Power and renewables

Our changing energy needs

Welcome to the 12th series of the DNV Talks Energy podcast, hosted by Mathias Steck, Service Area Manager, Renewables Northern Europe, DNV. In the last series we explored energy agendas from an affordability, equity and social justice perspective. In this eight-episode series, we explore the human impact of the energy transition and the role that individuals and communities play within our shared global responsibility.



The energy transition is something that affects everyone globally and as urgent action is taken to accelerate efforts to decarbonize, individuals and communities will be impacted differently.

In the opening episode of this new series, we explore the impact of changing energy systems and how that is likely to impact communities around the world.

Host Mathias Steck is joined by Gauri Singh, the Deputy Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Together, they explore the changing energy needs of people across the world and how this, along with the urgent need to decarbonize, places new requirements on the way that energy is produced and distributed. This episode is published during the week in which International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world,  so we took the opportunity to ask our podcast guest, Gauri Singh, the Deputy Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which women inspire her.

Please note: This episode was recorded prior to the conflict in Ukraine. The content and context do not reflect the current geo-political or economic developments related to the energy sector or the livelihoods of persons.

Read the transcription of this episode here

Transcript:
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MATHIAS STECK     Hello, and welcome to the twelfth series of the DNV Talks Energy podcast. I’m your host, Mathias Steck. It’s great to be back in the interviewer’s seat to speak with more special guests. In previous series, we have focused on the role of businesses and policymakers in driving the energy transition forward. In this series, we’ll be exploring the human impact of the energy transition, and the role that individuals and communities play within this shared global responsibility. We will be asking new questions, such as how people in remote communities approach energy generation, how jobs and skills are affected by the energy transition, and how the young people of today will be the sustainability champions of the future.

I am delighted to be joined for this first episode by Gauri Singh, the Deputy Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA. Together, we’ll explore the changing energy needs of people across the world. And how this, along with the urgent need to decarbonize, places new requirements on the way the energy is produced and distributed. During the week in which International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world, Gauri and I also discuss the role of women in shaping energy transition. We hope you enjoy the episode.

First of all, Gauri, thank you for joining me today. It’s a pleasure to have you on our first episode of this new series. Before we start, it would be great if you could give us an introduction of yourself, your role at IRENA, and what the organization focuses on.

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GAURI SINGH     Thank you, Mathias. And thank you for having me at your new series. It looks like a really interesting series. The energy transition has to be all about people. I am the Deputy Director-General at IRENA, and one of my tasks is to broaden and deepen the engagement with IRENA member countries. We have 167 members as a constituency for IRENA. And with this kind of universal membership, what we are focusing on now, because this is, as you know, the decade of action, so our focus is now moving a lot from the strong work that we have been doing on the analytics. And on looking at policies, looking at technology of renewables. But while that will continue, we are now looking at also moving into making customized packages to support developing countries and our membership. So, it’s a lot about moving to the ground with our work and our analysis.

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MATHIAS STECK     Many thanks, Gauri. We will cover a lot of ground during our conversation today. But let’s begin by explaining what we talk about, the human impact of the energy transition. In your view, in broad terms, how has the transition to clean energy affected communities around the world?

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GAURI SINGH     It’s a very interesting question, Mathias, because the energy transition means different things to different people. And ultimately, it’s about how we, as a community, will adapt to the way the energy systems are changing. If I was a rural woman in India, the clean energy that enabled me to do my pumping in my agricultural field, to the clean cooking stove that allowed me to cook my food and not choke my lungs, and allowed my children to study in light that was probably not accessible earlier. It completely changes my life, and the life of my family. I have seen communities that were opposing the installation of solar farms and wind farms, because it was not well understood what these would do for their own lives. But very recently, there is an example of how communities have come together, pooled their land, which was not good for agriculture, but have taken on a small equity participation with a solar developer, with the IPP. And have started reaping in returns, which are definitely much more productive, and is increasing their incomes. But if I was a young woman, maybe, in an urban setting, then earlier I really didn’t care about how the electrons were reaching me and the various ways that I was using electricity. But now I am much more aware about what the fossil fuels are doing to my environment. And I think this is something that COVID has also led to that greater awareness of the interconnected world that we live in. And actions of one community having on the other community, which just gives us much more of an interconnectedness of the environment and the world that we are living in today.

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MATHIAS STECK     So, as you alluded to, communities are at different levels in our society. And they have different ways to contribute. But each single one of them plays a large role in achieving our net zero target. So, if there would be anything, what could we do to shift mindset overall, so that everyone is moving towards the right direction, although they may have very direct problems to solve first?

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GAURI SINGH     I think it’s about really asking the question, how can I contribute? Because that’s really not a question that people are asking. Because they think that it’s such a large system. How can I as an individual, or how can I as a member of a small community, really play a role? But it’s about creating that awareness that it’s every drop which counts. And everyone can contribute. In fact, some of my role models are women who are not educated but have gone much beyond what their present circumstances allow to create. For example, let me take the example of Tulsi Gowda, who’s a tribal woman in south India who’s a casual labourer. And she went on to plant 40,000 trees. So, it’s about understanding that every person has that ability to go that much further and be able to contribute. Whether it’s in terms of reducing your energy consumption, reducing your carbon footprint. Or more actively buying products that are produced with green electricity so that there is a demand in the market. Because whether we like it or not, we live in a market driven economy. And there has to be a demand for green electricity coming from the consumers. Which might be in terms of a slightly higher price, but that’s the price that we should be willing to pay.

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MATHIAS STECK     Well, staying with the theme of communities and their place in the drive to decarbonize, I would like to address the central theme of this episode, the energy needs of people around the world. How is energy use changing globally? And what are the reasons behind this?

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GAURI SINGH     So, when we are talking about the developed world, Mathias, then when you’re looking at energy transition, it’s much more about change in the fuel that brought in the electrons. Because the per capita energy consumption, to support the kind of lifestyle that the developed world has, that’s already in place. So it’s about, how do you replace the fuel? But when you’re looking at developing countries, then it’s really a growing energy need. Because the access to energy is growing. And when you get access to energy, then it also means that people would be interested in looking at appliances that are labour saving. They’re looking at appliances to cool their homes and their work environment. Or heat them, depending on where you are. And also, in terms of the general GDP going up and the income levels going up, will mean that people will want access to the same kind of tools and equipment to communicate. And to also be able to transport themselves in a way that they were not used to. So, you will have people in villages who didn’t have access getting energy, and electricity, will mean that they move from lighting loads to then productive loads. And this shift will obviously mean that there is a growing energy need. Now, if there is this large part of the world that is going to grow in terms of the access to energy, then obviously with it will also come, what kind of energy? Where is this energy really coming from? And I think that’s really the key. That we want to be in a world where, while the standards of living for people go up, and their use of energy also can go up, but it is green energy, sustainable way of looking at energy that happens.

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MATHIAS STECK     We have now looked into the demand side. And I would like to go a bit deeper there. Would you also say that there are different energy use habits dependent on gender, age and ethnicity?

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GAURI SINGH     Interestingly so, I think it’s very much pertinent that we are discussing this in the energy context. Because otherwise you don’t look at it with a gender lens. But I think women who are pretty much, and let me put it in this way, that when we are talking about the developing countries, we’re really looking at a large population that’s still in rural areas. And where the women really are the fulcrum, not only as the ones that keep the family together, but they’re also agriculturalists. And they’re also the ones who look after the animals, and all of that. So, I think by nature, because they have to make do in resources that are available, they have a tendency to be very conservative about the use of resources. Whether it’s energy, whether it’s water, or even food. So, I think in general that’s something that you will see across ethnicities, across countries.

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MATHIAS STECK     And now, what we have discussed about demands and habits that leads to a certain energy need, do you see that the energy production and distribution is adapting to these changes in usage we expect?

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GAURI SINGH     We are living in a world that has energy being pretty much managed by engineers who have learnt about power systems in a very different way. Because they’ve grown up with education that has taught them about base loads, and about the need to keep frequency off the system at a particular level. And now, you are getting introduced to larger shares of variable power coming in from solar or from wind. And it’s obviously not very comfortable, because it completely changes the paradigm. But that being so, I think the good thing is that there is an understanding that, although it’s a problem, but it’s also resolvable. Because you have the technologies, the available digital technologies that can actually resolve the issues of variable power. And that’s why I think as we are moving away from fossil fuels, or at least there is this huge intent that has been voiced by global leaders across economies of moving away from fossil fuels into the green energy, what you’re also seeing is the revised emphasis on grids happening. And making them much more resilient and smarter. To be able to deal with the variability of the new source of energy that we have to deal with.

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MATHIAS STECK     And you gave a good example here, or let’s talk about one big one. The transport is an area that affects communities across the world, and electric vehicle roll out will continue to accelerate over the coming years. So, how do you see the renewable energy sector gearing up to produce that amount of power needed to fuel cars in the future?

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GAURI SINGH     It’s going to be a huge, huge demand that will come up when our transport system goes electric. In fact, if I look at the numbers just in 2021, and compare them to the numbers of electric vehicle units sold, it doubled from 2020 to 2021. And we see almost 7 million units being sold. And this, we expect, will go up to something like 400 million electric vehicles. So, we are really looking at the renewable energy that we have today, which is about 2,800 gigawatts globally, to more than treble, to about 11,000 gigawatts by 2030. Now, this is a huge ask. Obviously this is not something that’ll happen very, it requires a lot of foundational work. It requires, the technologies are there. So, it’s not an issue of technology. But it’s also about governments putting the right policies in place to be able to attract the kind of private investments to make the deployment possible. It’s about also getting our grid infrastructure upgraded, and public investment going into it, to be able to keep up with this high demand of renewables that will come in. And the generation points, as we know, will have to also be thought in terms of a very different kind of a setup, with a decentralized generation, multi generation points, all adding up to a larger whole.

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MATHIAS STECK     Gauri, IRENA talks a lot about the hydrogen economy, and the significant impact it will have on the energy sector. What impact will hydrogen have on people’s everyday lives?

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GAURI SINGH     I think one of the biggest impacts it will have is making sure that people have access to much more green energy. Because at the end of it, there are going to be sectors which will be very difficult to get them moving from using fossil fuel to renewable. And this is where hydrogen will play a major role. So, I can give you an example of how I think we might see an impact very soon, in fact maybe in this decade, is where the gas pipeline infrastructure that we have for heating up our homes, with blending of hydrogen, and the same infrastructure can take in, I was told by an expert, up to 19% of blended hydrogen without changing the metallurgy. Which means that if this blending of hydrogen does start, you’re actually going to see the homes of people getting heated with a combination of natural gas and hydrogen. And I think that is a good way that the shift might happen and impact people’s lives.

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MATHIAS STECK     During your career, you have achieved some incredible things. Including working towards poverty reduction and sustainable development within rural communities, and improving livelihoods for nearly 2 million women across India. Now, you have given us an example of a powerful woman driving change earlier in this episode already, and we publish this episode during the week of International Women’s Day. I’d love to hear if there are any other women that have influenced your career, or have been notable to you in the field of sustainability and renewables?

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GAURI SINGH     So, I grew up very much in an urban setting. And when I started work, then the realities of the rural India actually hit home very powerfully, breaking a lot of myths. And the women, and the communities that I encountered while working with them, showed me the incredible willpower, the optimism that they have in just being able to get on with their lives in a very functional way. If I were to just sit back and observe the kind of work that they would be doing in the kind of setting they have, it was just so inspirational. Because you tend to just brush away these as being very routine. But I don’t think, they were happy and surviving in circumstances which I don’t think I would have been able to survive for more than ten days. So, which was, for me, a very inspiring thing, seeing them work in their agricultural fields, looking at the sustainability of soil, bringing in practices that conserved water. And also, there have been examples of very inspirational women like Rahibai (Rahibai Soma Popere), who actually set up, again, an illiterate woman in a village set up a seed bank. She’s known as the seed mother. Because she figured that to be able to conserve environment for her children, she needed to make sure that there’s a diversity of crop. And on her farmland, she actually created a seed bank. So, there are so many examples that have continued. There might be women who’ve earned the recognition and have been given awards, but there have been so many others who, in their own way, have inspired me. But at a global level, I think I’ve always been really inspired by Christiana Figueres. And I had the chance to actually be in a small group where she was talking. And it was so inspirational, because you can relate the local realities to a global reality. And that, I think, she has the power to be able to connect you as an individual to a much larger global agenda.

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MATHIAS STECK     What a great way to mark International Women’s Day. And thank you, Gauri, especially for sharing your own personal thoughts on the topic we discussed.

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GAURI SINGH     Thank you so much, Mathias. It was a pleasure.

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MATHIAS STECK     Thanks to all of our listeners for joining us today. Gauri has given us a fascinating picture of how the world is using energy, and how future needs can be met in a sustainable way. She told us about the realities of life for communities across the globe, and how new energy systems need to support very different ways of life. Join us next week as we focus on electric vehicles, and the role they play in the new transport era. To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnv.com/talksenergy.

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