Energy efficiency and flexible generation crucial to reach Paris goals, claims UN energy chief

Britain will need to double the rate of energy efficiency improvements, develop more energy interconnections and accelerate the transition to a flexible electricity grid if the country is to fulfil its ongoing climate change commitments, the chief executive of UN Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Rachel Kyte has said.

Kyte, who served until December 2015 as World Bank Group vice president for sustainable development and led the Group’s efforts to campaign for an ambitions climate change agreement at COP21, gave a lecture at an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainability Energy event in Westminster last week on the international and domestic opportunities of an energy transition for the UK.

The environmental objectives set through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Paris Agreement are still achievable, Kyte said, but only if policy acts as an enabler for the rapid rollout of clean technologies and the delivery of more sustainable business models at pace and scale.

Discussing the prospects for an emissions curve that puts the world at well-below 2C by mid-century, Kyte said: “This is a doable goal, but it requires us to be focused and disciplined.

“It requires us to harness the financial markets to get behind clean, clear, reliable, long-term energy strategy that is transparent. It requires institutions that many countries don’t have today. Does that mean that the international community has to support institutions and new ways of thinking about energy systems? Yes. Is that easier to do than what we are doing at the moment? Yes.”

Greater efficiency

Kyte drives SEforALL’s work to mobilise action towards its 2030 goals of ensuring the doubling of both the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the world’s energy mix.

Earlier this month, the World Bank released a new report on behalf of SEforALL which analysed the sustainable energy policies in more than 100 countries. The Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) report highlighted that, in many countries, policymakers are not paying nearly as much attention to energy efficiency as they are to renewable energy, particularly in the developing world. According to Kyte, energy efficiency measures are usually the most cost-effective way of greening the energy sector.

“Energy efficiency is too often forgotten,” she added. “Countries have started to put in regulations for renewable energy which is a new technology, new practice and new business model. It must be within our capability to set very stringent government-led efforts around energy efficiency, for public procurement and setting standards for industry.”

Flexible generation

In terms of the UK’s role in the decarbonisation process, Kyte said hat a more efficient, decentralised and digitalised energy system would offer the UK a cheaper, easier and faster way to fulfil its climate change obligations. A 15% reduction in energy consumption in the UK since 2000 has supported a continental movement which recently saw the EU surpass a key energy efficiency target six years early.

During her lecture, Kyte praised the UK’s role in this area but also insisted that the country will not achieve its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the Paris Agreement unless it supports a flexible energy system which fosters smart technologies such as energy storage and demand response.

According to the European Scrutiny Committee, interconnected electricity could account for around 20% of the UK’s peak energy demand by that 2022. Kyte stated her belief that the UK’s imminent departure from the EU should not affect the country’s shift towards greater interconnectivity.

“Deep decarbonisation is important,” Kyte continued. “We are not on track, we will not get there without doubling down on efficiency and without an embrace of some of the issues that we have around demand side management, storage, flexible generation and interconnectivity.

“Does Brexit get in the way of that? I can’t speak with certainty, but many of these things are about issues of greater collaboration across borders than less. And certainly in Africa, Asia, and across the Americas, we need more interconnection, not less.”

‘Let the markets decide’

Kyte went on to highlight the potential for low-carbon power generation technologies to dramatically increase capacity in the near future, given the current tumbling prices of renewables. Latest statistics show that the price of solar PV has fallen 85% over the past seven years, while the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that the average costs for electricity generated by solar and wind technologies could decrease by 59% by 2025. 

An energy system driven by the markets will enable low-carbon technologies to overcome fossil fuels, Kyte concluded, and this, in turn, will provide numerous environmental and economic benefits for Britain, including green job creation and a healthier nation.

“We shouldn’t let technologies peak too early – let the markets decide. There is a dividend for achieving access early. There is a dividend in terms of health service, education, status and growth. This is job-rich from the green end. The financial flows are not the problem.

“The UK hasn’t been where it needs to in the past. There is a desperate need for it to step up going forward.”

George Ogleby

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