The globalisation of renewables
Until just a few years ago the concept of the energy transition was almost entirely a German phenomenon: few people outside the country were even aware of its existence. Today it is a global revolution. The production of clean energy, initially viewed as slow and costly, is now rightly considered competitive, dynamic, sustainable and a welcome source of employment.
The German term Energiewende, literally meaning “energy transition”, is regularly used in English language publications without being translated, thus joining German expressions such as Leitmotiv and Weltanschauung.
“Today the German concept of the energy transition has been successfully exported all over Europe and the rest of the world”
– Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission for Energy Union
Every year an event to discuss future energy scenarios takes place in the capital of the country that pioneered this revolution.
The fourth edition of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue 2018 was held on 17 and 18 April as part of Berlin Energy Week, involving the participation of some of the world’s leading figures from the energy sector. A total of over 2 thousand participants from more than 90 countries, 30 ministers and secretaries of state and more than 100 high profile speakers, including the CEO and General Manager of Enel, Francesco Starace.
Who is the winner?
One of the most important round table discussions was “Energy Markets in Times of Transition.” The Enel CEO explained that today it is the market that is determining the importance of renewables. This means that the transition is being driven by reasons of competitiveness, thanks also to the impact of two particular technological advances: digitalisation and the progress being made in the science of materials, which are increasingly efficient, affordable, robust and long-lasting.
The spread of renewables is not only advantageous for the environment and climate, but it also means a fall in electricity prices and, consequently, enables the electrification of sectors such as transport, heating and cooking, with economic and environmental benefits for all.
“We must pay closer attention to grids and their digitisation. Otherwise, if we forget this simple fact, we will not be able to carry on with the energy transition, and our efforts so far will have been in vain”
– Francesco Starace, CEO and General Manager Enel
Echoing the sentiments of Francesco Starace was Cedrik Neike, a member of the Managing Board of Siemens, according to whom it is a priority to accelerate the process of digitalisation of the network, above all in light of the decentralisation that is increasingly characterising the energy scenario.
The transition around the world
The panel offered an overview of the energy transition worldwide, with four case studies from China, Jordan, Uganda and Norway. These are four very different scenarios yet what they all have in common is that each country is experiencing a transformation of its own energy system.
Baohua Liu, China’s Vice Minister, National Energy Administration (NEA), reported that the country’s President Xi Jingping is personally committed to developing energies with low levels of greenhouse gas emissions: the target is to achieve a scenario in which at least 15% of the energy mix is derived from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020 and to reach a proportion of 20% by 2030. The aim is to move away from the use of coal as soon as possible.
The situation in Norway is very different and is marked by a particular paradox: on one hand, the country has a surplus of renewable energy (mainly thanks to its hydroelectric production); on the other, it is a major exporter of oil and gas. According to Terje Søviknes, Minister for Petroleum and Energy, there is no contradiction: fossil fuels remain irreplaceable for sectors like the aviation industry, while gas offers a temporary compromise when it comes to replacing coal and reducing emissions.
Saleh Al-Kharabsheh, the Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, described the way in which the country learnt how to harness the power of the sun as a clean and abundant source of energy in a country that has long been considered to be poor in energy resources. The aim is to provide for 10% of the nation’s energy needs from renewables by 2020. This target seemed overambitious in 2007, but it was exceeded with ease and, according to current estimates, the figure is more likely to be closer to 25%. This is also thanks to the openness of the market and the creation of public-private partnerships.
A similar approach has been employed to tackle problems of a different nature in Uganda, as Irene Muloni, the country’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, explained. The energy problem in Uganda does not concern the penetration of renewable sources (which cover 90% of national energy needs), but the lack of access to electricity for a significant portion of the population, especially in rural areas: the liberalisation of the market is enabling the creation of local companies active in the generation, transmission and distribution of energy.
Uganda is also the birthplace of Lucia Bakulumpagi-Wamala, although she grew up in Canada. She is the founder and CEO of Bakulu Power, a technology company for renewables that is leading the way in Uganda’s energy transition, and she has been nominated by Forbes as one of Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs. Speaking as a member of the introductory panel at the discussion on 17 April, she explained that, when it comes to electrification, industrialisation and sustainable development in general, the key word is inclusion, understood as the inclusion of women, the local communities and the population. And for this, she received the longest applause of all.