Given the growing importance of renewable energy, getting the right strategy for rolling out its technology is crucial. IEA analyst Samantha Ölz shares her thoughts on the challenge with Peter Cheney.
The International Energy Agency’s keynote report ‘Deploying Renewables’ calls for an energy revolution in which renewables will have a crucial role to play. Its objective – to halve global carbon emissions by 2050 – represents a daunting challenge for energy suppliers, regulators and governments alike.
Report author Samantha Ölz spoke at this year’s Irish Renewable Energy Summit. In her document’s preferred scenario, renewables would grow rapidly after 2020 to become the largest supplier of electricity ahead of coal. By 2050, the contribution of renewables could rise to almost 50 per cent of electricity, if the right conditions are met; the 2005 level was 18 per cent.
Immediate action by all governments and very strong political and financial commitments will be necessary to achieve this goal.
The report assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of renewable energy policies in the 30 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the so-called BRICS) over the 2000-2005 time period.
Speaking to eolas afterwards, Ölz explained that the best incentives for renewable energy are predictable and sufficiently high to support providers but decreasing over time to foster technological innovation and also to cap total production costs.
“Across all renewables, governments should introduce a framework combining different incentives which are [in function] of the maturity levels of the different technologies, that take into account the different needs and the different risk profile of the different technologies so that policies are targeted.”
Renewable heat is an often overlooked aspect of energy policy but one with great potential. “We call it the sleeping giant,” she said. IEA’s 2007 book ‘Renewables for Heating and Cooling: Untapped Potential’ found that policy-makers in many countries lacked targeted policies for heat or were unaware of its “huge” potential.
“In the medium term to 2020, in order to achieve ambitious renewable energy targets, the bulk of that will [most likely] be achieved through scaling up electricity, but beyond that period there is certainly a need to push renewable heating,” Ölz said.
One certainty in the energy debate is that conventional oil will “eventually” run out. Unconventional oil supplies are much more difficult and expensive to tap. And as supply decreases, oil prices are bound to rise resulting in renewables becoming “inherently … more competitive”.
An appropriate carbon price, she thinks, is necessary to deal with the negative impacts of conventional fuel – e.g. high CO2 emissions and air pollution – and therefore make renewables a more attractive option. The net effects would be more clean jobs and innovation.
“For consumers, that would probably imply at some point needing to deal with a personal carbon budget, perhaps needing to deal with carbon constraints at the personal consumption level,” she added.
Practical examples include sourcing food at a local level to avoid food miles, using public transport or fuel-efficient cars, and micro-generation of heat and power in the home.
Barack Obama came to office with an ambitious pro-renewables energy policy. A $150 billion investment in ‘clean’ energy technologies over the next 10 years, five million jobs and sourcing 25 per cent of US electricity from renewables by 2025 are key elements of his ‘New Energy for America’ plan.
She sees his leadership as making a “sea change”, due to “a huge potential for renewables in the US and so the size of the market is such that it will just basically scale up the market for renewables and also make it more competitive for renewables.”
Committing the USA to ambitious renewable targets at a national level will also put America on the road to becoming “a leader in renewables” and set an example for other economies, especially emerging ones. And with the scaling up of US renewable capacity, technology producers in other countries will also have new opportunities to supply the American market.