Progress Report: The renewable revolution is delivering jobs and growthNigel Topping, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition
Welcome to the March edition of the Progress Report where we examine the transformative impact that renewable energy is now having on customers, local economies and the power sector itself. Plus the latest push to raise policy ambition in Europe, during this critical year for climate action.
Renewables drive economic growth
In the US and elsewhere, there is justified concern about how the rapid transition from coal and other fossil fuels towards increasing renewables is impacting local communities in terms of jobs and growth. Which is why it’s heartening to see renewable projects winning supporters in US states like Oklahoma exactly because of their job-creating potential.
A new survey shows that locals in Oklahoma are overwhelmingly in support of the proposed 2 GW Wind Catcher wind farm – set to become the biggest onshore wind farm in the US (second largest in the world). The proposed project would bring $4.5 billion of investment into the state and would support approximately 8,400 jobs annually during construction and 80 permanent jobs once the turbines are up and spinning.
And a new research report shows that DTE Energy could create more than 10 times the number of construction jobs in Michigan and slightly less than four times more ongoing jobs by building renewable energy alternatives to its proposed 1,100 MW natural gas plant. The study also found that in addition to the jobs potential, the economic impact would also generate significant tax revenue.
With renewable energy becoming the cheapest option in many regions for power production around the world, its wide range of economic benefits are helping to accelerate its rollout. That’s why it’s encouraging to see leading power utilities such as Enel working together with employees and trade unions to ensure the transition away from fossil fuels doesn’t leave workers or communities behind.
Meanwhile, renewable energy projects are breaking records in terms of size and scale, all the way from the US to Asia. In the US, Florida Power & Light has created the largest solar-plus-storage installation in the country, thanks to new additions at its Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center.
In India – as Narendra Modi launched a new international body to help finance solar projects – the Solar Energy Corporation of India kicked off its 3 GW tender, which is set to become India’s largest. And GE unveiled the world’s largest wind turbine – Haliade-X 12 MW – capable of generating enough clean power for up to 5,000 households.
A transforming industry
At the end of last year, Eurelectric – which represents 3,500 power companies throughout Europe – pledged to reach carbon neutrality within Europe’s power supply “well before” the year 2050. That bold vision is being met with increasingly ambitious moves from the European energy sector, which is embracing the low-carbon transition.
This month, two rival German energy giants – E.On and RWE – sent shockwaves through the European energy sector thanks to a complicated asset-swap deal. While there will be a lot to unpick from this deal as it unfolds, one of the most striking things is that it’s set to transform the historically coal-dominated RWE into Europe’s second largest producer of green energy at a single stroke.
It also shows the increasing profile of renewables in the generation mix, with RWE effectively reversing its decision made less than two years ago to sell off its renewable assets. This helps provide a clear call to arms for power utilities in Europe, and more broadly, that it’s time to embrace the low-carbon transition and the full potential of renewables.
Also in Europe, Sweden’s Vattenfall has unveiled plans to invest €100 million in large-scale solar, as part of its ambition to become fossil free within a generation. And Norway’s Statoil is changing its name to Equinor, signalling its long-term transition away from an oil and gas major to a diversified energy company.
Customers are responding
Corporate customers are also responding to the renewable revolution and ramping up their purchasing of clean energy. Thanks to a new power purchase agreement announced this month, Fifth Third Bank in the US is set to become the first RE100 member company to achieve 100% renewable electricity through a single solar power project.
While RE100 member Microsoft has inked its first renewable energy deal In India. Facebook and Adobe, both RE100 members, have signed deals to purchase renewable electricity from the Rattlesnake Creek wind farm in Dixon County, Nebraska.
Together, the 130 members of the RE100 initiative, led by The Climate Group, are now creating demand of over 162 TWh of renewable electricity annually, more than enough to power Poland or Malaysia. An additional 40 companies have reported 100% renewable electricity goals to CDP, underlining the scale of the transition for large electricity consumers.
Meanwhile, Arizona regulators are proposing a ban on utilities developing new gas plants in the state, pushing them instead to consider renewable energy alternatives.
Policy ambition rising
When it comes to countries delivering on their Nationally Determined Contributions, China and India have pulled ahead of the pack and are set to over deliver, according to Climate Action Tracker. However, several developments in Europe this month show that certain policy makers in the region are raising their ambition on climate change, during this critical year in the fight to limit global warming to well below 2°C.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on the EU to ‘raise the bar’ and adopt a more ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 of 55% below 1990 levels. Rutte warns that the EU’s current goal of a 40% reduction is “too low to keep warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”.
French ecology minister Brune Poirson has called for an EU-wide carbon price floor of between €25-30 per ton for power generation, to help accelerate the shift from coal to gas and renewables in the region. Also in France, the government has now committed €700 million to the International Solar Alliance – which aims to mobilize $1 trillion in funds for future solar generation, storage and technology across the world.
In the UK, the government is coming under increased pressure to accelerate its ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars thanks to a report from MPs. The UK’s proposed end date for the cars of 2040 is not sufficient to tackle the “national health emergency” caused by air pollution, according to the report.
However, the UK is making strong progress in other areas, particularly the phase out of coal power. New data released this month shows that last year the UK’s carbon emissions fell to their lowest level since 1890, while on a windy St Patrick’s Day (17th March) the UK set a new record of producing a third of its power from wind alone.