Implementing the transition to clean energy

24 October 2016

The Paris Climate Change Agreement and the falling costs of renewables have made the transition to clean energy systems unstoppable, keynote speakers told Singapore International Energy Week today. The only thing that remains is to implement it, they said.

SIEW is an annual event that brings experts from every form of energy to Singapore, itself known as an oil and finance hub and an example of rapid development and urbanisation.

Opening the conference was Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the organisation Sustainable Energy for All. She said the Paris Agreement "must ease us into a mid-century economy with near zero emissions that must provide for everyone. This transition must be a just transition." She added: "We need an updated mental map of how to get there from here."

While the mood was positive, the global goals for energy remain daunting: 1.1 billion people do not have useful access to electricity, and these are represented strongly among the 6.5 million each year who die from air pollution caused by fossil fuels and the use of wood and dung in domestic settings. There is also the rising content of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is on track to affect dangerously the global climate.

Kyte said a mix of both grid and distributed approaches is most effective at connecting the unconnected.

David Gray, chairman of the UK Gas & Electricity Markets Authority, said: "Paris targets, combined with each country's own targets on security provide a framework for thinking."

The same concept was echoed by other speakers. Ditlev Engel of DNV-GL Energy said the conversation in the energy world was "moving from 'where are we going' to 'how do we get there' and which tools you apply to which problems.

Sakari Oksanen, deputy director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, said the clean and renewable options "need to be the base case for planning", adding, "If you cannot achieve that then perhaps you look at the other options, which are the fossil fuels."

Renewables were seen as the primary tool for achieving a carbon neutral energy system, but Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said "there are other technologies we need to make use of."

Birol added: "For me, the number one is improving energy efficiency. All countries have different resources, but they can all take action on energy efficiency. And in some countries nuclear power, which can generate without creating emission problems," will be part of the solution. "We don't have the luxury to pick just one technology," he said. "At the same time, we have to accelerate innovation because the current technologies will not be enough."

That was the first mention of nuclear power, and it drew a negative reaction from moderator Sri Jegarajah, a CNBC journalist, who countered that some countries in Asia have downgraded nuclear plans and public opinion is a major challenge to the industry in Japan. "Is there a future for nuclear power?" he asked.

Birol responded, "When you look at the year 2015 you may be surprised because it was a golden year for nuclear - ten new reactors, the highest in almost three decades."

The performance of the industry was also underlined by Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, who pointed out in a later session that nuclear power is the largest source of clean energy in Europe, the largest in the USA and overall the second largest in the world.

Simon Bridges, New Zealand minister of energy and resources, pointed to the $500 billion of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies identified by the IEA, which Birol had said he considers to be virtually the opposite of efficiency because they actually encourage waste.

Engel said: "The toolbox for implementation is there, it is not about waiting to see about new technology, it is about doing it now."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News