The Big Question

Renewable Energy World unveils a new section that asks leading players in the industry to give their verdict on a key issue of the moment. This time we ask: Given the outcomes at Copenhagen, what are the implications for the global renewables industry in the year ahead?

COP15Adel El Gammal, Secretary General, EPIA

The 15th United Nations climate change conference (COP15) that took place in Copenhagen clearly did not match the expectations and wave of optimism raised during the past months; diplomacy failed and geopolitics showed that the world is still not viewing climate change as a national and global priority.

The Copenhagen Accord, drafted in the last hours by five countries, namely Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the US, recognizes that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time; as well as the need to keep global temperatures below 2°C, it encourages short-term emission targets, fast track funding and mechanisms to accelerate technological developments, but fails in the essential point of establishing binding commitments, resulting in a weak deal.

The text does not mention any specific intention to agree on a necessary successor to the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. Among the many loopholes to be mentioned, no agreement was reached on either the baseline year, against which 2020 emissions reductions are to be benchmarked, or on long-term goals for global emission cuts.

Ahead of further international negotiations, there is an urgent need to keep strengthening and spreading the message that renewable energies, including photovoltaics (PV), are part of the solution to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

PV is a key tool in the fight against climate change, with the potential to save billions of tonnes of CO2. But not only does it provide clean power from an inexhaustible indigenous source, it also boosts economic development by creating jobs, channeling investment into a sustainable energy model and saving billions in the costs of foreign imports of fossil fuels.

Legally binding emission reduction targets, technology transfer agreements, improved flexible mechanisms, as well as strong and long-term regulatory frameworks to promote the deployment of renewable energy sources, are essential for the post-2012 period.

Rhone Resch, President and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association

What struck me most about the Copenhagen climate change summit was the number of impassioned and determined people gathered from across the globe to address one of the most serious problems facing humankind. This energy carried all the way from the activists outside the Bella Center to American renewable energy companies like groSolar and Konarka and even to President Obama.

In a landscape traditionally dominated by fossil and nuclear interests, this was the first time in the 15 year history of binding climate negotiations that the global solar industry gathered together with a unified voice. Along with the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and the Alliance for Rural Electrification, we defined global targets for solar installations and the policies needed to reach theses targets. Meeting those targets will drive economic and job growth while lowering polluting emissions.

We departed Denmark and returned to our respective countries to do the hard work needed to enact policies that will realize these ambitious goals. For the US solar industry, that means enacting the platforms outlined in the Solar Bill of Rights, which was launched by SEIA in 2009 (

To those disappointed by the results of COP15, I point towards the agreement reached that will spend billions on preventing deforestation and transferring clean energy technologies to developing nations. The agreement also shows us a path towards limiting global warming.

It is essential that the global solar industry is a leader in that path. That means a heightened level of engagement to enact the policies needed to accelerate deployment of renewables. We can no longer sit on the sidelines and be satisfied that we’re well liked because our energy is clean. We need to tell our leaders loudly and clearly that we can’t fight the causes of global warming without renewables and we need the right policies in place to do so.

Arthouros Zervos, President, European Renewable Energy Council

The renewable energy industry is very disappointed with the outcome of Copenhagen. One thing is clear: if the global climate were a bank, it would already be saved. As this is not the case, we need to continue our efforts, independent of an international climate treaty, to promote existing solutions such as renewable energy.

I am fully convinced that we will only be able to find a way of stopping dangerous levels of climate change if both the public and the private sector work closely together. Proven renewable energy technologies are there – but we need adequate policy frameworks for their rapid deployment. The rapid uptake of renewables needs to continue, as renewable energy is the vital part of the solution.

Renewable energy, not only in Europe but also in the US and China, is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In Europe alone, the renewable energy industry already employs more than 450,000 people and has an annual turnover exceeding €45 billion (US$62 billion). The industry is ready to tackle the challenge to transform our current energy system into a sustainable one. In 2008, 57% of newly installed power generation capacity in Europe was based on renewable energy (mainly wind and PV), lots of renewable solutions to produce heating and cooling are available, and need to be deployed large-scale in the market. The renewables industry will continue to closely work together with international organizations and networks to make the paradigm shift towards renewable energy happen as quickly as possible. Sooner or later, the energy system of our planet will entirely rely on renewable energy sources. We will continue our efforts to make this happen as quickly as possible.

Steve Sawyer, Secretary General, Global Wind Energy Council

The big event is over. The road to Copenhagen has reached its end. After a dramatic and acrimonious negotiating marathon marked by the presence of up to 120 heads of state and government, the international community took the decision to note rather than adopt the Copenhagen Accord, and it is now left to individual countries to sign up their pledges to the paper.

The Copenhagen Accord has some fundamental weaknesses. By sticking to the lowest common denominator, world leaders have clearly failed to deliver what they had promised in Bali. The Accord is not a legally binding treaty (and has no ambition or timeline to become one) and rather than setting out clear targets and timelines, resorts to a bottom-up ‘pledge and review’ architecture, which could spell the end of international carbon markets.

The paper does state the objective to keep global mean temperature rise below 2ºC, but no trajectory for getting there. Taking into account current pledges, the cumulative effort would fall well short of this goal, committing us to warming of 3.2ºC–3.5ºC by the end of this century. It’s just not good enough.

On a positive note, the guidance to the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board (the emissions trading scheme for developing nations) was adopted, which will give us some hope of avoiding the situation we had the week before the conference when 10 Chinese wind farms were rejected. There is also a directive to SBSTA (the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice) to come up with a COP decision on standardized multi-project baselines for consideration in Mexico.

This is good news for the wind industry and we have something to work towards.

The international climate regime survives in some form, though weakened and wounded, with some remaining hope for a comprehensive agreement and a global price on carbon. The road to Mexico has begun.

Ralph Sims, Professor of Sustainable Energy, Massey University, New Zealand

There was little in the various agreements made at Copenhagen to actively encourage the greater deployment of renewable energy in the short term, including bioenergy. In the year ahead we will certainly get yet more reports written on the subject, but what we more urgently need, if we are ever to achieve 450ppm CO2-equivalent stabilization levels, is new projects on the ground.

Although refinements to a bioenergy system can still be made as a result of further RD&D, much of the conversion technology is mature, whether used to provide heat, electricity or transport fuels.

In spite of considerable experience, developing a bioenergy project can be more challenging than for other renewable energy projects as securing the biomass resource over a long period and negotiating the many necessary legal agreements can prove daunting. As a result, guidelines for bioenergy developers have been produced to speed up planning.

In many countries there remains a lot of readily-available yet unused biomass, and ensuring the biomass resource is sustainably produced, especially when purpose-grown energy crops are employed, is a recent development. Good progress is also being made on identifying the ‘best use’ for biomass.

Whilst national governments continue to painstakingly negotiate climate change agreements and try to develop supporting cost-effective policies, many industries, local governments and citizens are beginning to just get on with it. Therefore, the year ahead will hopefully see more local developments where they make good sense, not only for emission reductions but also to gain the many other co-benefits (such as improved energy security, employment opportunities, waste treatment, improved health and sustainable development).

Maybe in the year ahead and whilst the negotiations continue, businesses and civil society will realize better than some government officials seem to do, that we are running out of time. We need good and sensible long-term investments in bioenergy and, indeed, in all renewables.

Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director, International Energy Agency, Paris

Renewable energy is essential for our energy future, even more so after the UN climate conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. The IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 (WEO 2009) shows that, in the absence of new policies and measures, rising global fossil fuel use will increase import dependence in most OECD countries and push annual energy-related CO2 emissions from 29 Gt/yr in 2007 to over 40 Gt/yr in 2030. Such a scenario would result in much higher concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Renewable energy can play a key role in moving us off this path.

A large, robust set of low carbon technologies must be deployed, and renewables will be a crucial part of this portfolio. The WEO 2009 450 Scenario analyses measures to force energy-related CO2 emissions down to a trajectory that would be consistent with ultimately stabilizing the concentrations of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450ppm. This level of concentration would possibly limit the global average long-term temperature increase to 2°C as stated as an objective in the Copenhagen Accord. Renewable sources for electricity and heat generation are the second largest contributor – after energy efficiency – to the reduction of energy-related CO2 emissions.

The increasing role of renewable energy is particularly significant in the power sector. The total share of renewables in world electricity generation is expected to ramp up from 18% today to 37% by 2030. To make this climate-friendly 450 Policy scenario a reality, we must rapidly deploy all current renewable energy technologies globally and ensure the successful commercialization of those that are today only at the development stage.

Olivier Drücke, President, ESTIF, Brussels

The international renewable energy sector has reacted to the outcome of the climate conference in Copenhagen with harsh disappointment. In the light of the worldwide challenges driven by advancing climate change, the sector considers that it is completely irresponsible to further delay the decision for a far reaching global climate protection agreement.

An ambitious treaty is not only prerequisite for the conservation of our natural livelihood but can also expedite the economy’s necessary conversion towards true sustainability.

The renewable sector initially expected a clear signal for a worldwide renunciation from burning fossil resources from the conference. Instead, journalists reported negotiations which often appeared farce-driven by self-righteous powers, with the USA displaying energy autism and China jealously protecting its sovereignty. The culmination of exorbitance was when Putin boldly purported that Russia is the most climate friendly country on Earth.

Although important financial promises were delivered in Denmark, the conference made no significant difference to the series of failed conferences by deciding once more to delay vital decisions. Again, the pattern of national egoism, stingy haggling and short-sighted ignorance prevailed.

The ‘Hopenhagen’ conference clearly failed and will probably be viewed by historians as a great depression in climate politics. In the aftermath, the big question therefore is how a climate protection process which started nearly 18 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, and therefore should be expected to reach ‘adulthood’ by June 2010, can be made more effective and binding in the immediate future. In The Last Word article later in this issue (see page 72) I advocate that future conferences shouldn’t look merely at the problem itself but also at its solution, and that is renewable energy. What can the green energy sector contribute to the process and should it be sitting at the conference table as well?

Previous articleYou got your uranium in my biomass! Why renewable policies and nuclear don’t mix
Next articleSunEdison eyes Italy for EU’s biggest solar project

No posts to display