In our latest Talks Energy podcast - The race to deep decarbonization, we spoke to Dolf Gielen, Director for IRENA’s Technology & Innovation Centre, about how a deep decarbonization approach can be achieved, and how existing technologies can be harnessed and scaled to accelerate the energy transition.
Renewable technology - and offshore wind in particular – has enjoyed rapid growth in the last decade across developed nations. In countries and markets such as the UK, Denmark, Germany and China, the roll out of renewable technology has been swift – even if those nations still face major challenges in phasing out carbon-intensive methods.
Recent examples of the perilous effects of climate change, be it wildfires or unseasonal storms, will only continue to worsen in the coming years based on historical emissions and build-up of CO2, explains Dolf. In order to avoid runaway climate change, we need to rapidly reduce these emissions, he says.
Dolf translates this to a 70 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, compared to current levels. That the impact of climate change is now more significant than was previously thought explains why there is also a drive to achieve a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the same date.
To meet that objective, CO2 emissions need to reach net zero. While the power sector is already quickly moving towards renewables due, in part, to the “favourable economics” of wind and photovoltaic (PV) power, Dolf says a more radical approach is needed to decarbonize end-use sectors too.
“To make that happen,” Dolf explains, “we need a lot more renewables, especially renewable power. We need electric cars too, but we also need heat pumps in buildings, and we also need what we call indirect electrification, where you use renewable power for water electrolysis to produce green hydrogen, which is especially important as a feedstock for industry.
He continues: “And these supply side measures have to be combined with wise use of energy. We need a high level of efficiency technology and at the same time, we need to make sure that we focus on products and services which are energy extensive, so that we reduce the energy intensity of the economy as a whole. So, these are the three key components of the energy transition – renewables on the supply side, electrification and efficiency.”
While the steps that must be taken to reach 2050 targets will require great effort, Dolf insists that we already have the technologies required for the transition, although some are not yet at a sufficient readiness level:
“There is a need either to further refine the technology or to scale up manufacturing to bring down the cost. But, in principle, we have the technologies we need and what we need to do in the coming decade is especially ramp up renewables and power generation, and then replace coal-based power generation.”
To encourage such a significant change, the issue of pricing must be considered, says Dolf. Fossil fuel subsidies, for example, must be removed, while excessive taxation of electricity or other clean energy sources should be avoided.
But Dolf argues that here, technology and innovation will be “critical” in bringing down the cost of these clean solutions. He said: “Long term, we need affordable solutions. Policy can help to bring down the cost, but you cannot have clean solutions that are not available at large scale. Technology and innovation help to broaden the resource potential and the field of applications.”
Dolf offers the example of offshore wind, which did not exist 25 years ago, but is now a central aspect of the energy transition in countries such as the UK. Such technological advances can open up new avenues to decarbonization.
It's the same story with electric cars: “We now have the batteries that have the capacity, the performance and the cost profile to apply them on a wide scale. And therefore, now you see that electric mobility takes off. These are examples of innovations that that have been critical for this transition.
He concludes: “And we will need more of these innovations going forward.”