Sweden tops the ranking for the third year in a row.
What does COVID-19 mean for the energy transition? While lockdowns have caused a temporary fall in CO2 emissions, the pandemic risks derailing recent progress in addressing the world's energy challenges.
The current state of the sector is described in the World Economic Forum's Energy Transition Index 2020. It benchmarks the energy systems of 115 economies, highlighting the leading players in the race to net-zero emissions, as well as those with work to do.
With pressure to get idle economies back to “normal", the short-term shift to a more sustainable energy sector could be in doubt. But the current crisis also presents an opportunity to rethink how our energy needs are met, and consider the long-term impact on the planet.
The past decade has seen rapid transformations as countries move towards clean energy generation, supply and consumption. Coal-fired power plants have been retired, as reliance on natural gas and emissions-free renewable energy sources increases. Incremental gains have been made from carbon pricing initiatives.
Since 2015, 94 of 115 countries have improved their combined score on the Energy Translation Index (ETI), which analyzes each country's readiness to adopt clean energy using three criteria: energy access and security; environmental sustainability; and economic development and growth.
But the degree of change and the timetable for reaching net-zero emissions differ greatly between countries, and taken as a whole, today's advances are insufficient to meet the climate targets set by the Paris Agreement.
WEF Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2020 edition
The 10 countries most prepared for the energy transition
Sweden tops the overall ETI ranking for the third consecutive year as the country most ready to transition to clean energy, followed by Switzerland and Finland. There has been little change in the top 10 since the last report, which demonstrates the energy stability of these developed nations, although the gap with the lowest-ranked countries is closing.
Top-ranked countries share a reduced reliance on imported energy, lower energy subsidies and a strong political commitment to transforming their energy sector to meet climate targets.
The UK and France are the only two G20 economies in the top 10 however, which is otherwise made up of smaller nations.
Powerful shocks Outside the top 10, progress has been modest in Germany. Ranked 20th, the country has committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants and moving industrial output to cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, but making energy services affordable remains a struggle.
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
China currently has the world's largest solar PV capacity
China, ranked 78th, has made strong advances in controlling CO2 emissions by switching to electric vehicles and investing heavily in solar and wind energy - it currently has the world's largest solar PV and onshore wind capacity. Alongside China, countries including Argentina, India and Italy have shown consistent strong improvements every year. Gains over time have also been recorded by Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Kenya and Oman, among others.
But high energy-consuming countries including the US, Canada and Brazil show little, if any, progress towards an energy transition.
In the US (ranked 32nd), moves to establish a more sustainable energy sector have been hampered by policy decisions. Neighbouring Canada grapples with the conflicting demands of a growing economy and the need to decarbonize the energy sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder of the impact of external shocks on the global economy. As climate change increases the likelihood of weather extremes such as floods, droughts and violent storms, the need for more sustainable energy practices is intensified.
Policy-makers need to develop a robust framework for energy transition at local, national and international levels, capable of guarding against such shocks.
"The coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to consider unorthodox intervention in the energy markets, and global collaboration to support a recovery that accelerates the energy transition once the acute crisis subsides," says Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy & Materials at the World Economic Forum.
"This giant reset grants us the option to launch aggressive, forward-thinking and long-term strategies leading to a diversified, secure and reliable energy system that will ultimately support the future growth of the world economy in a sustainable and equitable way."
The green market is growing exponentially. But will the U.S. seize the economic opportunity?
- The United States green economy now employs 10 times more people than the fossil fuel industry, providing nearly 9.5 million jobs.
- In the face of a global climate catastrophe, the green economy is destined to keep rising at an exponential rate over the next decade.
- Rather than seize this golden economic opportunity, the Trump administration has promised to protect coal and mining jobs while eviscerating funds from green energy.
According to a pair of economic researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States green economy now employs 10 times more people than the fossil fuel industry.
And that isn't to say that the fossil fuel industry hasn't been growing. In fact, from 2015 to 2016, the fossil fuels industry, which includes coal, oil, and natural gas, employed approximately 900,000 people in the U.S. according to government figures. But the two British researchers — they are based at University College London — found that over the same period this was eclipsed by the green economy, which actually provided nearly 9.5 million jobs.
That's 4 percent of the population of working age individuals.
The Rise of the ‘Green Economy’
Because the green economy is so dispersed, figures detailing green job statistics have probably underestimated how many jobs that sector was creating.
In this study, the researchers calculations accounted for 26 sub-sectors. These included marine pollution regulators, carbon capture, biodiversity, wind and solar power, and air pollution. The analysis showed that the green economy is worth a total of $1.3 trillion, contributing to a substantial chunk — 7 percent — of the U.S. GDP.
As nation's find themselves under increasing pressure to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to avoid 1.5°C global warming and meet the emissions standards set forth in the Paris Agreement, it's looking like the green economy is destined to keep rising at an exponential rate over the next decade. As the world heats up, so does the market demand for green energy and technology.
Already, renewable energy accounts for 15 percent of our total electricity generation according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Investments in renewable energy are proliferating, and even places once known as petroleum meccas are being yanked into the tides of change. For instance, Texas now attributes a portion of its energy production to renewable resources. Some researchers are even predicting that the world will be ready to go 100 percent renewable by the year 2050.
Some say that we have the technology to do it right now. For example, a new study published in September made an extraordinary finding: Maximizing onshore wind energy potential in Europe could power the entire continent via wind farms up to 100 times over. That's enough to power the whole world until 2050.
All around the world transitions to green energy are being made. Kenya, on a mission to go totally emission-free by 2020, recently began one of Africa's largest wind power farms. Over in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates just launched one of the world's largest solar farms while Saudi Arabia is said to be working on a solar farm.
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel empire has faltered. Once the safest bet on the market, the industry is now an increasingly floundering enterprise. According to the Guardian in 2018, researchers at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis claimed that the industry was the weakest it's been in decades.
Losing Economic Opportunity
Of course, if you're someone who believes the bulk of scientific evidence telling us that fossil fuels contribute to rising CO2 emissions that threaten human life on earth, investing in the green economy goes beyond numbers and dollar signs. It means investing in public health, national security and the existence of the next generation. But according to the researchers at University College London who conducted this latest study, the investment in the green economy is a good economic choice as well.
"If you want to be a hard-nosed neoliberal economist you would say, 'Let's support the green economy as much as possible," Mark Maslin, one of the researchers, told New Scientist. He also noted that the Trump Administration's plan to promote fossil fuels was "stupid when it comes to economics."
Rather than seize this golden economic opportunity, the Trump administration has promised to protect coal and mining jobs while eviscerating funds from green energy. Considering the math, this is an economically misguided move.
According to the researchers, this research demonstrates how other countries could tap into a huge source of potential to develop their own green economies. Their findings suggest that the U.S. is at risk of losing its competitive edge in the global economy if it doesn't work to better develop energy, environmental and educational policies to support its green economy.In other words, despite what the president has harped at, the "America First Energy Policy" is looking to be a bad deal for the United States.
Part of the U.K.'s push for total wind energy.
- A new project off the U.K. coast could power up to 1 million homes.
- The wind farm is one of the largest of its kind.
- Hornsea is the farthest-out-to-sea wind plant in the world.
Renewables are leaving the land and heading offshore. The world's largest offshore wind farm, located off the east coast of Britain, is on the cusp of completion. It's one of the most ambitious and large scale plans to combat climate change and develop renewable sources of energy.
Situated 75 miles (120 kilometers) out from England's Yorkshire coast, the Hornsea One project will be able to power 1 million British homes once it's completed in 2020. This will be the furthest a wind farm has ever been out to sea. It'll consist of 174 seven megawatt wind turbines that are all 100 meters tall, with a blade circumference of 75 meters.
World's largest offshore wind farm
The entire wind farm takes up a space of roughly 157 square miles (407 square kilometers). The turbines are also massive. Stefan Hoonings, the senior manager at the company Ørsted, responsible for the construction of the farm, reported that just a single rotation of one of the turbines can power an entire house for a whole day.
This project, among others, will help the United Kingdom reach its goal of deriving a third of its energy from offshore wind by 2030.Climate activists are pushing harder than ever to get more renewable projects off the ground. Recently 77 countries at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, but past commitments in the past have fallen short. Global emissions have continued to rise since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
March towards the entire world running on renewables
The globe's share of renewables are small, but growing. A McKinsey report predicts that by 2035, more than half of energy generation may stem from renewables.
Wind power is proving to be a viable option for mass scale energy production. Stanford researchers recently created a roadmap study that showed that with our current technology we could power the whole world with renewables by 2050.
The company building Hornsea has already built 25 offshore wind farms — from Europe to the United States to parts of Asia. The company was originally called Danish Oil and Natural Gas, since 2006 it's weaned itself off of coal, cutting some 73 percent of its usage since 2006. It intends on being coal-free by 2023.
Hornsea is going to have two further iterations. Hornsea Two will be able power up to 1.6 million homes, followed by Hornsea Three which could provide electricity to 2 million homes.
A new study estimated the untapped potential of wind energy across Europe.
- A new report calculated how much electricity Europe could generate if it built onshore wind farms on all of its exploitable land.
- The results indicated that European onshore wind farms could supply the whole world with electricity from now until 2050.
- Wind farms come with a few complications, but the researchers noted that their study was meant to highlight the untapped potential of the renewable energy source in Europe.
In 2009, the European Environment Agency made a surprising claim: If Europe were to build all of the onshore and offshore wind farms it was capable of building, wind could power the continent many times over. In fact, the 2009 report said that wind farms could provide 20 times the electricity that's estimated to be demanded in Europe in 2020.
But it turns out the actual wind potential in Europe could be much higher. A new study found that maximizing onshore wind potential could enable Europe to generate 100 times more electricity than it currently does. That's enough to cover energy demand for the entire world from now until 2050, according to the researchers.
European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically...
The study, published in the September 2019 installment of Energy Policy, found that Europe's untapped wind energy potential amounts to approximately 52.5 terawatts, or about 1 million watts for every 16 European citizens. To estimate the continent's wind potential, the researchers used information detailing each nation's infrastructure, buildings and protected areas to determine which areas wouldn't be suitable for onshore wind farms.
They also conducted a spatial analysis to identify areas with sufficient wind conditions for wind farms.
Enevoldsen et al.
"The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist," study co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, told the University of Sussex Media Centre. "Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically."
The researchers admit they were "very liberal" in identifying land on which wind farms might be built; for example, they included private land where citizens might have no interest in building wind farms.
"Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we're to avert a climate catastrophe," Sovacool said.
Wind energy — not always a breeze
Wind energy isn't completely free of problems. As Big Think wrote in July, wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy, but there are several factors preventing it from becoming dominant in the U.S. Those include:
- Wind variability: Put simply, wind turbines need consistent access to strong winds if they're to be efficient. That's a problem, considering some parts of the country — like the southeastern U.S. — see relatively slow wind speeds. "Wind power is very sensitive to the wind speed, more than you might guess," Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, toldVox. However, wind variability could become less of a problem if wind power could be stored more effectively.
- The window-shadow effect: When you add a wind turbine to a landscape, you change local wind patterns. One downside is that each additional turbine robs wind from other turbines in the wind farm. So, designers have been trying to space out wind turbines in a way that maximizes efficiency. But the problem with this sprawling solution is that it becomes increasingly expensive, both due to maintenance and land cost. Additionally, rural residents generally don't like having massive wind turbines spoiling their property values and views.
- Local heating: Although renewable energies like wind would curb climate change over the long term, wind turbines would likely cause local heating over the short term. Why? Cold air normally stays near the ground, while warm air flows higher. But wind turbines generally disrupt that natural order, pushing warm air down. "Any big energy system has an environmental impact," Harvard engineering and physics professor David Keith told The Associated Press. "There is no free lunch. You do wind on a scale big enough [...] it'll change things." Of course, this is a temporary effect, unlike climate change.
Still, the researchers don't think these criticisms make their findings irrelevant. In the study, they addressed the intermittent nature of wind energy, and also acknowledged the impracticality of actually building dense wind farms on every exploitable piece of land.
"To both critics the response is the same," they wrote. "Realizable wind power potential studies are not to be treated as blueprints for development. Such studies help policymakers understand what is possible as a ceiling, help planners target areas of particular attraction, and help us understand where we are in terms of state of play concerning a given technology and its potential. For onshore wind power potential, our study suggests that still the horizon is bright for this particular application in the wind energy sector and that European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically."
The writing is on the wall for the oil industry, according to a new report from BNP Paribas.
- The report claims oil companies will need to produce oil at significantly lower prices if they want to stay competitive with renewables.
- Continuing to invest in oil production represents a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity cost to global society, the report states.
- As renewable energies are becoming cheaper, so are electric cars, thanks mainly to cheaper and more efficient batteries.
Renewable energies will soon be a much cheaper fuel source for cars than gasoline, according to a new report on the future of the oil industry.
"The oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with [electric vehicles] poses to its business model," states the report from BNP Paribas, the world's eighth largest bank by total assets.
The report uses a metric called Energy Return on Capital Invested (EROCI) to compare how much useful energy the mobility industry gets for every dollar spent on oil versus renewables, specifically referring to vehicles powered by solar and wind power. As renewables become cheaper and more efficient, their advantages over oil are becoming more apparent, including:
- the environmental benefits in terms of climate change and cleaner air
- the public-health benefits that flow from this
- the fact that electricity is much easier to transport than oil
- the much greater price stability of wind- and solar-generated electricity compared with the price volatility of oil
If the oil industry wants to remain competitive as a fuel source for cars over the long term, it needs to produce oil profitably at about $10 a barrel, according to the report. Oil currently costs about $55 a barrel. Continuing to invest in the oil industry, the report states, represents a $24 trillion opportunity cost to "society as a whole," and that's not even factoring in the environmental consequences of fossil fuel production on the planet.
But oil producers could soon face pressure from both the supply and demand sides.
"On the demand side, up to 36% of the barrels they have traditionally produced will be at long-term risk of disintermediation from EVs," the report states. "On the supply side, and in direct response to this very same demand risk, NOCs might decide to ramp up production of cheap oil so as to remain competitive with the 36% of current demand that will be increasingly vulnerable to competition from wind- and solar-powered EVs over the longer term."
The methodology and conclusions reached in the report are debatable. But what's certain is that, as a fuel source for cars, renewables are becoming increasingly cheap and efficient — as are the electric cars themselves.
According to a recent report by transportation experts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the price of electric cars will become competitive with combustion-engine cars by 2022. One factor that's driving costs down is more efficient electric car batteries. In 2015, for example, a battery made up more than half of the total price of an electric car. By 2025, that percentage is expected to drop to 25 percent.