These days, New York Climate Week is being held, a fundamental annual meeting to prepare for the next Climate Change Summit (COP), which will take place this year in Dubai at the end of November. The main issue to be discussed in New York is the global objective already informally presented by the COP presidency: that the world triple the current renewable power by 2030, in just seven years. This objective is intended to be formalized with the agreement of all countries at the COP in Dubai.
Here, in this brief space, I will try to answer some basic questions about this objective:
What does this objective consist of?
Currently there are three major renewable technologies in the world to generate electricity: hydraulic, wind and photovoltaic. Of each of them there were installed, at the end of 2022, 1,400 gigawatts (GW), 900 GW and 1,000 GW, respectively, which, together with others of lesser importance, added up to 3,500 GW (as a reference data, that is, about 30 times the Spanish electricity system, including all generation, renewable and thermal).
By the end of this year, it is expected to reach a power of 3,900 GW. The global objective is to reach 11,500 GW in 2030, that is, tripling the current power (renewables equivalent to 100 times the entire current Spanish system!). This figure could be achieved with the following increase proportions: 60% more in photovoltaic, 30% more in wind (30%) and in others, such as hydraulics, an increase of 10%.
In other words, it would be about bringing forward the development of renewables by 20 years, since with current policy forecasts in 2050 we would reach around 12,000 GW, very far from the net zero emissions scenario.
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Does it make sense for the world to impose this effort on itself?
Although there are other possible measures, the main way to reduce CO₂ emissions on a global scale cannot be other than investment in renewable energy in the electricity sector; an investment that replaces fossil fuels (still today, more than 60% of global electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels) and supplies the needs of increased demand, especially in developing economies (global electricity demand is expected to multiply by at least 2.5 to 2050).
It is essential that this objective be achieved in 2030 and not in 2050, because in this way a very significant amount of emissions is avoided. In fact, compliance with this measure is vital to keep the planet in line with the Paris Agreement, that is, not exceeding 1.5 degrees of temperature increase in 2050.
If the goal of tripling renewables is delayed until 2050, as is obvious, the increase in temperature and its social and economic impacts will be much greater.
Furthermore, indigenous production, in an increasingly complicated geostrategic energy situation, improves security of supply, contributes to the reduction of air pollution, and is the main way to reduce electrical energy prices around the world — Renewables are already the cheapest way to generate energy in 80% of the globe—and generate local industry with great quality employment opportunities. Four compelling arguments to give meaning and maximum urgency to this objective.
Is its compliance feasible?
Renewable energies are the main growth vector of global electricity generation. The technological revolution that they have experienced in recent years, with reductions of more than 90% in their costs in a decade, makes the “new” renewables the most economical technologies to produce 80% of the planet’s electricity.
Currently, photovoltaics is one of only three technologies that are on the path to achieving the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 (along with electric cars and high-efficiency LED lighting). Wind energy is also advancing at a good pace, but not fast enough.
Advancing the fulfillment of the objective, as is evident, implies making greater efforts than anticipated. It is a very ambitious objective, but not impossible to achieve: tripling renewable power in 2030 is consistent with the zero emissions scenario in 2050 of the International Energy Agency, considered by all experts as an ambitious but feasible scenario.
What is needed?
The appropriate technology exists, companies are willing to invest, we have the necessary resources to do so, but meeting this objective before 2030 requires multiplying the current investment rate by three (from about 300-400 GW per year to 1,000 GW). .
We need a great global effort that translates into a consistent energy policy, with defined medium and long-term objectives in all countries, with the development of the necessary infrastructure, with improvements in planning and permit systems, with adequate scaling in supply chains in which the security of supply of raw materials is resolved and international collaboration is improved, including economic aid to developing economies.
And, of course, it is vital that companies do renewable development in a way that is also positive for biodiversity and local communities.
It might seem like an unattainable, unattainable goal. But it really isn’t. It is a very ambitious objective, it is true, but not impossible to achieve. The experience of recent decades shows us that difficulties have been overcome with political impetus and technological development (who would have said 10 years ago that today we would be installing 400 GW of new renewables per year!). What, at the time, seemed like an impossible mission ended up being achieved. What is fundamental is that we take this path by all working together, governments, companies and citizens, in alliance. The sign of the times says so. The seriousness and urgency of the “problem” is compelling.
We shorten deadlines, advance progress and thus guarantee the future horizon for future generations. It is urgent. It is necessary. It’s possible.
Gonzalo Sáenz de Miera is president of the Spanish Group for Green Growth.
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