The Post COVID Energy World

When the world went into lockdown, the global demand for electricity dropped 20%. By the end of March, 50% of the traffic disappeared from city streets. The demand for fossil fuels evaporated. Coal fired generation has suffered its’ largest drop since World War II. A new International Energy Agency (IEA) report suggests the post COVID energy world could be far more carbon free.

The International Energy Agency and the Government of Denmark hosted a high-level roundtable meeting in which government ministers and business leaders from around the world discussed the importance of making clean energy a central part of the global economic recovery from Covid 19.

The Rise Of Renewables

The Paris-based energy authority used data from every nation and energy sector to grasp what happened and how this could shape government policies in the decades ahead.

“Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director or the IEA.

Hong Kong Airport courtesy Studio Incendo via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Key Observations From The Report

A few key observations from Global Energy Review 2020:

  • Renewable electricity generation increased by almost 3%, mainly because of new wind and solar PV projects completed over the past year and because renewables are generally dispatched before other sources of electricity. Along with depressed electricity demand, power grids have managed heightened shares of wind and solar PV.”
  • Global CO2 emissions are expected to decline even more rapidly across the remaining nine months of the year, to reach 30.6 Gt for the 2020, almost 8% lower than in 2019. This would be the lowest level since 2010. Such a reduction would be the largest ever, six times larger than the previous record reduction of 0.4 Gt in 2009 due to the financial crisis and twice as large as the combined total of all previous reductions since the end of World War II.”
  • Governments will play a major role in shaping the energy sector’s recovery from the Covid‑19 crisis, just as they have long been in the driving seat in orienting energy investment. In particular, the design of economic stimulus packages presents a major opportunity for governments to link economic recovery efforts with clean energy transitions – and steer the energy system onto a more sustainable path.”
U.S. Army Reserve Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force Soldiers – U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris via Wikipedia (CC BY SA, 4.0 License)

Governmental Responses

It is unlikely that the United States will do this. Eight of the twelve members advising President Donald Trump on how to reopen the U.S. economy are fossil fuel executives. According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, they have contributed more than $4.2 million to political campaigns – primarily Republican – since 2016. In his remarks to industry leaders yesterday, April 29, Trump said:

Well, we’re not going to let our oil companies go and get in trouble.  It’s not their fault that they got hit by 50 percent less volume in one day.  You know, one — one instant, all of a sudden, these very great companies that are employing all these people.

While the Canadian Government also extended help to the oil sector, it was primarily to clean up some long standing problems: methane emissions and close to 100,000 orphan and/or inactive oil and gas well sites.

The response was different in Europe, where the governments of Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden have banded together to call for a European Green Deal. Though their focus is recovering from the pandemic, the signatories agreed:

” …We must not lose sight of the persisting climate and ecological crisis. Building momentum to fight this battle has to stay high on the political agenda. The lesson from the Covid-19 crisis is that early action is essential. Therefore, we need to maintain ambition in order to mitigate the risks and costs of inaction from climate change and biodiversity losses.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposes that Europe’s emission’s target be raised from 40% by 2030, to 50-55%.

By the end of 2020, renewable energy is expected to provide close to 30% of the world’s electricity. 

Why Global Emissions Dropped

While the adoption of low carbon energy sources will help, they did not bring about the unprecedented drop in Global emissions.

People were forced to adopt a simpler lifestyle.

Top photo credit: Vancouver street scene on March 29, 2020 by Rod Raglin via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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