Look to more renewables for long-term solution to fuel crunch: International Renewable Energy Agency

The world added close to 50 per cent more renewable energy capacity in 2020 than the year before, according to data published in April.
The world added close to 50 per cent more renewable energy capacity in 2020 than the year before, according to data published in April.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The global fuel crunch has prompted some countries to scramble for coal and other fossil fuels for price stability. 

But the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) on Wednesday (Oct 27) said the way forward is to bring in more renewables in the system and at an accelerated pace.

Urging policymakers and investors to take a long-term view of the energy transition, Irena's deputy director-general Gauri Singh said: "They can't be day traders, looking at the blips."

Citing remarks made by European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, Ms Singh pointed to how some governments are looking at renewable energy as being an answer rather than a contributor to the volatility of the energy market.

Ms Simson had said during a press conference on Tuesday that the lasting solutions to price volatility and dependence on fossil fuels are more renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Ms Singh said: "At this juncture, there's a lot of discussion happening about (energy) prices. Winter is coming close, so it's obviously drawing a lot of discussion, but ultimately we at Irena think that the way forward is to bring in more renewables in the system and at an accelerated pace."

She also said that while last year was not a good year for most sectors of the economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a record year for renewables - with global renewable energy capacity additions beating earlier estimates and all previous records despite the economic slowdown.

Irena data published in April this year had shown that the world added close to 50 per cent more renewable energy capacity in 2020 than the year before.

Ms Singh was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore International Energy Week conference, held in hybrid format with some delegates at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.

The burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to planetary heating, which almost 200 governments agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement to try to limit to 2 deg C - preferably 1.5 deg C - above pre-industrial levels.

This threshold should be kept to avoid harsher climate impacts, climate scientists have shown.

But current commitments made by countries to cut their emissions are setting the world on track for a 2.7 deg C temperature increase, the United Nations said on Tuesday, ahead of the COP26 UN climate talks due to commence in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Sunday.

World leaders have been urged by the UN and the British host of this year's talks to come with greater ambition and bolder targets to tackle climate change.

A key way to reduce the warming is to accelerate the energy transition, reducing mankind's reliance on pollutive coal, oil and natural gas by switching to lower-carbon sources of energy - such as that from renewables.

But observers have pointed out that the ongoing energy crisis could set back the climate agenda, with Reuters reporting on Tuesday that European Union nations such as Poland are advocating a delay in planned policies to address climate change.

One contributing factor to the fuel shortage is the increased demand for natural gas by nations looking to cut the carbon footprint of their energy sector. Natural gas has been touted as a transition fuel since it burns more cleanly than coal or oil. 

Pandemic-recovery economic activity and countries entering the cooler seasons are also nudging up demand for fuel.

All these developments have led to the energy crunch that has resulted in blackouts and factory shutdowns elsewhere.

Asked about her expectations of COP26, Ms Singh said: "As far as Irena is concerned, we definitely do want to see outcomes that would accelerate the pace of this energy transition, with strong commitments coming from the countries on what they plan to do in this decade."

On Singapore's energy transition, Ms Singh said the Republic's goal of importing 30 per cent of its electricity from low-carbon sources by 2035 was a "big shift" in the country's energy mix.

Currently, more than 95 per cent of the country's electricity is generated from burning natural gas.

Said Ms Singh: "There's a mindset shift that has happened, which I think is the most critical thing. It's a great starting point about how the country wants to get to net-zero (emissions)."