COP26: towards a future powered by renewables
Under the United Framework Convention on Climate Change, nations gather together annually in a “Conference of Parties” to agree on international plans for addressing the climate crisis. The 26th of these conferences (or COP 26) was hosted last week in Glasgow.
Although it was clear that Glasgow was never going to provide all the answers required to tackle the climate crisis, it did represent a step change in ambition, to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels. Only time will tell if the conference was a success or failure, but what is clear is that there have been tangible signs of progress and a significant shift towards “doing” rather than just “saying”.
Parties left with an international agreement to ‘phase down’ coal, to accelerate the ratcheting up of climate commitments, and to stop deforestation and curb methane emissions by 2030. China and the US announced a plan to work together on cutting emissions in the crucial next decade, and Mark Carney’s GFANZ (Glasgow Finance Alliance Net Zero) committed $130 trillion to the Net Zero transition. This year’s COP showed that everyone knows the direction we are travelling in; it is all just a matter of how quickly we can get there.
We need everyone on board to work together for a cleaner future
Another substantial difference from previous years was the role of the private sector, firmly committed to securing a path away from fossil fuels. In the past, debates on tackling the climate crisis often remained at government level with some NGO activity on the sidelines.
This year huge numbers of corporates & SMEs turned up to be part of the conversation and showcase what they are doing to turn the dial. It is undeniable that many CEOs are showing true leadership in transforming business models, cultures and mindsets, but consumers need to be wary of greenwashing and empty promises from big businesses who have not yet grasped the scale of the change (and opportunity) that is before us.
It is clear that new technologies are playing a pivotal role in accelerating the transition and that this will open up new markets and opportunities for businesses. However, we need to accelerate the period from early adoption to the mass market, as this is where the climate change battle is going to be won or lost.
That mass market adoption will be contingent on how society views the climate crisis. This has noticeably shifted in the last few years and was readily apparent in Glasgow. In news and media coverage, in massive billboards, and in the tens of thousands of people who protested in the pouring rain, it was clear that change was in the air. The global population is waking up and putting pressure on leaders to take meaningful action.
The first step to take is decarbonising our energy system
The complexity of this crisis we find ourselves in can be overwhelming. However, scientists have been clear: step one is to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. This requires a rapid shift from a fossil fuel based society, but with alternative technologies still missing or prohibitively expensive in other sectors (e.g. aviation), the electricity system stands out as the clear place to start.
We have the technology to decarbonise the electricity system today. We need to increase renewable energy generation and counteract the intermittent nature of renewable energy by leveraging technology that enables the grid to be kept in balance on a second-by-second basis, as well as providing long-duration energy storage to handle cold, still, cloudy winter days.
Energy storage has emerged as a critical technology to provide short-term flexibility to keep the grid stable and enable deeper renewable penetration. By making home batteries work smarter through AI and machine learning, distributed energy resources can be aggregated into virtual power plants (VPPs) to deliver grid services whilst still ensuring behind the meter savings for end customers.
Virtual power plants and their role in grid management
With higher levels of renewable energy generation and a significant increase in energy demand from more EVs on the streets, and a shift from gas to electric heating, distributed assets will play an increasingly important role in grid management. Aggregating distributed assets into a VPP and using these to deliver ‘grid services’ means we can move away from relying on fossil fuels to maintain grid stability.
Local communities will play a more active role in an energy market where historically they have been passive, driving greater clean energy adoption with minimum disruption to households.
Cleantech companies like Moixa are committed to using innovative technology to support the creation of the energy system of the future. For instance, in partnership with UK Power Networks, we delivered one of the country’s first contracts to provide energy capacity to a local electricity network from home energy storage. More about the outcomes of this flexibility contract can be found in our case study.
Future challenges and the importance of the energy technology sector
Off the back of Glasgow’s updated commitments, we are headed to 2.4 degrees warming; this would be disastrous for hundreds of millions of people around the world and our fragile ecosystem. However, next year, COP 27, leaders have agreed to return with updated plans and commitments to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.
Alok Sharma, the UK cabinet minister who presided over the COP26 talks, acknowledged the scale of the task remaining: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C alive. But, its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
By Natasha Morgan – Commercial Manager at Moixa