Clean energy growth is outpacing climate targets

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Denmark set a world record last year by producing 43% of its electricity from wind. [BASF - We create chemistry / Flickr]

This week’s Clean Energy Ministerial must send clear signal on the role renewables can play in raising climate action targets, writes Jennifer Morgan.

Jennifer Morgan is Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

Accepting the “titanic and beautiful task” of ending the use of fossil fuels, the new president of Costa Rica has shown the type of bold leadership needed to meet the threat of climate change.

Carlos Alvarado’s commitment to make Costa Rica the world’s first fossil fuel free country is the same type of ambition that energy ministers and business leaders must bring to the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM9) in Copenhagen this week – the gathering of the world’s biggest economies. It is this spirit that must drive us onward.

And where better than Europe’s Nordic region to host this year’s ministerial? It is here where the transition to 100 % renewable energy is already a serious proposition.

The Nordic region aims to be coal free by 2030 and fossil free or carbon neutral by mid century at the latest and the proportion of renewable energy here is already relatively high. CEM-host country Denmark set a world record last year by producing 43 % of its electricity from wind.

But the Nordics are far from perfect. The increased burning of biomass, for example, plays a key role in their energy plans, despite growing criticism by scientists. Both Norway and Denmark are also still making money from oil and gas extraction – with no end in sight.

It is equally unimpressive that the CEO of Statoil, Eldar Saetre, is one of the featured key speakers in this clean energy ministerial. Rather than move beyond oil, Norway’s Statoil, which changed its name to Equinor last week, continues to seek new oil in frontier areas of the pristine Arctic and the Great Australian Bight in violation of the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The company might have dropped the word oil from its name, but if they don’t drop their high-risk plans to open new oil fields in pristine areas, it will be nothing but greenwashing. Leadership not hypocrisy is what’s needed.

If this year’s Clean Energy Ministerial is to truly make a difference, it must help ramp up countries’ climate targets. It is critical that a clear signal emerges from the Danish capital this week regarding the role that clean energy can play in enabling stronger climate targets, as fundamental conclusions on this will be drawn at the first stocktake of the Paris Agreement this year.

We are, after all, living in an age of disruption. Technology innovations in solar, wind, electric vehicles and storage have been so rapid that the climate targets set just a few years ago for 2030 have become outdated because their underlying assumptions are no longer valid. Strengthening those targets is now both a political and economical necessity.

Across the EU, seven member states are already advocating a faster transition to clean energy, while leading Nordic businesses have likewise welcomed higher climate targets. This ambition must be carried forward at CEM this week.

In the transition to 100% renewables, corporates can take a lead role through their energy procurement policies. This is an area where Greenpeace has been quite vocal and I intend to share some of our insights at one of the CEM High-Level roundtables.

Corporate giants urge EU to back 35% renewables target

A coalition comprising some of the world’s biggest companies has urged EU energy ministers to back a 35% target for renewable energy when they meet in Brussels next Monday (18 December).

Renewables are swiftly becoming the cheapest form of power in many parts of the world and more than 200 influential companies have committed to sourcing 100% renewable electricity. When this drives new and additional capacity, the influence of individual company policies can be quite substantial, as some recent examples in the Nordics illustrate.

European aluminum producer Norsk Hydro said last November that it will buy a fixed volume of electricity for 19 years from the 650 MW Markbygden Ett wind farm, a project that will increase Swedish wind power capacity by more than 12%.

In Denmark, Apple, Facebook and Google are looking to establish new servers, with electricity demand increasing potentially up to 7 TWh in 2030. That equals 20% of the Danish electricity use in 2017 and should, of course, be met with the additional capacity financed by these companies.

Yet, on a global scale, corporate procurement is still in its infancy, and the untapped potential is enormous. To truly make a difference and lead the clean energy transition, corporate procurement needs to significantly scale up and broaden in geographic spread. That will require both increased commitments and shifts to more direct sourcing options by companies, as well as appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks by governments.

In this spirit, we are now challenging Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer, to scale up its renewable energy share from 1% to 100%, and for South Korea to enable that by opening its markets to allow corporates do direct purchasing of renewables from developers.

The urgency of the climate crisis means that those attending CEM must be prepared to think and act big. Corporations account for around two‐thirds of the world’s end‐use of electricity, but how fast can they shift to 100% renewables? Who’s the next country to reach that with corporates? Those that act fast enough will be truly showing titanic and beautiful leadership.

Corporate PPAs: A game changer for clean energy

Companies like Google, Norsk Hydro and Facebook are increasingly turning to corporate renewable Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) as a secure, reliable and competitive source of power from clean energy sources, writes Malgosia Bartosik.

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