Renewable energy was a major priority in the COP26 agenda, with high expectations over what would ultimately be named the Glasgow Climate Pact in accelerating the transition. So did political agreements help to further the cause for wind, solar and other renewable technologies? What more needs to be done to ensure that projects can be developed to meet the world’s energy needs without a reliance on fossil fuels?
In this episode, Mathias speaks with Una Brosnan, Head of Offshore Strategy & New Markets at Mainstream Renewable Power. Together they discuss a summary of the concrete renewable energy outcomes from COP26, as well as examples of project deployment, the role of investments in renewables, and key developments in emerging markets. They also reflect on the current barriers to achieving an accelerated transition and the impact this will have on the overall net zero ambition.
MATHIAS STECK Hello and welcome to the 11th series of the DNV Talks Energy Podcast. I’m your host Mathias Steck. So far in the series we have explored the role that COP26 played, when it comes to policy development, investment, and supporting a just transition. In this episode, we take a look at the outlook for the fundamental component in the race to net zero, renewable energy. I speak to Una Brosnan, Head of Offshore Strategy in New Markets at Mainstream Renewable Power. One of the world leaders in the development of wind and solar projects. Una shares her first-hand experience of project implementation across the world. And gives us her take on the role of policy and investment in accelerating renewables’ uptake. We hope you enjoy the episode. Una many thanks for joining me today. I’d like to start by asking you to tell us about yourself, your role at Mainstream Renewable Power, and the company’s key focus?
UNA BROSNAN Thank you for having me today, I’m really excited to join this podcast. Just a little bit of background on myself. My name is Una Brosnan. I work for Mainstream Renewable Power. I’m the Head of Offshore Strategy and New Markets. I’ve been here just over a year. And my background is, I’m a Chartered Civil Engineer and I’ve been working in industry for over 20 years. But very much working in offshore wind since 2009, 2010. Looking at my role, it’s very much a global role. I am what it says in the title, I look at the strategy. I look at global market entry for Mainstream into offshore wind, in particular. And very much driving the growth around our portfolio and the Centre of Excellence and growing that within our business so that we can pivot to where the markets are in the global space. Mainstream has some really great strengths working in emerging markets. And, I suppose, here lies where we have the success to date, particularly in countries like Chile and South Africa and Vietnam. Where our onshore portfolio for wind and solar have been really coming to the forefront. In the offshore side, I mean, we’ve made inroads in Vietnam in particular. One of our biggest projects for offshore wind is going hopefully to FID next year. And this is really, really putting us in a good space, I suppose, for working with governments who are at the edge of the transition over to renewables. And really keen, I suppose, to make that difference in the country. And change their mindset away from coal. The division itself, I mean the origins of the company’s name Mainstream, was very much instilled by our founder Eddie O’Connor. Very much around the drive and the vision to make renewable energy mainstream in society. And you’re seeing that, I suppose, really come through in the last decade with the commitment and the confidence, really, around renewable energy.
MATHIAS STECK Thank you very much Una. Coming to COP26, renewable energy was of course, one of the major talking points. Could you give us a summary of the concrete outcomes from the meeting that are aimed at accelerating renewable energy project development?
UNA BROSNAN Yes absolutely. I mean it was certainly a very busy two weeks in Glasgow. I had the pleasure of attending. Not quite the Blue Zone, but on the fringe events. And it was very exciting. And very much a high expectation of what was to come. And what we can do working together, to achieve the goal. The biggest outcome I suppose, was really orientated around the Glasgow Climate Pattern in particular. Which was a Climate Agreement which was signed by 197 parties attending the UN Conference. In essence, this was the crux of it. It was there to keep the vision of 1.5 Degrees alive. But only if we keep the promises that were made and converted to hard commitments over the two weeks of COP. Before COP the world was very much on track for 2.7 degrees warming. But I mean, you know the hard work that went into the COP26 Agreements, I suppose we’ve made inroads there and reduced that to 2.4 degrees. That’s ensuring that everything is converted. But I mean there is still a lot of work to be done. And countries have pledged very much in 2022 to take that further. And meet to make sure that we get the carbon cuts that get us down to that 1.5 degrees in particular. Some of the key agreements in the early days. I mean the first two days saw a real plethora of agreements come through, during the Heads of States visit at the two-week event. The Global Methane Pledge was instrumental, looking at 30% methane reduction. More than 100 countries signed up to this one. The Global Forests and Land Use Pledge were very much orientated around protection of the forests. And looking at reducing deforestation. I mean this was a key one, particularly looking at some of the Amazon depletion over the last few years. The Finance Alliance for Net Zero, a pivotal one again. Looking at our portfolio and how we instil change within the investment side. And looking beyond oil and gas alliance in particular. Our shift from black to green as such. But I suppose the one that really came to the forefront was coal and the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement that was made. It was a challenging one, I will say. I was a little disappointed at the last-minute change on that and the change in the wording. But I do think, on reflection, you know we’ve got some amazing wording in there that was never there in the earlier days. So, we’ve made a lot of inroads there in actually tackling and addressing, and really, really admitting that we have a problem here. So, bringing coal into the wording was actually a key element of progress within the period. Looking over to transport, I mean it’s an exciting time there. You’re seeing the growth of EVs very much at the forefront. I mean the 100% zero emissions vehicle sale by 2040, was a big industry commitment. And then looking at the aviation side. We were looking at international aviation ambition there as well. Again, a very ambitious target to reduce the emissions to limit global average temperature to 1.5 degrees. And then very much on the shipping side, you know there was commitment there on the Clyde Bank Declaration which was looking at green shipping routes. And the aim initially is to have six of these in place by 2025. But then very many more by 2030. So, that’s just a quick snippet of some of the key agreements that were there, at kind of government level but there was many more as well. Looking at private climate finance. Looking at finance alliance for net zero. Looking at new climate sustainability disclosure standards. The roles of central banks and multilateral development banks. And very much the pledge influencing regulatory and legislative to the environment as well. I think all of these combined, will make a change. On the accountability side, I think one of the biggest steps forward on that side was very much on the Nationally Determined Contributions and their requirement now to report on them on an annual agreement. These really lie at the heart of the Paris Agreement, and the achievements for these long-term goals. And really embody each of the efforts to reduce the national emissions when it comes to climate change. So, I think all in all, it was a busy two weeks. Maybe it didn’t end the way we would have liked to, on a high. But very much, stepping back, there was a lot of hard work and determination. And a commitment there over the period of two weeks. So, a very positive step forward I think for our global economy.
MATHIAS STECK Yes, thank you very much for this fascinating overview of what all was discussed there. And we will revisit some of the topics later in our discussions, mostly in terms of what more needs to be done here. But before we go there, I would like to touch in investments in renewables. As this is such an important area. What impact will efforts to incentivize investments have, particularly when it comes to renewables development in emerging markets?
UNA BROSNAN Yes, great question. The key is the push and pull around this and, as mentioned earlier, there is a number of positive pledges and commitments made on the finance side. Naming the Finance Alliance Net Zero, which was very much led by Mark Carney, committing to managing their assets in the region. I think it was totalling US$30 trillion - in line with achieving net zero. So, it’s very much aligning finance with the race to zero on emissions by 2050. Looking at the standards side then, the new Climate and Sustainability Disclosure Standards. These all feedback, intertwined into finance itself. Key aspects there, and it’s very much driven now, you’re seeing a lot of commitment from, whether it’s shareholders or it’s governments driving policy, there’s a very much a social movement now, into where finance is being pushed. And, you’re seeing a number of global players in particular, make commitments not to invest in fossil fuels, or strictly looking at where they can enhance investments around green energy, and that energy transition, and then looking at a just transition. So, it’s quite an interesting one. I suppose looking at the push and pulls, we do need to couple that with what governments are looking at. And looking at policy and regulatory frameworks as well to make sure that we intertwine this collectively. And make sure that we’re able to realize these projects in an efficient manner.
MATHIAS STECK Right. We had an interesting conversation with Dennis Jong from DIF Capital Partners in episode three of the series, regarding the barriers to an accelerated transition. And for him, there is plenty of capital available to meet net zero ambitions. But the availability of projects is the limiting factor. Would you agree with this outlook?
UNA BROSNAN I would. I do think that we’re seeing a lot of projects when they come to FID become oversubscribed on the global scale. But at the minute, just to take even the UK as an example, the last projects that came out were Round Three back in 2010, when it was announced in early 2010 I think it was. And since then we had to wait till Round Four in Scotland, to see the next tranche of projects come through. The gap is probably too big. I do realize technology has come a long way, and a lot of progress has been made around the technology and cost reduction. But now we’re seeing global recognition on the cost reduction being realized and confidence in the technology. Now we need to open up these markets and make sure that there is an area to invest, whether it’s in offshore wind, or onshore, or solar at scale. We need that confidence. But very much agree with those words from Dennis Jong. I think it’s a case of how do we unlock the potential out there now so we can enable the capital to do its job?
MATHIAS STECK So, what would say what support would be required from governments, to accelerate the transition to renewable energy? And make it easier to get projects off the ground?
UNA BROSNAN Coming from a developer’s perspective in particular, we look at clear pathways for project development in particular. And these are really very much driven by commitments from governments, aspirations and visions in country. And we saw that again, just coming back to the UK as an example. In the early days of offshore wind, we saw that governments maybe flip flop across some of their decision making. And they were committed to some technologies and some cases they challenged us to look at our costs, in particular. Which was not a bad thing. But in there, it caused a delay and it caused doubt on whether this was going to happen. And that has a direct impact then on investment challenges across the supply chain in particular. Say, for example, if you’re looking at a port. And it was looking at upgrading. And it was looking at, it’s a bit of chicken and egg for them. On, is their portfolio going to come? They need very good sight on what and when it’s going to come. So, I think this will be important for emerging markets in particular. So, looking at it from a development perspective, I think it’s important that we go support these emerging markets in particular, to shape how they’re going to release these renewable energy projects. How do they build the industry, support and collaborate with the wider stakeholders and supply chain to make sure they are ready for the lift off of these projects or a particular industry. In some cases, commitments to strategy, making sure that they’ve got clear and concise commitments to find, so investors can see the line of sight into where their revenues will be, and where and why they need to make these investments. And, I think I’ll be quite vocal around collaboration in particular, making sure that we’ve got adequate support and we’re bringing across the knowledge and lessons learnt from the mature markets. Making sure we’ve got that just transition. And it’s not just the scales and support. It’s making sure that we’re working with communities as well. So, it’s all intertwined but there is quite a bit of work to be done, when you’re making sure that these projects get off the ground.
MATHIAS STECK We have talked about developing countries and the disparity between cost and effect of climate change. I am keen to look more broadly now at the risks and opportunities presented by the energy transition for those all around the world on low-moderate incomes. How can we ensure that the transition to a low carbon economy addresses fuel poverty and ensures universal access to clean energy?
UNA BROSNAN I think that’s where electrification and electrified technologies can be so powerful. Once you’ve converted everything to electricity and once we are able to then provide free or low-cost solar globally, you are giving folks access to free or low-cost energy. From there, you don’t have to go buy the gas, the propane, the coal, the wood, you don’t have to burn things, because now the sun can deliver its power to you free, or more freely. I think that would be a much better way to address the ongoing energy burden to provide folks an ongoing renewable energy source that’s clean and safe for their communities versus delivering this endless obligation of fuel subsidies or something that actually damages their health even as they’re able to then pay for their bills. You don’t need that infrastructure philanthropy. You are letting folks be more self-sufficient. This to me is the more holistic way to address fuel poverty and energy burden. It allows folks to inherently own the means of their own power production and power the rest of their lives through their electrified technologies. I think this is a more fundamental way to address our energy needs.
MATHIAS STECK Yes Una. And I’d like to go a bit deeper there. You earlier already mentioned Mainstream’s experience in working on projects across the world. You just talked about emerging markets. Can you give us some insights into the key challenges faced in these emerging markets? And maybe, particularly actually, in developing countries.
UNA BROSNAN This is a real strength in Mainstream’s DNA, and particularly we’ve really gone into some of the early emerging countries. The likes of Chile and South Africa and Vietnam, when it comes to renewable energy. I suppose one of the key challenges, and it is a case of we need to sit down with governments, and make sure that they understand the technology, and the why behind renewables. And where the benefits are for the country. Working with them to make sure that they’ve got the skills, or aligning with the skills they may already have. We’re very fortunate here in Europe to have the exposure to offshore wind. But there is a number of regions and countries that haven’t had direct exposure, and don’t fully understand what is required. So, I think there is some groundwork there to be done. And that’s always a challenge. Whether it’s from just a cultural or a language perspective. But equally there, we just need to do it in the right manner. Understanding the business case, I think is key. The crux of making sure that you can justify your market entry. Not just from a developer’s perspective, but equally where the benefits are for that country and that community. I think it’s key that we get a balance between both of them. Urgency is always a challenge, when it comes to working with developing countries. Looking at, when you’ve got your business case developed and you speak to the government and the various agencies around that. Working up the line of sight into the projects and getting the urgency behind it, may not always be recognized from the early stages. So, it’s again, working very closely and collaboratively with both sides of the fence, whether it’s on the development side, the government, or with the supply chain to make sure you can enable this. Working in the offshore environment is always a challenge. And I don’t think it’s fully appreciated until you probably step offshore and recognize where things can change very, very quickly. I mean, we recognize that very much so on the safety side. If a country, or a region in particular, has got limited experience working in the offshore environment in particular. Here in itself can lie a challenge and maybe not fully recognize what the planning and how the area can be such a challenge from an environmental perspective. Whether it’s weather fronts coming in, rolling moving storms, or working high wave heights. Or it’s tsunamis or typhoons or whatever it may be in region. Equally they bring their own little intricacies and then it links back to things like warranties and commercial arrangements and stand down time. All needs to be considered. And then when it comes to things like building a new industry, cost reduction is always on the forefront of the mindset, particularly at government level, when they are providing subsidies. They look to the mature markets in particular and they look to see where can we realize that cost reduction very, very quickly. And making sure that we can work with them and the local supply chain, to bring that to market as soon as we can. But it does take time. It may not take as long as it has for us here in Europe, but we need to make sure we’ve got a robust system, and a robust training and learning and transfer of skills into that particular region. So, I suppose the crux of it really, is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I think that’s the key one. But it’s never an easy one to get over the hurdle. But it is key.
UNA BROSNAN The one I suppose that’s really at the forefront in 2021, and is seeing some great inroads in development and rolling out projects, is probably the US. They’ve tried to get their offshore wind sector off the ground. I think this is the third attempt. And very much so, talking about government level, you’ve seen the States lead the business case really, for offshore wind. In particular when you look at the likes of Massachusetts or New York. Massachusetts had some big drivers there. They were challenged with assets which were aging and coming offline very quickly and they needed technology that could come online fairly quickly, and supply large demand into their cities. And they were challenged on the other side then by the gas pipelines being limited in diameter and they couldn’t get as much as they would have liked in there. So, I think this was quite an interesting dynamic in that it really got their heads to turn towards offshore wind in particular. At government level, we’ve seen obviously with the new administration, some big steps and big commitments from a funding perspective, from a federal tax perspective, support mechanisms, or looking at supporting the supply chain itself. But equally then, on visibility of projects and rolling out options over the next probably five years that has all made giant leaps in here, and I think they’ve really overcome some of the historical challenges there. They had to get the market off the ground. It really is one to watch and see how this develops. But it’s moving at a pace. You’re seeing some really, really great leaps by some of the early projects now. They’re really starting to get over the initial hurdles.
MATHIAS STECK Una as you mentioned, you do onshore wind, offshore wind, solar projects around the world. What is the right mix of technologies to meet the world’s energy needs?
UNA BROSNAN Yes, that’s a very interesting question, and one we get asked quite a bit actually. The mix, I think the mix will vary right across regions in particular. I think we need all of them. It’s how you approach and where are the key drivers again? It goes back to that business case. What’s right for that particular country and their grid system and their stakeholders, and where the strengths are within the supply chain? I think that’s the crux of it. We will need a spread, from a balancing perspective, and making sure that we’ve got a technically robust system there as well. Renewables is constantly being challenged. And constantly being pushed. We’re seeing new systems. The likes of green hydrogen entering the market, using battery storage as well. And combining these with onshore and offshore wind, and solar, that’s going to be a really, really interesting move I think going forward in determining that mix.
MATHIAS STECK Many thanks Una. I’d like to end by asking you one final question. One of the other key focuses at COP26 was the debate over how we ensure the energy transition is just and fair. How important is the role renewable energy developments play in supporting communities around the world?
UNA BROSNAN Again, very great question. And I think the answer is simple. It’s huge. And this is probably one of the main reasons I got into the industry myself. I mean we need to ensure that we can drive this from the right culture from within our industry and as a developer, we take a stand on the leadership point there. Ensuring that we’re not just bringing jobs and supply chain along into the market here in Europe, but also bringing a strong responsibility on the global platform. We bring our skills and expertise on mature market into the international space. Particularly in emerging countries, where we’re going to have probably the biggest impact and where we can actually bring it back to COP is where we can make the biggest impact to those individuals that are on the front line. I think it’s going to be key, and we’re very much at the start of this. I do believe that. We’re only just scratching the surface here. I think the next decade is going to be one of urgency, and we’ll know where we are very much by 2030. And where the challenges ahead to reach our 2050 targets.
MATHIAS STECK Una, thank you for joining us today. It was an interesting discussion. And I wish you the best of luck with Mainstream’s many important projects.
UNA BROSNAN Thank you very much, it was a pleasure being here.
MATHIAS STECK Thank you for joining us for this week’s episode. It’s been an interesting conversation and a pleasure to discuss the outlook for renewables, with Una. Una has highlighted some of the fundamental challenges we still face when it comes to implementation of renewable energy projects. But also, gave us a sense of optimism over what can be achieved if we all pull together. Join us next week for our final episode of this series, where we focus on changing mindsets and driving collaboration. To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnv.com/talksenergy.