A healthy mix

Despite the risks, the global economy needs to embrace sustainable forms of energy

The best in sustainable energy 2013

With carbon dioxide emissions hitting record levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) last May and signs the average global temperature is likely to rise by six percent by the end of the century, the need for a shift towards more sustainable forms of energy has become increasingly clear. Those creating and delivering sustainable energy mechanisms are essential – which is why The New Economy recognises the year’s best in class.

Research has shown the combined cost of climate change and pollution will increase by 3.2 percent by 2030, with losses to GDP of around 11 percent hitting the least developed economies in the world. More focus must be placed on the industry, with a number of reports having been released this year that call for a change in stance from governments around the world.

The International Energy Agency published their Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013 report and called for progress in implementing new technologies to be quickened, saying: “For a majority of technologies that could save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, progress is alarmingly slow.” Here, we’ve highlighted those organisations that find this sentiment unacceptable – those that are moving the sustainable energy sector forward with intellect and determination.

In her foreword to the report, Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said carbon dioxide emissions from energy had reached “record highs”, while oil prices had soared. She argues the current reliance on fossil fuels and yesteryear’s traditional energy sources is wholly defeatist: “The ways we supply and use energy threaten our security, health, economic prosperity and environment. They are clearly unsustainable. We must change course before it is too late.”

The changing paradigm
While there is a need for more to be done to encourage the industry, some countries have been doing relatively well in developing new, sustainable technologies. The US, according to Ernst & Young, is the biggest market for renewable energy, replacing China.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy’s Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook, there has been a continuation of the revolution in the US’s energy mix – spurred on by the enthusiasm for natural gas, but also through technological innovations in the renewable energy sector.

The report is positive about a changing paradigm in the country’s energy outlook: “A revolution is transforming how Americans produce, consume and even think about energy. Traditional sources are in decline, while natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency are on the rise.

“These changes, which show no sign of abating, have far-reaching implications for US economic and national security interests. They are increasing the diversity of the country’s energy mix, improving its energy security, and rapidly shrinking its carbon footprint – a major positive development for addressing climate change.”

While much of the attention in the US has been on its increasing dominance of the shale gas market, new renewable technologies are also bolstering the clean energy sector. According to the BNEF report: “Behind this revolution is a slew of new energy innovations, technologies, and applications. These include: newly applied techniques for extracting natural gas from shale rock formations; lower-cost and higher-efficiency photovoltaic panels for converting sunlight to electrons; highly efficient, natural gas end-use applications; vehicles fuelled by electricity and natural gas; and ‘smart meters’ that allow consumers to monitor, modulate and cut electricity consumption.”

Decreasing energy demand
Although one might imagine energy consumption is steadily increasing, the trend in the US over the last five years actually shows a decline of 6.1 percent in energy use. BNEF say this is likely down to improvements in the efficiency of many technologies, and it is an encouraging sign that the US is leading the way in streamlining the way it uses energy. Renewable energy use in the US has also been on the rise and, in 2012, contributed 9.3 percent of the country’s energy supply. Since 2007, renewable energy generation for electricity has grown from 8.3 percent to 12.1 percent.

In a report on the industry in Europe published in October, analysts Aruvian Research said renewables were starting to make serious contributions to the world’s energy use, fully recognising the urgency to fully adapt to the market: “In recent years, about 19 percent of global final energy consumption came from renewables, with 13 percent coming from traditional biomass, like wood-burning.

“Hydropower was the next largest renewable source, providing three percent, followed by hot water and heating which contributed 1.3 percent. Modern technologies, such as geothermal, wind, solar, and ocean energy together provided some 0.8 percent of final energy consumption. The technical potential for their use is very large, exceeding all other readily available sources.”

While the industry has its critics – from traditional fossil fuel players that resent the subsidies some sustainable energy firms receive, to conservation campaigners who think wind turbines spoil their view – the industry is steadily growing and attracting new converts to its cause.

Aruvian said: “Renewable energy technologies are sometimes criticised for being unreliable or unsightly, yet the market is growing for many forms of renewable energy. Wind power has a worldwide installed capacity of 74,223MW and is widely used in several European countries and the USA. The manufacturing output of the photovoltaics industry reached more than 2,000 MW per year in 2006, and PV power plants are particularly popular in Germany.

“Renewable energy is an essential part of Europe’s low emissions energy mix and is important to Europe’s energy security. It plays a strong role in reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. Many European governments’ support for renewable energy assists industry development, reduces barriers to the national electricity market, and provides community access to renewable energy.”

Renewing efforts to combat climate change means both governments and the private sector need to focus their attention on a sustainable energy mix.

Van der Hoeven said: “It is time the governments of the world took the actions needed to unleash the potential of technology. Together with industry and consumers, we can put the energy system on track to a sustainable and secure energy future. We owe it to our economies, our citizens and our children.”

For a full list of winners in The New Economy Sustainable Energy Awards 2013, please click here.