The decade of renewable energy

By Dr Simon Batchelor

Photo credit: IRENA assembly.

As the IRENA assembly gathered in Abu Dhabi there was both good news and worrying news. 

The good news was that the installation of large scale renewables over the last few years has actually exceeded the commitments made at Paris.  The bad news is that the Paris trajectory was not enough to mitigate climate change by 1.5 degrees, and that we need 5 times the investment per year in renewables to reach anywhere near mitigation of 1.5.

Photo credit: IRENA assembly.

The good news was that renewable energy is now cost effective without any subsidies.  At the Climate Parliament we heard about a solar generating plant to be installed on a 1.7 cents per kWh basis with a payback to the investors in 14 years.  And we heard that Ethiopia had just started a similar plant at 2.4 cents per kWh.  At these costs, Solar can easily compete without any subsidies.  The bad news is that the fossil fuel industry is still subsidised by $5.4 trillion!  If those subsidies were taken away, there would be considerable pain for the consumer, but the age of renewables might have been with us by now.  Similarly there was brief debate about the true cost of nuclear energy, which mitigates climate change but has its own set of problems.

The good news was that everyone recognised the failure of COP 25 and was looking to get their governments to make more dramatic commitments at COP 26 in Glasgow UK.  There were many calls for increasing investment in renewables.  The bad news is that we are running out of time.  The whole feel of the conference was that we are in trouble with climate change.  When government make commitments for 2050, some people react stating that we don’t have until then – we need an urgency to our work.

Photo credit: IRENA assembly.

How does this affect MECS?   The shift to renewables, and the price points they were talking about are very encouraging.  The pre-cursor research to MECS conducted in 2013 was looking at 34 cents per kWh by 2020, and a battery price of $300 for energy storage.  2020 seems to have started with solar PV panels ex factory at 22 cents and Lithium storage ex factory at $150.  With this starting point imagine the progress in the coming 10 years!  Solar generating plants at 1.7 cents in 2020!, imagine how low it will be by 2030.

(But of course distribution of electricity remains an issue for MECS).