26 October 2016
Outlook for Global Energy Efficiency, Renewables Bright
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported on 10 October that advances in energy efficiency last year resulted in a 1.8% improvement in energy intensity.

In addition, IEA upped its five-year growth forecast for renewables, reporting significant cost declines in renewable technologies.

New initiatives have been announced to ensure developing countries can capitalize on advances in energy efficiency and renewables.

25 October 2016: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for “leaving no one behind,” and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 reflects this ambition through target 7.1 on achieving universal energy access. Recent headlines show widespread gains in energy efficiency and renewable energy, with many advances reported in developing countries. Also in SDG 7, target 7.2 focuses on increasing the share of renewables in the global energy mix, while target 7.3 looks to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

Historically, high energy prices have been a strong driver of energy efficiency gains. However, despite low energy prices globally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported on 10 October that advances in energy efficiency last year resulted in a 1.8% improvement in energy intensity, meaning the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) declined. Most of the gains, according to the IEA ‘Energy Efficiency Market Report 2016,’ were in the developing world – that is, countries not part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). China, in particular, decreased its energy intensity, with a 5.6% improvement. [IEA Press Release] [Energy Efficiency Market Report 2015 Digital Snapshot] [Energy Efficiency Market Report 2016]

The IEA reported that global advances in energy efficiency last year resulted in a 1.8% improvement in energy intensity, meaning the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) declined. Most of these gains were in the developing world.

The ITU, the UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), announced a new standard on 18 October that can improve energy efficiency anywhere laptops are used. The ITU standardization expert group for ICTs, the environment and climate change (ITU-T Study Group 5) has developed a standard for external universal power adapters for portable ICT devices. The standard, known as Recommendation ITU-T L.1002, is expected to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and electronic waste (e-waste) through the promotion of eco-designed laptop chargers that reduce power consumption and are interchangeable with multiple devices. [ITU Press Release]

Thanks to strong policy support and rapid cost declines, IEA has upped its five-year growth forecast for renewables in the latest edition of its ‘Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2016,’ released on 25 October. IEA is now predicting a 13% higher growth in renewables between 2015 and 2021 than it forecast in last year’s report. IEA states that in 2015, when renewables expanded at their fastest rate ever, half a million solar panels were installed every day globally. The “center of gravity” of this growth, according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, was emerging markets. For instance, China, which was responsible for 40% of all renewable energy increases, saw two wind turbines installed every hour last year. [IEA Press Release] [IEA Publication Webpage] [IISD RS Story on Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2015]

Those struggling the most with energy access, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), have announced a new initiative on renewable energy and energy efficiency. The ‘LDC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative (REEEI) for Sustainable Development’ was welcomed on 28 September by Ministers and Heads of Delegation from LDCs, which are home to the majority of the 1.3 billion people that lack energy access. The LDC officials were meeting in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to prepare for the upcoming Marrakech Climate Change Conference in November, where REEEI will be formally launched.

With a view to allowing LDCs to leapfrog fossil fuel-based energy to clean renewables in support of SDG 7, as well as the climate change mitigation objectives in the Paris Agreement, REEEI will focus on capacity building for LDCs and seek the backing of developed country Parties to the UNFCCC. Support for African LDCs can be channeled through the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, and similar support structures are envisioned for Asian-Pacific and other LDCs. [LDC Group Press Release]

According to recent news from the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the region is driving a global shift to renewable energy, which offers solutions to energy access challenges faced by nearly half a billion people. Speaking during the Singapore International Energy Week on 25 October, ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar emphasized that “universal energy access in the region is achievable within this generation,” noting technological advances in resources like solar power, mini-grids, hybrid systems, biogas and micro hydropower that are lowering costs and providing economic opportunity. [ESCAP Press Release]

In Central Asia alone, the opportunity for power investment through 2023 stands at US$94 billion, according to a study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The study, presented at the first Energy Investment Forum (EIF) of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) on 24 October in Islamabad, Pakistan, highlighted that US$38 billion of that total needs to be supplied through private sector financing. [ADB Press Release] [EIF Webpage]

The Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), which is a support structure for the Caribbean region, is getting a boost from the EU and Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) in the form of €11 million, pledged on 10 October at the EU-Caribbean Sustainable Energy Conference, for institutional capacity building and technical activities. CCREEE is financially and technically supported by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), SIDS (small island developing States) DOCK and the Austrian Development Agency. Its role is as “an implementation and coordination hub that can make the sustainable energy revolution in the region a reality,” according to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General Irwin La Rocque. [UNIDO Press Release] [IISD RS Story on CCREEE Opening]

The global sustainable development and climate change agendas are also greatly dependent on transformations in developed countries’ energy systems. A report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on 7 October calls for the EU to adopt a “well-planned transition out of carbon-intensive power generation,” emphasizing the importance of replacing decommissioned and aging coal-fired power plants with renewables.

Noting the power-generating sector is at the heart of Europe’s plans to decarbonize, specifically to reduce emissions by 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050, the report, ‘Transforming the EU Power Sector: Avoiding a Carbon Lock-In,’ highlights that the lifetimes of power plants make investing in fossil fueled electricity generation today incompatible with Europe’s climate goals.

Commenting on the report, Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy Union, voiced his support for avoiding this “carbon lock in.” In a speech at the Inter-Parliamentary Meeting of the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources (EUFORES), Šefčovič added that coal, gas and oil are not resources in which Europe is rich, underscoring the additional energy and economic security benefits renewables provide. [EEA Press Release] [European Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy Union Remarks]

Regardless of the country, developing or developed, cities have “massive potential to cost-effectively boost renewable energy use at the local level,” according to an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report released on 18 October at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador. With an analysis of energy use in 3,649 cities, ‘Renewable Energy in Cities’ notes that with the world’s cities accounting for 65% of global energy use and 70% of man-made carbon emissions, urban areas’ transition to renewables is crucial to creating a low-carbon economy in support of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. [IRENA Press Release] [IRENA Publication Webpage] [Renewable Energy in Cities]

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