If you thought the world of renewables lacked the pizazz of oil and gas, where have you been? In recent days there’ve been claims of Hollywood’s greenest campaigner flying a makeup artist 2000 miles to do his eyebrows to warnings that this is the thing that could spark war between the US and China. This week Precise Consultants is assessing the global renewable scene.
First up, we want to give a high-5 to Prysmian Group which is driving some impressive innovations in offshore wind. For a while now it’s been focussing on developing inter-array cable systems to link among the turbines composing offshore wind farms. It’s paid off – Prysmian Group has been awarded two new contracts for offshore wind farms in Germany and Denmark. Between them almost 200km will be laid. Alessandro Panico from the company said, “These two new important awards confirm the market recognition of the significant investments made in our production capabilities.”
It’s clear the appetite for clean energy in some parts of the world is not diminishing – official stats from the EU reveal a continued expansion of the industry. The EU Commission has announced that the share of energy from renewables reached 16.7% of gross final consumption. That’s almost double the 8.5% recorded in 2004. Eleven EU member states have already achieved their 2020 targets of having 20% of their energy from renewables including Sweden, Finland and Latvia. The UK has around 8.2% share.
In Australia following what The Guardian describes as a ‘blowout’ in less than four years, when the country spent almost 20% of its greenhouse gas allowance to 2050, some good news. Ndevr Environmental report a record milestone in renewable energy generation in October. It says, “The monthly amount of electricity generated from hydro was the second highest since 2005. Subsequently there was a substantial fall in black coal and brown coal electricity generation and a continuing decline in gas energy production.”
However, the country remains at risk of missing its Paris targets by 2030 – by an estimated 300m tonnes. Ndevr’s managing director Matt Drum warned, “We’re still churning through our carbon budget pretty quickly and, if you run a trend line from when we made our Paris commitment, we’re still way over and getting further and further behind.” There is one significant fly in the ointment – the fact some leading politicians including the Prime Minister have described as “unfeasible” already agreed green targets, and increasing calls for clean energy monies being redirected towards new coal-fired power stations.
And this political difficulty takes us neatly to the States. 100 days in and President Trump has done, what he’d say, are a lot of really great things. Like rolling back the previous administration’s controls on climate change. According to Reuters the Trump White House is preparing to release “a wide-ranging executive order to reduce the role that climate change plays in policy decisions” which will likely impact on how US agencies regulate on a whole range of industries including drilling and coal mining. Of course we also had just last week confirmation from the Environmental Protection Agency’s new head Scott Pruitt that he’s not convinced carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change. He also wants Congress to have its say on whether CO2 is a harmful pollutant that should be regulated. In a country where the government has historically championed innovations in renewables through programmes like ARPA-E, this marks a dramatic shift.
In contrast – China. It has surpassed the US in sales of electric vehicles, renewable energy capacity and is backing this up with a $361bn investment in renewable energy by 2020. Of course, China more easily sees the effects of fossil fuels than the US, with dangerous levels of smog in its cities, and remains the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitter.
However, in 2016 its solar industry did incredibly well – what’s described as its ‘fledgling solar-electric panel industry- dropped world prices by 80%. Amit Ronen, director of the Solar Institute of George Washington University, one of many scholars following the intense competition in the emerging $100 billion industry that supports the world’s growing solar energy demands, told Scientific American that China, “fundamentally changed the economics of solar all over the world.”
As wired.com notes, this means China is “crushing it” when it comes to renewables. US energy companies are complaining that the country is unfairly advantaging its solar panel companies to price out American ones. (ED: Not sure how strong this argument is, post ‘America First’ was boomed out across the world at the inauguration…). It is now is in a prime position “to lead the world” in renewables and can decide who it’ll sell its innovations to. As countries look to cut energy costs and meet targets, this is incredibly valuable.
What we really need here is not for the two superpowers to be at polar ends of the scale, but to find themselves in a new space race – a green race. If Trump is able to perceive the economic advantage in renewables, this could become incredibly interesting.