Can renewable energy power the world?

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The shift to renewable energy makes some big promises: cleaner air, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and greater energy security. But as the world grapples with the increasingly obvious impact of climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuels, the question on everyone’s mind is: can renewables actually do it? These were the issues panelists tackled in the opening session for Day 2 of India Energy Week at the Plenary Theater: Can renewable energy power the world?

Their discussion focused on the space between knowing that renewable energy sources can meet growing needs, and the bottlenecks, stumbling points and barriers that industry and government are facing in actually making the shift. “We have seen what climate change will be in the next 10, 20 50 years, that will have an impact on all of us,” said panel moderator Jun Nee Chew, Vice-President, Head of Renewables & Power, Markets Research, Asia Rystad Energy. “All of us have experienced some form of climate change across the world. If you read all the headlines from the past year it’s really depressing. But we want to focus on the positives coming from the energy sector.”

He listed reaching global milestones like reaching the first 1 terrawatt of solar and capacity and India’s own 2030 target to produce 5GW of energy with renewables, as hope points. Vartika Shukla is Chairperson of Engineers India Ltd, which has been focusing on oil and gas for the last 60 years, and for the last 45 on diversifying the portfolio in the area of energy transition. “All kinds of energies are most welcome to be part of the ecosystem,” she said. Public-private partnerships are essential to making progress, and industry needs to be able to rely on government as a steady steward to take the leap on the massive investment that is needed.

“They need the assurance and the long-term visualisation of a policy and regulatory framework, where they can go out and make that investment and make a return,” she said. “They need to have that visibility to see where their investment is going.” Each project has many moving parts, making “enablers” at each step “very, very necessary”, she said. Whether it’s easing the procurement process or availability of lime water, the goal is to keep things moving and control costs. “That’s how you get the project online very quickly,” she said.

Eng. Nawal Alhanaee, director of the UAE’s Future Energy Department within the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, highlighted how important coordination between all government levels has been for the Gulf nation in meeting targets as part of the 2017 energy strategy. “For this strategy we have not focused on one technology,” she said. “Definitely solar is dominant, but we also focused on wind, hydroelectric power generation, green hydrogen and different types of power that contributed to the energy mix.”

Devoting an entire government department to those goals means Alhanaee’s team is involved in almost every aspect of the country’s governance, from infrastructure to maritime and land, housing and petrochemicals. Guava Sood, CEO of Sprng Energy, a renewable energy platform that is part of Shell Group, listed some of the solar and wind milestones India has marked, including 2,000 MW installed and another 2,000 MW contracted, that will be supplying power for the next 25 years.

“The renewable Indian industry has been a very successful story backed by a very strong political will in this country,” he said. He said India was lucky to be part of the emerging economies, with one of the benefits of the massive growth ahead being that it is in new capacity addition, not replacement. The Government of India is tackling barriers apace, said Sood, citing examples of helping industry overcoming the issue of lime pools by creating large energy parks through public-private partnerships, easing transportation issues with green energy and urban corridors and reforming regulations and policies governing payments. “Across the value chain each of the bottlenecks have been identified and addressed one by one,” he said. “These are very important.”

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