Renewables helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the EU
Wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are steadily increasing their share in energy consumption across the European Union, further reducing the need for CO2-emitting fossil fuel energy, according to a report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today. This trend is driving down greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, buildings’ heating and cooling, and transport.
The EEA report ‘Renewable energy in Europe 2017: recent growth and knock-on effects,’ shows that renewables have become a major contributor to the energy transition occurring in many parts of Europe. Growth in renewables continues to bolster climate change mitigation in the EU. The EU-wide share of renewable energy use increased from 15% in 2013 to 16% in 2014. This upward trend continued also in 2015, as renewable energy accounted for the majority (77%) of new electricity-generating capacity for the eighth year in a row. Recent data from Eurostat showed that the EU-wide renewable energy use finally reached 16.7% in 2015 – which is close to the EEA’s 16.4% preliminary estimate published in December 2016. This steady EU-wide progress in renewables since 2005 enables the EU to stay well on course to reach its target of 20 % by 2020.
At Member State level, the shares of renewable energy use continues to vary widely, ranging from over 30% in Finland, Latvia and Sweden, to 5% or less in Luxembourg and Malta.
Increased reliance on renewables reduces the need for fossil fuels, lowering associated emissions
The uptake of renewable energy since 2005 allowed the EU to cut its fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by about a tenth in 2015 – comparable to the annual fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions of Italy. Three quarters of these greenhouse gas reductions attributable to renewables came from the development of renewable electricity production. Coal was the most substituted fuel across Europe, representing about one half of all avoided fossil fuels, followed by natural gas (28% of all avoided fossil fuels). In both 2014 and 2015, the largest reductions in fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions due to the uptake of renewable energy sources took place in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Renewables catching on worldwide
Global investments in renewables continued to show steady growth over the past decade. This has led to a doubling of global renewable electricity capacity between 2005 and 2015. The EU plays a leading role in developing clean energy technology and is ranked second after China in installed and grid-connected domestic renewable electricity capacity. Still, some non-EU countries are seeing faster progress, something observed also in terms of the share of renewable-energy related jobs in the labour force where in 2015 the EU was overtaken by other countries, such as Japan and China.
The EU and its Member States will need to step-up their climate and energy efforts if they want to meet EU ambitions to become a sustainable, low-carbon economy by 2050, the report says. Key challenges remain, including the formulation of adequate policies that deliver targets, agreeing on an EU monitoring system and improving innovation capabilities to reap the full benefits of the energy transition in Europe.
Last day highlights from Sustainable Energy for All Forum
The energy access dividend: Our final day of the 2017 Sustainable Energy for All Forum focused on the energy access dividend, with sessions focusing on exploring the dividends that accrue with energy services and the case for going further, faster – together. From looking at the ‘new market’ and assessing whether the private sector can really service the bottom of the pyramid, to how energy providers are increasing productivity through decentralized solutions, the final day of the Forum addressed core issues in how we ensure an energy transition for all, and as Mary Robinson said in a press conference, “how we reach those furthest behind, first.”
Mary Robinson, President and Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, interviewed by Benjamin Steinlechner, Connect4Climate
During the day, 9 of our speakers lined the Forum circular stage to reveal plans for a new people-centered accelerator to advance gender equality, social inclusion and women’s empowerment in the sustainable energy sector. Through this accelerator, partners will work together to progress action towards these three goals, while working with leaders to promote an energy transition supports these people-centered aims and leaves no one behind. The accelerator is due to formally be launched later in the year.
During her closing speech, Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), said “We built this Forum – and every session in it - on an evidence base: a foundation hewn from the latest Global Tracking Framework, the dashboard that we use to measure progress on Sustainable Development Goal #7. It shows us that there are many extraordinary things happening – and happening all around the world. And those things are happening – in very large part – because of the work you, here at this Forum, are doing. And together, we’ve had the courage to interrogate the latest evidence. Because that’s what real movements do.”
Rachel Kyte talked to Connect4Climate. Photo Credits: Max Thabiso Edkins
ENERGIA presented the Women Entrepreneurship Awards to five inspirational winners from across Africa and Asia in our final afternoon – with successful entrepreneurs, leaders in their communities and role models for other entrepreneurs all being named winners. The awards recognize outstanding work and encourage the winners to perform even better in the future. Each winner will now receive 1,000 euros for the strengthening of their capacities to run an energy business or for enhancing the profitability of their business.
An emerging global campaign on energy access, Shine: Investing in Energy Access for All, was also revealed during the final day of this year’s Forum, focusing on diversifying the sources of finance to support energy access. The campaign will unite partners from the faith, development and philanthropic sectors to commit to mobilizing new forms of capital, scaling resources and generating momentum to achieve universal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy by 2030 and support Sustainable Development Goal 7. It was also confirmed during the day's press conference that the World Council of Churches – which brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians – had committed to join the campaign.
Sustainable Energy for All Forum venue in New York City. Photo Credits: Max Thabiso Edkins/Connect4Climate
The Poor People's Energy Outlook (PPEO) report from Practical Action was launched during the final day, and showed how reforming energy financing can radically hasten energy access. Results showed that poor families in developing countries are being denied access to basic technology and services by financial systems which fail to bring them modern energy.
Scaling clean energy solutions is less about technology and more about policies, financing, and local people skills. East Africa is a hot spot for scaling off-grid renewables and there are lots of reasons why. With dozens of iconic companies now going 100 percent renewable, REN21 asks the question, ‘Why not the entire world’? “We’ll arrive at 100 percent renewable energy. The only question is when,” REN21 Executive Secretary Christine Lins told another packed audience.
Christine Lins Executive Secretary REN21, interviewed by Max Thabiso Edkins, Climate Change Expert, Connect4Climate, World Bank Group, at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum
Cheers for Technology
Don’t blame technology for the lackluster progress on achieving the sustainable energy development goals by 2030. Across the board, no matter the region, renewable energy costs are plummeting, especially for solar photovoltaics (PVs), which have dropped in half since 2012. In places like Chile and Dubai in the past year, solar projects are shattering record lows. “They’re outcompeting fossil fuels even without subsidies,” said Ethan Zindler, Head of Americas at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. All regions are benefitting, including Caribbean Islands like Jamaica and Bonaire off Venezuela, which are forsaking high-polluting diesel fuel for cheaper wind power and battery storage. Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda are also benefitting, mostly with pay-as-you-go household solar systems from companies like Off Grid Electric, M-Kopa Solar and Mobisol. Bangladesh is seeing the biggest upside of all.
Thomas Duveau Head of Business Development at Mobisol, interviewed by Max Thabiso Edkins, Connect4Climate
Ivan Shumkov, CEO, Build Academy, interviewed by Benjamin Steinlechner, Communications & Partnerships Strategies, Connect4Climate, at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum
Why East Africa is Working
The SEforAll forum is flooded with solar companies and funders who are finding big success in Kenya, Tanzania, and others East African countries. Most are solar off-grid providers who are taking advantage of ubiquitous mobile phones and mobile money in East Africa to sell their systems. “Mobile money is a key element for our business model,” said Thomas Duveau, head of business development at Mobisol, which has sold 75,000 solar systems in Tanzania and other parts of East Africa. Business-friendly governments are another key. A new Power for All report identifies key national energy policies in Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh and two other countries that have helped unleash decentralized solar. “We call them policy accelerators,” report co-author Rebekah Shirley said, citing supportive policies like low tariffs and import fees, local financing support and clear energy access goals.
Other Intangibles for Success
Local capacity and local people skills came up time and time again. Nigerian banker and Dangote Foundation CEO Zouera Youssoufou said Nigeria’s sustainable energy movement needs more women leaders and more local financing from African banks. David Lecoque, policy and development manager at the Alliance for Rural Electrification, talked about local capacity building. “Governments have an important role in developing soft skills, local capacity, so there’s an understanding of these (sustainable) technologies,” he said. Several speakers suggested that foundations support such capacity building.
"If you look at all the money that's growing into funding renewables and sustainable energy types of things, very little of that funding is African. When you come from the outside and try to tell us what to do or encourage us to do the right thing, you have to make sure that we're also part of the story," Nigerian banker and Dangote Foundation CEO Zouera Youssoufou said
A 100% Renewable Future?
In the wake of the ambitious Paris Climate Agreement, REN21 posed the provocative question: “Is a 100 percent renewable energy future feasible by 2050?” The results of its new report, based on interviews with more than 100 energy experts, are both illuminating and inspiring. Among the key takeaways: 71 percent agreed a transition to 100 percent renewables is feasible and realistic; 72 percent expect at least a tripling in renewable energy, over 50 percent, by 2050; 63 percent expect decentralized renewable energy will dominate over centralized renewable power by 2050.
Five new cities and districts joined the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a public-private collaboration that now includes over 35 global organizations and 28 cities in 18 countries. Buildings account for one-third of global energy demand and over one-quarter of global GHG emissions.
Sustainable Energy for All Forum: Day 1 highlights
We’re making progress on the sustainable energy goals, but not more speed and scale are needed. Energy efficiency holds enormous promise, but it’s not sexy and it lacks capital. Even with the political paralysis in countries like the U.S., cities around the world are making big gains on sustainable energy. Christiana Figueres is still a rock star who evokes urgency like nobody else. “Swallow the alarm clock. The next 3 to 4 years (on climate action) will determine our future,” she told a packed audience of 1,000 in Brooklyn. And Michael Leibrich knows how to close things out.
"There's a very clear equation we can cement into our brains: More carbon equals more poverty; less carbon equals less poverty," Christiana Figueres said.
We Need to Move Faster
The new 2017 Global Tracking Framework report shows only incremental progress on the Sustainable Energy for All goals. While hundreds of millions of people gained access to clean cooking, electricity and renewable energy from 2012 to 2014, more than 1 billion people overall – one of every 7 people on the planet - are still living in the dark with no access to power. Put simply, the world is not on track to meet key UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030: universal access to modern energy services and doubling energy efficiency improvements and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. “Business, as usual, is not good enough. We need speed and scale,” SEforALL CEO Rachel Kyte said, kicking off the three-day forum.
SEforALL CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All Rachel Kyte explains Sustainable Energy for All Forum to Connect4Climate
Nonetheless, the report was chock-full with pockets of progress, among those: 56 million more Indonesians are now cooking with clean fuel instead of high-polluting kerosene; 90 percent of the population in war-torn Afghanistan now has electricity - much of it solar - up from 50 percent only four years ago; off-grid renewables, driven by plummeting prices for wind and solar PVs, are flipping on the lights for tens of millions in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Loving Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency was the only area that saw tangible gains in the report, with China, UK, Mexico, Russia, Italy, Australia, and Nigeria all improving their energy intensity by more than 2 percent a year. Overall, global energy intensity improved by 2 percent a year, but that’s still short of the 2.6 percent annual growth rate needed to meet the 2030 goal. Stronger policies are one of the keys to accelerating gains. “If you don’t have strict regulations, it is very difficult,” said Tanya Muller Garcia, Secretary of the Environment in Mexico City, which has instituted tighter efficiency standards in construction regulations. Another key is more creative financing, whether the green bonds that Mexico City is using or tax credits that Quebec is offering for energy-saving renovations. Still, overall financing levels need to grow by a factor of 3 to 6. Kyte’s solution to all this: “Making energy efficiency sexy again.”
Who needs national governments when cities can solve the world’s sustainability energy challenges? That was the rallying cry of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Christiana Figueres who are co-chairing the Covenant of Mayors on Climate & Energy, a coalition of thousands of local and regional governments tackling climate change. “The bottom line is local governments, corporate America, and individuals are the ones (pushing low-carbon action),” Bloomberg said.
"It has become fashionable and profitable to invest in renewables as they are finally starting to pay off. We are going to get more renewable and less fossil fuel and particularly less coal, " Michael Bloomberg stated.
The Microgrid Investment Accelerator, a consortium of partners trying to unlock private capital for energy access, was launched in the morning. It aims to mobilize $50 million of financing, via public-private partnerships, to bring modern energy services to under-served parts of East Africa, India and Indonesia by 2020. Facebook, Microsoft and venture capitalists at Allotrope Partners are among the key players. The South African retail chain Woolworths joined the EP100 campaign aimed at doubling energy productivity by 2020. The Global Environment Facility confirmed its support for SEforAll’s Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator, led by UNIDO and the Carbon Trust.