“Last year, for the first time in 40 years, economic and emissions growth have decoupled” – Christine Lins, Executive Secretary REN21.
This was the message that has stuck in my head ever since I sat down, and discussed renewable energy with some of the world’s leading experts in the field. And the reality is remarkable.
While we have had ongoing global economic growth Christine eagerly stated that, “emissions have remained stable since 2013”. She further added that this is “largely due to growing Renewable energy development in China and investment in other OECD countries”
While there may be many who continue to double the power of non-fossil fuel energy, Christine noted that, “renewables are in fact providing lion shares of electricity around the world”.
For example, 39 per cent of all electricity demand in Denmark is currently provided by wind energy. This is followed by 27 per cent in Portugal and, while you may not believe it, 21 per cent of all energy in Nicaragua is also provided purely by wind energy.
This was shocking to me, as I come from a country where our Prime Minister has publicly stated his hatred for Wind turbines and is actively trying to destroy the industry in Australia.
However, I am sure it wasn’t for Sarah Azau who has acted as the European Wind Energy Association’s Communication’s head for the last decade. Here, she highlighted in fact that it is not just political support, but “popular support” that is driving the renewable energy revolution.
“There was a survey done last year showing that wind energy was the UK’s favourite form of energy, and there was further studies showing that for people who live near a wind farm, their approval of the wind farms go up even further”
She also drew on her experience, noting that “If you look back 10 years ago, Renewable energies were providing 3 per cent of global energy, and now, they provide something close to 22 per cent, so that has really sky-rocketed”
“10 years ago…there were also only about 50 countries around the world who had renewable energy policies in place, so that’s really quite remarkable as well”
In fact, there are now 164 countries all around the world have renewable energy targets, and 145 of these are infact backed up with detailed policies.
When later asked about a “great example of a renewable energy policy that has driven renewable energy investment, Sarah replied that it was “the EU policy is a good example”…it set a binding target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020 across the EU. These targets are binding, but each member state has their own target that they are all moving towards. This builds in not only a legally binding target that countries have to move towards, but also the flexibility that is needed to balance each country’s baseline.
Policies such as these have ushered in a global renewable energy investment boom, with more than 270 billion dollars now being pumped into renewables from different countries, with over half of this investment coming from developing countries.
As such, while the biggest countries to add to their renewable energy stockpiles continue to be the big names in Renewables – China, USA, UK, Japan and Germany. However, the true “champions” of the renewable energy story may in fact be a countries you may never have thought of – like Burundi.
When comparing renewable energy investment against GDP, there is no-one better than Burundi. But they are closely followed by a list of countries that may not have expected. In fact, close behind is Kenya, Honduras, Jordan and Uruguay.
This collection highlights not only global interest, but diversity of renewable energy champions that deserve far greater national and international recognition.
Considering that Christine was able to remind us that “the world leaders have committed to doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030,” it is clear that renewable energy champions such as Burundi and Honduras will be critical elements of a global energy revolution over the next 15 years.
As Santiago Ortega blankly said, “It’s the dawn of renewables right now. This is the time for every developing country to start to take advantage of it”.
He also reflected on his career as a Renewable Energy professor at the Antioquia Engineering School in Colombia that, “a couple of years ago (in Colombia) the people who were talking about Renewables in the lecture halls were Hippies, but now, the ones talking about renewables are the ones driving large investments in energy”.
Ritwajit Das, a Renewable Energy and Sustainability Expert from India continued on this theme noting that “things are really heating up here in India around renewables”. He then began to list some of India’s own plans to invest in renewables in a big way.
“By 2020, India plans to install up to 2500 MW of Biomass energy… 20,000 MW of Solar and 39,000 MW of Wind energy”.
As Laura Williamson, the Advocacy manager at REN21 noted, this report has “become a benchmark that people refer to”.
As advocates, Laura recommended we “tell the story with images” that can help us relay these messages to a broader public. However, she also recommended that Climate Trackers “tap into our network, which includes more than 500 renewable energy experts around the world”.
Once we do, its then our job to “tell the positive story…particularly in the narrative of Sustainable energy for all”. This is a particularly important framing which not only highlights the many co-benefits of renewable energy, but also brings it back to the key question of energy access.
“The story that needs to be told better by people on the ground is how renewables can help expand energy access around the world”
You could also include the fact that 7.7 million jobs were created around the world in 2014 from Renewable Energy alone
One critical element in play however is our ability to tell this story. It cannot be driven by politicians alone. It is a story that must be told as if it were the American constitution – by the people, for the people and of the people.
Are you one of them?