'Renewables Are Cheapest Energy Option' When Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are Removed, Says REN21
A significant threshold has been crossed by renewable energy as analysts report that the sectorʼs size last year reached double the level it was at just 10 years earlier.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
This expansion happened in a year when the global economy and energy use both grew, but without a matching rise in emissions of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas targeted in efforts to restrain global warming.
The report by REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, says the result is an example of sustainable development. Despite the worldʼs annual 1.5 percent increase in energy consumption in recent years and 3 percent GDP growth last year, 2014ʼs CO2 emissions were unchanged from 2013ʼs total of 32.3 billion tonnes.
The reportʼs authors say this decoupling of economic and CO2 growth is due to Chinaʼs increased use of renewables and to efforts by OECD countries to promote more sustainable growth, including by increased energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.
“Renewable energy and improved energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to 2°C and avoiding dangerous climate change,” says Arthouros Zervos, who chairs REN21.
Solar, wind and other technologies, including large hydro-electric schemes, used in 164 countries added another 135 Gigawatts last year to bring the worldʼs total installed renewable energy power capacity to 1,712 GW. This was 8.5 percent up on 2013, and more than double the 800 GW of capacity recorded in 2004. One GW can power between 750,000 and one million typical U.S. homes.
The authors say the sectorʼs growth could be even greater were it not for more than US$550 bn paid out in annual subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy. They say the subsidies keep the prices for energy from these fuels artificially low, encouraging wasteful use and hindering competition.
Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, says: “Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Removing fossil fuel and hidden nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”
By the end of 2014, renewables comprised an estimated 27.7 percent of the worldʼs power generating capacity—enough to supply an estimated 22.8 percent of global electricity demand.
The amount of electricity available from renewables worldwide is now greater than that produced by all coal-burning plants in the U.S. Coal supplied about 38 percent of U.S. electricity in 2013, compared with around 50 percent in the early 2000s.
Solar photovoltaic capacity has had a rapid 68-fold growth, from 2.6 GW in 2004 to 177 GW in 2014, while wind power capacity has increased eightfold, from 48 GW in 2004 to 370 GW in 2014. Employment in the sector is also growing fast, with an estimated 7.7m people worldwide working directly or indirectly on renewable energy last year.
Outpacing fossil fuels
New investment globally in renewable power capacity was more than twice that of investment in net fossil fuel power capacity, continuing the trend of renewables outpacing fossil fuels in net investment for the fifth year running.
Investment in developing countries was up 36 percentsu from the previous year, to $131.3 bn. It came closer than ever to overtaking the investment total for developed economies, which reached $138.9 bn in 2014—up only 3 percent from 2013.
China accounted for 63 percent of developing country investment, with Chile, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey each investing more than $1bn. By dollars spent, the leading countries for investment were China, the U.S., Japan, the UK and Germany. Leading countries for investments relative to per capita GDP were Burundi, Kenya, Honduras, Jordan and Uruguay.
But REN21 points out that more than a billion people—15 percent of humanity—still lack access to electricity, and the entire African continent has less power generation capacity than Germany.
The report says that off-grid solar PV has “a significant and growing market presence,” and other distributed renewable energy technologies are improving life in remote off-grid areas.
However, it stresses that this growth rate is still not enough to achieve the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) goals of doubling renewable energy and energy efficiency, and providing universal access for all by 2030.
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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