The Virtuous Circle Of Investing In Renewable Energy
The increasing affordability of renewables can create a virtuous circle to deliver energy access to the 1.06 billion people who live without electricity and to keep the global warming rise below 1.5°C.
So why is Donald Trump trotting around the globe extoling the virtues of fossil fuel based energy? Is he blinkered to the renewable energy revolution that is taking place? Is he blind to hurricanes Harvey and Irma which have clearly demonstrated the hostile climate which is becoming the new normal?
Some significant companies have begun to realise the advantages of rapidly moving into renewables, and technology companies like Google are at the forefront of the change. In 2016 Google pledged to be 100% renewable by the end of 2017, and the company is inspiring a generation of companies to do the same. It's not rocket science - once installed, renewable energy inputs like wind and sunshine are essentially free, so for corporations like Google it means that they are protected from the price volatility of fossil fuel energy, and it means they are able to enter into long-term fixed-price agreements with renewable energy providers. It's a win-win.
Also as a young company Google isn't stuck in the fossil fuel dark ages. It recognises the science of climate change and the need to achieve absolute reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions and it is setting paving the way for other major tech businesses such as Amazon to follow suit. Businesses are now at the forefront of driving robust, sustained action to transition to a clean energy economy.
These companies are seriously calling into question the logic of ongoing investment in fossil fuels, especially in the electricity sector. You only need look at the declining value of coal producers and electric utilities dependent on coal to see that these are, or soon will be, stranded, lossmaking investments. In many cases, they are already.
We have arrived at a tipping point, where not only is clean energy technically and economically viable, it is understood and increasingly embraced by institutional investors who, under the right conditions, are willing to invest at unprecedented levels. Substantially more is needed, but capital for clean energy investment is at record levels.
For investors, the renewables technological and cost revolutions coincide with increased demand for ethical and sustainable investments, and the search for cash-yielding investment has coincided with the rise of sustainable and ethical investment objectives, including the growing fossil fuel divestment movement. The meeting of these two trends has dramatically increased investor appetite for clean energy investment.
The advances in renewable technology and cost, especially in solar PV, coupled with advances in battery storage, LED lighting and mobile phone payment systems, have also created new options for rural electrification. Some governments that are ahead of the curve on this: Nigeria is crafting legislation as part of their rural electrification plans to make it easier to establish, finance and operate micro-grids based on distributed renewables.
According to a new report from Christian Aid, to limit global warming to even 2°C by 2040, let alone 1.5°C, approximately $20tr (about $900bn per year) needs to be invested in renewable power facilities and related transmission and distribution grids. This is triple the average annual investment in clean energy since 2010, which stands at $300bn per year.
There is no doubt that there is work to do, and more capital needs to be raised, but there is real cause for optimism thanks to the leadership being shown by businesses and investors. Clean, renewable energy works. In many parts of the world, it is already a cost-effective choice, both technologically and economically, and within just a few years it is poised to be the cost-effective choice almost everywhere.
Investments in renewables are now reliable, cost-effective and scalable. It is hard to justify a reason for new investment in primary fossil fuels for power generation - either by governments seeking to meet the energy needs of their citizens, or from investors.
The new report, A Virtuous Circle, Scaling up Investments in Low Carbon Energy, can be downloaded at caid.org.uk/virtuous-circle
Images provided with permission of Christian Aid