energy, with solar energy having the potential to be its top renewable energy source, exceeding hydropower. That renewable energy is now the cheapest source of energy generation makes this all the more possible. “A focus on energy efficiency can support economic growth while curbing the increase in energy demand,” the report says. 

Africa’s endeavour to meet its energy needs in a renewable way while providing its inhabitants with a good quality of life should serve as inspiration for other developing nations.

There is evidently a huge opportunity for developing countries to generate energy sustainably. Renewable energy sources deliver economic benefits without the risks of fossil fuels; such benefits include creating more job opportunities in the energy sector and achieving energy independence.

Developing Countries Cannot Afford Renewable Energy

However, there are significant barriers that prevent developing countries from adopting renewable energy plans. Decarbonisation is often not a priority for less developed countries compared to economic growth and poverty alleviation. Many of these countries struggle with gaps in technical and financial expertise, a lack of resources and poor governance. 

Creating lowest-emission or renewable energy strategies shaped to each country’s unique circumstances is vital to maintaining and encouraging growth while reducing emissions. 

Developing countries need to implement policies that shift the economy away from carbon-intensive industries. These should be coordinated at a global level to ensure a worldwide shift towards an equitable and environmentally responsible future. 

A new study found that adopting a clean energy standard in US President Biden’s energy plan is the most effective tool to significantly reduce carbon emissions and reach 80% renewable energy by 2030. A forcible increase of renewable energy through incentives and penalties potentially saves  317,000 lives in the US from air pollution.

What is Happening? 

“The costs are much lower than we expected and the deaths avoided are much higher; there really is a huge opportunity here to address climate change and air quality,” said Kathy Fallon Lambert, one of the study’s co-author and an air quality expert at Harvard. 

You might also like: What’s Missing From Biden’s Climate Policy? A Carbon Price

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

It’s a milestone for renewable energy in the US: A solar and wind power provider topped ExxonMobil as America’s most valuable energy company.

NextEra Energy, based in Juno Beach, Florida, eclipsed Exxon this week when its value hit $143.8 billion, edging out the fossil-fuel giant. After the close of trading on Wednesday, NextEra was worth $900 million more that Exxon and about $2 billion more than Chevron, America’s No. 2 oil and gas producer.

NextEra’s enormous growth underlines the shift toward clean energy amid growing planetary destruction as a result of climate change. Exxon, once the world’s most valuable company, has seen its revenues and profits slide over the last decade.

By contrast, NextEra — the largest wind producer in North America and one of the largest solar companies — has enjoyed profit margins of as much as 50%, while its stock has outperformed the broader stock market. (NextEra also produces some natural gas as well as nuclear power.)

The company’s growth has also been unimpeded by the coronavirus pandemic. “This is the best renewables development environment we’ve ever been in,” Rebecca Kujawa, NextEra’s chief financial officer, told investors last month.

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Exxon, whose overall value as a company has been shrinking since 2007, has been hit especially hard because of the impact of COVID-19 on travel and oil consumption. Exxon’s market cap shrank in half in 2020 alone. In August, the company lost its symbolically important place in the Dow after nearly a century of listing on the blue-chip index, replaced by software maker Salesforce.

It’s worth noting that Exxon’s revenues still dwarf NextEra’s. The oil titan pulled in $255 billion in revenues last year, compared to NextEra’s $19.2 billion. Yet NextEra’s stock trades for $287 a share, reflecting investor expectations for future growth, while Exxon’s stock is valued at $33.

While some fossil-fuel companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell and BP, have tried to capture a piece of the renewables boom and pledged to cut down their own carbon emissions, Exxon has largely resisted the trend. Bloomberg reported on Monday that Exxon plans to increase its annual greenhouse-gas emissions by 17%, citing internal documents.

On Monday, the Department of Energy touted a new report on oil and natural gas that described fossil fuels as “providing energy security and supporting our quality of life.” The Trump administration also continues to promote fossil-fuel development and has rolled back emissions limits.

But alternative energy, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power, is today the cheapest source of energy in the U.S., explaining its appeal to investors, despite government policy.

“Today, hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are flowing into clean energy,” Bruce Usher, an investor and professor at Columbia Business School, recently told CBS MoneyWatch.

“That bucket for investors is not about policy,” he said. “It’s about where you can get the biggest return.”

Investment bank UBS on Monday cited NextEra’s ascent in encouraging their clients to consider investing in clean power.

“[W]hile NextEra Energy only briefly overtook ExxonMobil in intraday trading, this does, in our view, underline the multi-year shift from traditional toward renewable energy, one that will continue in the decades ahead,” UBS analysts wrote in a research note.

As another example of this shift towards cleaner sources of energy, like wind and solar, UBS cited electric carmaker Tesla, which earlier this year became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer.

The main driver of the clean-energy boom, according to UBS is China. The world’s most populous country and largest greenhouse-gas emitter has pledged to zero out its carbon emissions by 2060. “Given China accounts for 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, this declaration is significant,” the analysts wrote.

This story originally appeared in CBS News, written by Irina Ivanova and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that global renewable energy electricity installation will hit record levels in 2020 compared to the sharp declines in the fossil fuel sectors caused by COVID-19. 

The report says that almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be from renewable energy sources, with 10% powered by gas and coal. This puts renewable energy electricity on track to become the largest power source by 2025, overtaking coal which has dominated the global power grid for the past 50 years and supplying one-third of the world’s electricity. 

Hydropower will continue to supply almost half of global renewable electricity, followed by wind and solar PV. 

The report forecasts that net installed renewable capacity will grow by nearly 4% this year, reaching almost 200 GW, driven by China and the US. 

Solar power capacity has increased 18-fold since 2010 and wind power four-fold, according to IEA data. Hydropower provided 77% of green power in 2010, but this has fallen to 45% in 2020.

Additionally, renewable energy is becoming increasingly appealing to investors. The report shows that shares in renewable equipment makers and project developers have outperformed most major stock market indices and that the value of shares in solar companies has more than doubled since December 2019. 

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, says, “Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle. The resilience and positive prospects of the sector are clearly reflected by continued strong appetite from investors.” 

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India and the EU will be the driving forces of even stronger predicted growth in 2021, according to the IEA. However, growth could decline slightly in 2022 under current policies. Birol says, “Renewables are resilient to the COVID crisis but not to policy uncertainties. Governments can tackle these issues to help bring about a sustainable recovery and accelerate clean energy transitions.

He continues, “In the US, for instance, if the proposed clean electricity policies of the next US administration are implemented, they could lead to a much more rapid deployment of solar PV and wind.”

Recent analysis by Vivid Economics for the Guardian shows that more of the COVID-19 recovery funds being spent by governments is going to fossil fuel sectors than green projects.

Jason Eis, the chief executive of Vivid Economics, says, “The natural environment and climate change have not been a core part of the thinking in the bulk of recovery plans. In the majority of countries we are not seeing a green recovery coming through at all.”

The EU is a frontrunner in this aspect, devoting 30% of its €750bn (USD$886bn) Next Generation Recovery Fund to green projects. France and Germany have set aside about €30bn ($35bn) and €50bn ($59bn) respectively of their own additional stimulus packages for green projects. 

China, however, is devoting just 0.3% of its €1.2bn ($1.4bn) package for green projects, while in the US, before the election, around €22bn ($26bn), or just over 1%, of the announced package was slated for green projects. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

Green hydrogen is a clean burning fuel that eliminates emissions by using renewable energy to electrolyse water, separating the hydrogen atom within it from its molecular twin oxygen. 

How Is Green Hydrogen Made?

The process of electrolysis has to happen. This process requires water, a big electrolyzer and plentiful supplies of electricity. if this electricity comes from renewable sources, then the hydrogen is green; the only carbon emissions are those from the generation infrastructure. 

However, not much green hydrogen is currently being produced; it currently accounts for less than 1% of annual hydrogen production, according to Wood Mackenzie. 

A challenge lies in the relatively small supply of electrolyzers and compared to more established production processes, electrolysis is very expensive, so the market for electrolyzers is small. 

How Do You Use It?

Green hydrogen can be added to natural gas and burnt in thermal power or district heating plants. It can be used to replace the industrial hydrogen that gets made every year from natural gas. 

However, storing and transporting green hydrogen is difficult; the highly flammable gas occupies a lot of space and can make steel pipes brittle. Because of this, specialised pipelines must be built, which is costly, pressurising the gas or cooling it to a liquid. These last two processes are energy-intensive and undermine green hydrogen’s round-trip efficiency. 

How Expensive Is It?

The International Energy Agency put the cost of green hydrogen at USD$3 to $7.50 per kg, compared to $0.90 to $3.20 for production using steam methane reformation. 

The cost of electrolyzers must be cut to reduce the price of green hydrogen, but this will take time and scale. However, the IEA says that electrolyzer costs could fall by half by 2040, from around $840 per kilowatt of capacity today. 

Another problem is that green hydrogen requires very large amounts of cheap renewable energy because some is lost in the process of electrolysis. Shell says that electrolyzer efficiencies range from around 60-80%. 

It is likely that developers, like Lightsource BP and Shell, will build green hydrogen production plants with dedicated renewable energy generation assets in high-resource locations. 

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Issues 

Although a consensus has been reached that the world cannot be “fully decarbonised in the long term without green hydrogen,” producing the quantities of green hydrogen that the world will need would require a massive amount of renewable energy as well. 

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the world will need 19 exajoules of green hydrogen in the energy system in 2050- between 133.8 million and 158.3 million tons a year. 

Annual growth rates of wind and solar are increasing, however it is nowhere near enough for the world to be in line with the Paris Agreement goals. “The share of renewables in the worlds’ total final energy consumption has to increase six times faster to meet agreed climate goals,” Irena wrote in a report last year. 

With this, many argue, particularly within the oil and gas sector, that meeting ever- increasing energy demands with solely electricity is not going to be possible.

The current argument for clean hydrogen is that the bulk of the required volume of energy will have to be produced by natural gas and CCUs, also known as blue hydrogen. 

Several oil majors are struggling for pole position in green hydrogen development. For example, Shell Netherland confirmed in May that it had joined forces with energy company Eneco to bid for capacity in the latest Dutch offshore wind tender to create an enormous hydrogen cluster in the Netherlands. BP’s solar developer Lightsource also revealed that it plans to develop an Australian clean hydrogen plant powered by 1.5 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity. 

Whether offshore wind farms (OWFs) are “ecological problems” or “environmental solutions” is a multifaceted debate that reoccurs globally. The OWF industry is expanding rapidly, and the comparative knowledge gain is slow, which increases the potential for unanticipated impacts on marine environments, including pollution and overfishing. Interestingly, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, investment in offshore wind farms has skyrocketed. Despite these possible risks to local marine species, the global benefits of OWFs as a renewable form of energy outweigh the localised impacts. However, that is not to say the industry does not need reform, especially as it undergoes rapid expansion. 

The main driver behind global OWF expansion is the climate crisis, as countries strive to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. According to the REN21 Renewables 2020 Global Status Report, governments are increasing their renewable energy generation, and the success of OWFs seen in Europe (79% of global OWF capacity in 2018) has driven industry increase in Asia and North America. Out of the 2,378GW global renewable capacity in 2018, offshore wind energy accounted for 23.1GW, which was a 24% increase from 2017. Internationally, capacity is increasing by installing turbines with larger rotor size and rotary blades, and increasing turbine height and depth of sites. In Europe, the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium accounted for 80% of offshore wind capacity in 2018. This renewable drive across Europe derived from legislative exigency from the European Energy Directive 2009/28/EC, setting targets for member states of a ~20% share of energy from renewable sources by 2020, leading countries to examine the natural energy sources available to them, which increased OWF capacity in countries like the UK and Sweden.

The proximity of OWFs to the coast can overlap with sensitive ecological areas that are protected under European legislation. For example, there are eight OWFs with a collective capacity of 2GW in the Greater Wash Area on the North Norfolk Coast, UK, an area that includes 43 environmental designations of national, European and international importance. In Denmark, the Horns Rev wind farm is located within close proximity to coastal Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) as part of the Natura 2000 network. Similarly, at the Fécamp OWF in Northern France, the farm is situated within a marine protected area. 

For some conservationists, offshore wind farms are an ecological problem. Each stage of OWF development – construction, operation, and decommission – produces direct impacts on different taxa, as clearly outlined by Kadellis et al. (2016). Research on the impacts concentrates on birds, fish and marine mammals, especially cetaceans and pinnipeds. In the Greater Wash Area in the UK, for example, there has been noted mortality increases for small bird species such as Little Terns and Sandwich Terns, with the latter’s population being reduced by at least 35%, while researchers in Denmark at the Horns Rev OWF found harbour seals affected by noise pollution within a limited 100-200m area, and a significant loss of common scoter habitat.    

Of all stages, construction is the main concern. Dr Deborah Russell of the Scottish Oceans Institute has argued that “it is during the construction phase that wind farms are predicted to have the most dramatic negative effect on marine mammals.” Generally, for all taxa mentioned above, construction results in avoidance behaviour, which is a type of activity observed in animals where, in the face of adverse stimuli, the impulse to act defensively overcomes the impulse to attack. Examples of this behaviour, are fleeing or moving away from the stimulus, hiding, or standing still, or defensive reflexes. In this case, avoidance behaviour is avoiding the OWF areas, even if they are near traditional nesting or breeding grounds for birds and marine mammals. This is due to intrusive pile-driving, seismic profiling and trenching, which increases noise levels and causes sedimentation of the water, in turn disturbing fish larvae. Increased noise levels affect mammals that rely on sound for predation, migration and communication. Research in Norfolk, UK identified pile-driving as the cause of grey and harbour seal population disturbance.

The main concerns with wind farms and birds, according to BirdLife International, is the risk of collision with OWF machinery, which could reduce population numbers, and cause disturbance, displacement or exclusion from the areas surrounding wind farms, which can be used for feeding, nesting or mating. The overall avoidance behaviour of fish is also expected to affect prey availability for some bird species. However, bird research in general is often species-specific, which makes it difficult to inform perspectives on whether offshore wind farms are damaging for bird biodiversity overall. A lack of larger spatial and temporal scale research is restricting conservationists’ views on OWF impacts by preventing them from seeing wider ecosystems and long-term benefits. 

Contrarily, some conservationists argue that OWFs have species-, ecosystem-, and global-level benefits. At the local scale, OWF structures provide colonisation opportunities, as the concrete bases of individual turbines provide structures of different materials and textures that allow molluscs and benthic species to inhabit different areas of the complex structures, which support higher trophic levels, such as fish, creating a diverse ecosystem as habitat heterogeneity and species diversity increase. Research suggests that across wind farms, fish biomass is expected to increase, producing “de facto” marine protected areas. While some argue this will work against the fishing industry through exclusion, the spillover effect of larger fish to surrounding areas outside the OWF is expected to benefit the fishing industry as these species have larger ranges and would come into the OWF to feed. Researchers in the Bay of Seine in France used a model to predict that the increase of benthic fish aggregations would lead to an increase in biomass at higher trophic levels, improving the diversity and health of the ecosystem. However, models contain their own uncertainties, and therefore more research is needed on the reef effect and how it influences trophic relationships.

The most convincing argument in support of OWFs is at the global level, being its potential to contribute to mitigation of the climate crisis, one of humanity’s greatest biological crises. Possible environmental changes will result in habitat loss, migratory changes and species extinctions. Many environmental NGOs, including the RSPB and BirdLife International, have given their public support to OWF development. The mitigation of the climate crisis is integral to protecting sensitive habitats, such as salt marshes, which have international conservation importance and are essential bird habitats in many coastal regions that are vulnerable to climate change through sea-level rise. However, conservationists continue to argue for reform in initial monitoring and planning to reduce impacts on local species.

Therefore, in order to minimise the trade-offs between ecological risk and economic impacts, data gathered by developers during cumulative impact assessments (CIAs) and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) should be collaborative as trends show  that OWFs are becoming closer in proximity as individual countries try to increase their capacity. Data sharing could maintain consistent baseline data to determine the impact on specific species, but would require a negotiation of proprietary rights, which could pose legal challenges (Goodale and Milman, 2016). 

Another solution comes in the form of technology in the form of improvements to assessment methodologies. Telemetry – the use of radio trackers to trace individual movements of a chosen species – can be used on multiple taxa, such as birds and seals, for more sophisticated tracking of species interactions with OWFs. Environmental modelling would allow researchers and developers to follow an ecosystem-scale approach in assessing OWF impacts. Although each comes with their own expenses and uncertainties, they are cheaper alternatives to developers than the additional costs incurred from the rejection of a planning proposal for an OWF, as already the investments into research, design, and environmental monitoring would have been conducted, producing a planning proposal that can be over 10 000 pages long. A planning rejection from local government would incur additional fees as the process would need to be started from the beginning, requiring new environmental assessments, and a redesign of the OWF spatial planning.

The significance of the impacts of offshore wind farms are weighed on spatial and temporal scales: choosing between the short-term (0-30 years) protection of local ecosystem integrity, or the long-term viability of the majority of sensitive habitat, marine and bird species. Further, the marine environment cannot continue to support anthropogenic pressures including OWFs without serious reform, even if the current global benefits of OWFs do outweigh the localised negative impacts. Therefore, to improve the scope and quality of ecosystem-scale OWF research, developer cooperation and collaboration, and the application of more sophisticated research methods is required.

Featured image by: United Nations Photo

Solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest new sources of electricity in at least two-thirds of the world’s population, further threatening the two fossil-fuel stalwarts – coal and natural gas.

The Cheapest Source of Electricity

The levelized cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen 9% to $44 a megawatt-hour since the second half of last year. Solar declined 4% to $50 a megawatt-hour, according to a report Tuesday by BloombergNEF.

The prices are even lower in countries including the U.S., China and Brazil. Equipment costs have come down, technologies have improved and governments across the world have boosted clean-power targets as they seek to combat climate change. That could squeeze out coal and natural gas when utilities develop new power plants.

“Best-in-class solar and wind projects will be pushing below $20 per megawatt-hour this side of 2030,” Tifenn Brandily, an analyst at BNEF, said in a statement. “There are plenty of innovations in the pipeline that will drive down costs further.

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Yet it remains unclear whether the coronavirus’ impact on coal and gas prices will erode the competitiveness of wind and solar. “If sustained, this could help shield fossil fuel generation for a while from the cost onslaught from renewables,” Seb Henbest, chief economist at BNEF, said in the statement.

A decade ago, solar was more than $300 a megawatt-hour and onshore wind exceeded $100 per megawatt-hour. Today, onshore wind is $37 in the U.S. and $30 in Brazil, while solar is $38 in China, the cheapest sources of new electricity in those countries.

Battery storage is also getting more competitive. The levelized cost of electricity for batteries has fallen to $150 a megawatt-hour, about half of what it was two years ago. That’s made it the cheapest new peaking-power technology in places that import gas, including Europe, China and Japan.

BNEF’s levelized cost for electricity measures the entire cost of producing power, accounting for development, construction and equipment, financing, feedstock, operation and maintenance.

This story originally appeared in Bloomberg Green, written by Brian Eckhouse, and is republished here as a part of Earth.Org’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

 

BP has announced that it is taking its business in a new direction, slashing its oil and gas production by 40%, and increasing its annual investment in low-carbon technology to USD$5billion by 2030, ten times more than its current level.

BP’s Alternative Energy Ventures

As part of its plan, the company says that it will stop its oil and gas exploration in new countries and will reduce its current production and carbon emissions by one-third. Production of oil and gas will be cut by at least one million barrels a day by 2030. 

The company said on August 4, “BP today introduces a new strategy that will reshape its business as it pivots from being an international oil company focused on producing resources to an integrated energy company focused on delivering solutions for customers.”

It adds, “This coming decade is critical for the world in the fight against climate change, and to drive the necessary change in global energy systems will require action from everyone.”

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How much did BP invest in renewables?

The investment in BP low-carbon projects will jump to $3bn by 2025 and $5bn by 2030, with major investments planned in bioenergy, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. The company says that it also plans to ‘advise cities on ‘power packages’ with renewables, back-up batteries and financing’ and offer up to 70 000 electric vehicle recharging stations at its retail gas stations, up from the current level of 7 500. 

However, while BP will expand its portfolio of clean energy technologies, it will continue to invest most of its money in oil and gas production up to 2025. Despite this, Chief Executive Bernard Looney says that “we believe our new strategy provides a comprehensive and coherent approach to turn our net zero ambition into action.”

Greenpeace UK described the announcement as a ‘necessary and encouraging start’, but adds that BP ‘must go further’.

The second quarter saw BP reporting a loss of $16.8 billion due to reduced demand for oil. The company has sold its petrochemical unit and has cut 10 000 jobs as it struggles from a crash in oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut factories, grounded planes and kept motorists off the road. The price of Brent crude fell to record lows in April. It has since recovered, but remains 35% down this year. 

The company expects demand for fossil fuels to fall by 75% by 2050 if the increase in global temperatures is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or by 50% if warming is less than 2 degrees. 

Featured image by: Mike Mozart

A new green stimulus plan aimed at rebuilding Australia ’s economy from recession while tackling the climate crisis could generate nearly 80 000 jobs, according to new analysis.

A report by the consultants AlphaBeta says that 76 000 positions could be created over three years with the help of $22 billion of combined public and private investment. The plan focuses on 12 areas, including designing extensive renewable energy projects, restoring deteriorated ecosystems, creating solutions for dealing with organic waste, modernising ineffective public buildings and infrastructure and expanding electric vehicle networks. The analysis identified that 70% of the jobs would be in construction and administration, 42% would be based in regional areas and close to a third would require minimal training. 

Moreover, jobs would be tailored to regional needs; for instance, in New South Wales, opportunities would involve building public transport infrastructure and large-scale renewable energy plants, and in Victoria, jobs relating to utility scale clean energy and organic waste management. In all other states and territories, ecosystem restoration was identified as a leading job creator. 

Australia is currently 43% more emissions-intensive than the OECD average. The country emits more greenhouse gases per unit of GDP than each of the EU, Japan, the US and Canada. This plan is one such way to help Australia in achieving its green goals, an important feat considering that the government has historically not acknowledged the dangers of the climate crisis.

Australian Green Policies

Stimulus projects should prioritise economic recovery while promoting the shift to cleaner energy. They aim to reduce costs in the long-term and better position the economy to adapt to a greener and more sustainable environment. 

The analysis suggested investment in pilot-scale green hydrogen developments would be economically beneficial, yielding $4 of private spending for every public dollar invested. Large solar and windfarms would unlock $3 for every dollar spent, while electric vehicle infrastructure, waste collection solutions and community-scale energy and storage projects could generate $2, showing the economic benefits of investing in green infrastructure. 

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Pushing for a Green Recovery from Recession 

Numerous groups and organisations have advocated for a green recovery from the recession by  improving the energy efficiency of Australia’s ‘substandard’ house and building stock. An energy and climate change thinktank, Beyond Zero Emissions, found that practical projects that decarbonise the economy could create an average of 335 000 jobs annually, for five years. 

The Morrison government has yet to prioritise low-emissions investments in its response. The energy and emissions reduction minister has called for a gas-fired recovery and the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has firmly supported expanding the gas industry without considering renewable energy. However, the proposition of a green recovery has won more support from state governments. 

Amanda McKenzie, the Climate Council’s chief executive, said the green plan proposed by AlphaBeta would put Australia ‘on a practical, jobs-rich path and focuses on areas most in need’. “It sets us up for the future by creating jobs and tackling climate change…it’s a win-win solution,” she said.

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