What could COVID-19 mean for the energy transition?
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Photo Credit: GTM’s Live Coronavirus Blog
Not long ago, my LinkedIn newsfeed used to be full of encouraging posts and news about accelerated clean energy transitions, climate change and Green Deal were on top of the agenda. Now we are facing an unprecedented global pandemic. It is certain that the change brought by COVID-19 is indeed overwhelming and has turned out to be an unprecedented international crisis, with serious repercussions for people’s health is also taking an enormous toll on the livelihoods and financial stability of hundreds of millions of people. However, as severe as COVID-19 gets, the effects are likely to be temporary. On the other hand, the threat posed by climate change to our planet isn’t going anywhere unless we act and do something tangible about building more resilient and sustainable clean energy system in order to reduce the risk of facing the catastrophic crises that climate change could bring.
Believe me or not, as lethal as this global health crisis gets, it is still going to be nothing more than a preview of the increasingly appalling consequences that climate change can bring. As everything takes time, I am certain that it’s going to take a while before we begin to emerge from this pandemic, but when we do emerge and get past this pandemic then we have an obligation to build a better and more sustainable world. Under no circumstances, we should let this temporary crisis hijack our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge that is climate change.
“The International Energy Agency has warned that the coronavirus will weaken global investments in clean energy and broader efforts to reduce emissions. The agency has urged governments not to lose sight of the climate challenge and clean energy solutions while tacking this crisis. As governments are busy crafting stimulus packages to fight this crisis, its high time to put clean energy at the heart of these stimulus plans to ensure that the crucial mission of building a smart, sustainable and inclusive energy future doesn’t get lost amid the noise of this temporary crisis.
Boosting Large-scale investments into the development, deployment and integration of clean energy technologies – such as solar, wind, hydrogen, batteries and carbon capture (CCUS) – has potential to bring twofold benefits of stimulating economies and accelerating clean energy transitions. If we get it right then the progress this will achieve in transforming countries’ energy infrastructure won’t be temporary – it can make a lasting difference to our future. Of course, making this enormous shift in energy infrastructure will be a daunting task, but it will also be beneficial in the long run. As described in the A-Z of the Energy Transition report prepared by World Economic Forum; “Those who would benefit from a transition vastly outnumber those who benefit from continuity. Eighty percent of people live in countries that import fossil fuels.” In fact, just 1% of the global workforce is employed by the fossil fuel industry, and most of the industry’s profits end up in the hands of a small number of fossil fuel exporters.
Another clear fact of the transition is the continuously falling costs of new energy technologies including solar, wind, batteries and electric vehicles (EVs). Renewables have already become the cheapest source of electricity in almost every country in the world today and still continue to be cheaper and more efficient. In contrast to the more clearly understood economic and technological realities of the energy transition, the less certain factors are largely related to policy. Ultimately, the speed of transition will depend on the response of governments, companies and societies to fundamental changes in the energy industry.
If we could acknowledge one good thing about current COVID-19, with emissions sharply down in the last few months due to the impacts of the pandemic, it has helped us with getting a clear view of what could be possible in a lower-emission energy system. Sustainable clean energy system would provide many immediate benefits such as reduced pollution, economic growth, more jobs, and more reliable and resilient power for critical times. I would encourage that rather than compounding this COVID-19 tragedy by allowing these flurry of immediate priorities to hinder clean energy transitions, we need to seize the opportunity to help accelerate clean energy transitions.