The renewable energy transition “is the only true path to energy security”, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has asserted, adding that the current energy crisis, precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, underlined the need to accelerate rather than slow the transition.
In a recorded address to the 2022 edition of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD), Guterres warned that the world was not on track to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century, or limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C.
“Last year, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grew by 6% when they should be falling. In fact, with current national commitments, emissions are projected to increase by almost 14% this decade,” he said, describing the global energy mix as broken.
Guterres was also not alone in linking the issue of peace and security of energy supply to the energy transition, with International Renewable Energy Agency director-general Francesco La Camera, German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck and German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock doing likewise.
Habeck said that energy, climate, foreign and security policies were “intertwined” and that Germany would move to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels – a dependence that he described as the consequence of past mistakes.
"You cannot steal the wind. The sun belongs to no-one,” he said, when underlining the importance of renewable energy to Germany’s fast-tracked efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian coal, oil and gas.
Germany was also moving to diversify it sources of gas supply through the construction of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals, which formed part of a strategy to reduce Russian gas consumption by 30% by the end of the year and to be largely independent of Russian supplies by mid-2024.
Besides diversification and savings, Germany is also accelerating its ramp-up of hydrogen and hydrogen imports.
Habeck told BETD delegates that Germany’s fertiliser production was also dependent on gas and hinted at possible ammonia imports to displace that dependency and to reduce the prospect of a food-security crisis.
The selection of Brunsbüttel as the site for an LNG terminal with a regasification capacity of eight-billion cubic metres is also believed to be part of a plan to shore up supply to the Yara fertiliser facility, which is also located in Brunsbüttel. However, this could be supplemented by ammonia imports, including green ammonia derived from green hydrogen.
La Camera, who used the occasion to release Irena’s ‘World Energy Transitions Outlook 2022’, said that an acceleration of the energy transition was essential for long-term energy security, price stability and national resilience.
Ramping up renewables, together with an aggressive energy efficiency strategy, also represented the most realistic path toward halving of emissions by 2030, which was crucial to limiting the rise in the global average temperature to 1.5 °C.
“Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure will only lock-in uneconomic practices, perpetuate existing risks and increase the threats of climate change,” La Camera warned.
The outlook document itself said that investments of $5.7-trillion a year to 2030 were needed for the world to be compatible with the 1.5 °C climate goal.
Renewables would have to scale-up massively across all sectors from 14% of total energy today to around 40% in 2030.
The outlook sees electrification and efficiency as key drivers of the energy transition, enabled by renewables, hydrogen and sustainable biomass.
“Green hydrogen needs to move from niche to mainstream by 2030,” La Camera said.
Meanwhile, Baerbock also used the platform to warn against the creation of new dependencies, noting that wind farms and power lines required minerals that were sometimes produced in countries that were “not flawless democracies” and which had “authoritarian tendencies”.
“Clean energies cannot be achieved by dirty deals,” she said.
However, the transition also opened up new opportunities for international cooperation that could help heal the damage of the past and lay the basis for building national and international prosperity.
In her keynote address Mariana Mazzucato, who is professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London (UCL) and founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, called for a reinvention of the relationship between governments, business and civil society to “innovate, invest, and collaborate” for the “common good”.
A member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Presidential Economic Advisory Council, Mazzucato warned that, unless there was a redesign of the capitalist system, humanity would continue to lurch from crisis to crisis, noting that the current geopolitical crisis followed on from a financial crisis, a health crisis and an unfolding climate crisis.
“We need to be really redesigning the policies, but also reviving a true social contract, in such a way that we have symbiotic, mutualistic public-private partnerships, and less of the kind of parasitic-type that unfortunately we've seen in the past.”
In a recent paper titled ‘How can South Africa advance a new energy paradigm? A mission-oriented approach to megaprojects’, Mazzucato and her coauthors concluded that energy strategy should be incorporated at the heart of South Africa’s industrial strategy.
“The industrial strategy needs to move away from being—as it has been and remains in many countries—an inflexible list of high-performing sectors and towards missions on renewables and development of innovative industrial ecosystems,” the paper states.
Such a mission-oriented approach to green industrial policy, the paper adds, is not about top-down planning by an overbearing State, but rather about providing a direction for growth, increasing business expectations about future growth areas, and catalysing activity.
“It is not about de-risking and levelling the playing field, nor about supporting more competitive sectors over less, since ‘the market does not always know best’, rather it is about tilting the playing field in the direction of the desired societal goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals,” Mazzucato and coauthors, Antonio Andreoni, Kenneth Creamer and Grové Steyn, write.