The development of the world’s energy sector will have an enormous role to play in achieving the sustainable future that tens of thousands are working to secure at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this week in Brazil. Energy is an indispensable component of modern societies. However, the same sector can be extremely destructive, destroying local environments, depleting natural resources, causing sickness and premature death, and pumping record levels of carbon dioxide (C02) into our atmosphere, wreaking havoc on the earth’s climate.
On June 17th, Worldwatch Climate and Energy director Alexander Ochs and I were joined in Rio by Adnan Amin, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and over 20 top experts for a high-level consultation on Measuring for a Renewable Future. The discussion was a first step in Worldwatch’s development of renewable energy indicators in partnership with IRENA.
The event brought together public and private sector leaders in the field from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe to discuss barriers to renewable energy development and deployment and the enablers that can help us to overcome them. We were excited to be joined by leading thinkers such as Michael Liebreich (Bloomberg New Energy Finance), Christine Lins (REN21), Abeeku Brew-Hammond (Ghana Energy Commission), Ari Huhtala (CDKN), Leena Srivastava (TERI), Dan Kammen (University of California, Berkely), Nebojsa Nakicenovic (IIASA), Vivien Foster (The World Bank), Sunita Narain (Center for Science and the Environment), Youba Sokona (UN Economic Commission for Africa) and many others.
Putting countries on the path to meeting their full potential for deploying renewable energy is a challenging endeavor that necessitates overcoming many myths that still exist about the technologies. Renewables are no longer the costly, fringe technologies that many still believe them to be. In many parts of the world, renewables are already cost-competitive or even a more affordable option than traditional fossil fuels. If additional costs to society that result from burning fossil fuels are taken into account, which are yet to be internalized into energy pricing, renewables quickly become an even more attractive alternative.
Participants at the event outlined a host of challenges that must be addressed. Significant barriers exist in respect to finance, cost efficiency, policy and regulation, infrastructure, knowledge management, public acceptance, and the political climate, among others. The discussion highlighted that while there are certainly many challenges facing the sector, there is also significant hope for the future if the necessary actions are identified and implemented. Governments must be extremely active in designing, implementing and monitoring policies aimed at moving these barriers.