Wärtsilä Energy: Climbing Everest without a map
Global technology company Wärtsilä calls on net zero ambition to be matched with action as the world looks to decarbonise its energy generation.
Authored by Ville Rimali, Director, Growth & Development, Wärtsilä Energy
November was due to be the month of COP26. While the global pandemic has put international climate negotiations on hold, governments worldwide have made declarations to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This must be celebrated, but, as we have seen with the Paris Agreement, high level targets are meaningless without clear, coherent and coordinated action at national, international and local level.
Unfortunately, this is not the landscape that we see today. The end goal may be clear, but the path is not.
Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, has said world leaders have just until the end of this year to implement policies to prevent a rebound in emissions that could put the Paris target permanently out of reach.
Energy underpins over 70% of global emissions, with fossil fuel electricity and heat responsible for a third of the total. We know it is the low hanging fruit of decarbonisation. Accelerate the global transition to 100% renewable energy in the next decade and we can massively accelerate economic decarbonisation towards net zero.
We have made strong progress, but it is nowhere near fast enough.
The challenge is not the technology. The amount of solar and wind power globally has increased by 36.5% and 23% annually since 1990 as costs have fallen. The price of battery storage fell by more than a third from 2018 to 2019 and global investment in storage is predicted to hit $1.2trn USD by 2040. New highly efficient gas peaker technology, future proofed for zero carbon fuels, is already available. These technologies are mature and cost-optimal.
Energy grids can handle it. That was evident during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns earlier this year, when renewable penetration in some countries increased by more than 20% year on year and our lights stayed on.
The biggest issue we face for decarbonising energy is the lack of strategic direction from global governments. This is essential to define the regulation and market mechanisms needed to leverage the enormous investment required. Too many countries are wasting time and money on sporadic policies and disconnected thinking.
With the right short-term policy support to support existing technologies, we can dramatically accelerate deployment of proven green technologies like solar, wind and storage to achieve around 80% renewable energy by 2030.
This then leaves room to invest in longer-term technologies, such as green hydrogen and future fuels, which will be essential to decarbonise the final 10-20% of energy. This is the foundation for the cost optimal decarbonisation of all sectors of the economy towards 2050, but it can only be achieved with a strategic approach.
The climate emergency is one of the biggest challenges we face, and COVID-19 presents us with a unique moment to revaluate our plans and create the change we so desperately need. However, the world is currently approaching it without a plan.
It is like attempting to climb Everest without a map.