Capitalising on Technological Progress for Clean Energy

  • 2019/04/30     Dresden, Germany

    By Niyanta Shetye, Communications and Advocacy 

    Affordable and clean energy (Goal 7) along with climate action (Goal 13) are prerequisites for achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, as pointed out by Prof. Dominik Möst of Technische Universität Dresden in the opening to his Nexus Seminar on “Developments and Challenges in the Energy Industry”.

    “Despite the operationalisation of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development framework, greenhouse gas emissions have been skyrocketing for the past 10 years.”

    – Prof. Dominik Möst

    Despite the general awareness and the herculean multilateral efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Prof. Möst showed that energy coming from fossil fuels will only marginally decrease from 80.9% in 2006 to 80.4% in 2030 and carbon dioxide (CO2) share will increase from 43% to 65% if current trends in the energy industry continue. Hence, providing clean and affordable energy for all while reducing GHG emissions remain a challenge.

    To give a brief overview of the increasing energy usage, Prof. Dominik Möst showed that the per capita CO2 emissions of some of the world’s heaviest polluters exhibit a declining trend. This is particularly more noticeable in Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom. For 80% CO2 emission reduction to be achieved in Germany, these will have to be at 2 tons per person per year. In reality, however, different sectors such as mobility, transport, heating, and food each individually already require 2 tons per person per year, making the reduction goal unachievable through individual behaviour change.

    The target thus should rather lay in changing the current modalities of power production. Renewable energies like solar and wind are heavily weather-dependent, and the German structure for energy production is driven by demand. Today, Germany has about 14% share of renewable energy; targets such as energy consumption and heat consumption have already been met, but there is still some way to go to achieve targets in sectors such as energy, mobility, and construction.

    Considering the ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement of maintaining a global mean annual temperature increase at no more than 1.5°C compared to 1990, Prof. Möst showed the necessity of introducing new technologies which are cost-effective, environmentally and socially accepted, and provide a security of supply. He postulated that this can be achieved with technological advancement. Prof. Möst explained the relationship between energy demand and production and the need for a base supply of energy through nuclear or coal-generated energy today by showing changes in GHG emissions for three different scenarios of “business as usual”, “new policy intervention”, and “target achievement”.

    Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research grant and with partners in six European countries, the project Reflex analysed the European energy system by particularly looking at the aspects of flexibility in terms of centralised versus decentralised systems and technological advances in the field of renewable energies and energy storage. The analysis was based on modelling current and future low carbon technologies to assess their impacts on the environment and society.

    The project results provided a basis for selecting strategies to decarbonise various sectors while considering the potential risks associated with them.

    Prof. Möst then dived into the concept of “Green Paradox” where – for climate protection – fossil fuels have to remain in the ground and renewable energy technologies have to get cheaper in price in order to compete with the fossil fuel market. Those who own such resources are aware of this challenge but are often first profit-driven. Since fossil fuels and renewable energies are in direct competition, chances are: fossil fuels might get even cheaper with time as there are many untapped reserves all over the world today.

    Concluding the Nexus Seminar, Prof. Möst posed the question: if decarbonisation was achieved, what could be humanity’s next challenge? Food supply, land use, metal depletion, or global peace were some of the ideas raised. This received many reactions from the audience.

    In the lively Q&A session, the audience raised several other questions regarding the challenges related to storing energy such as waste generation. Prof. Möst pointed out that future innovations may be able to allow for this waste to be recycled, citing the example of e-waste recycling taken up by major cell phone manufacturers recently. When asked about the economic trade-offs between centralised systems such as nuclear and coal and decentralised systems such as renewable energy technologies, Prof. Möst explained that currently decentralised systems are 10% costlier than centralised ones but align well with the overall energy policy targets such as achieving 80% CO2 emission reduction by 2050 in the case of Germany.

    This Nexus Seminar is part of the joint seminar series of UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden, delivering thought-provoking lectures and stimulating discussions on the Nexus Approach to environmental resources management. The next seminar takes place on 20 May 2019.