We could not meet face-to-face for this years’ ACEF to launch the Renewables 2020 Global Status Report (GSR2020). But, we wanted to connect with our community and beyond, to exchange and build together just as if we had been at a physical event.
To overcome these obstacles, we put together a virtual event: “Public Support for Renewables: Why and How”. The event blended a presentation, panel discussion and participant interaction to generate a lively discussion around the question: What do we need to secure public support to increase deployment of renewable energy?
Public Support for Renewables: Why and How
In 2019, global climate strikes and opinion polls showed rising public demand for a shift away from fossil fuels. At the same time, opposition from local communities limited the implementation of renewable energy projects in some regions. Technology, costs, environment and social factors all affect the spread and speed of renewable energy use. But public buy-in is just as important. What people think about a technology affects their willingness to support it.
The event was divided into three parts, starting with an opening presentation featuring what happened in 2019. REN21 Executive Director, Rana Adib, showcased the key findings of GSR2020. Her presentation demonstrated progress made in the renewable power sector, but contrasted this with a lack of progress for renewables in heating, cooling and transport over the last decade.
Overall, global hunger for energy keeps increasing, ‘eating up’ progress made by renewables. The journey towards climate disaster continues, unless we make an immediate switch to efficient and renewable energy in all sectors. Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate the change.
Engaging the public can support this shift. Governments have at hand a full range of measures to improve public participation, strengthen regulatory control and share economic benefits with host communities to, in turn, further build citizen support for renewable energy projects. Key among these are awareness campaigns, developing policies and regulatory measures.
What does public support for renewables mean in reality?
Rana´s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the question ‘what does public support for renewables mean in reality?’ Geraint Ellis from Queen’s University Belfast; Hyunjung Lee from Asia Development Bank and Athena Ronquillo-Ballesteros from Growald Family Fund served as panelists. The session was moderated by Kanika Chawla from CEEW Centre for Energy Finance.
Our three panelists were able to bring specific insight on how and where public support can be used to drive renewable energy uptake. They represented the intergovernmental, philanthropic and citizen perspectives. Hyunjung stressed that renewable energy projects must be carefully managed to minimise negative effects for communities, while also maximising benefits. These benefits are typically greater in renewable energy projects than in traditional centralised systems.
Athena noted the level of anger in society today with ‘business as usual’: “We are seeing an exciting convergence of health, clean energy and air quality advocacy. Citizens are embracing this moment, and hopefully can make change”.
Geraint spoke about the importance of fitting renewable energy technologies into the local social context. The energy transition is complex – it’s not just about technology choices. “We need to recognise that this is also a social and political debate” he said. This means that we, as citizens, need to engage in debate around the energy transition.
Next, the audience, along with the panelists, moved into virtual breakout rooms. In these smaller groups, the participated in active debate on how to increase public support. Drawing on the panel’s points and using Jamboard (an online whiteboard) participants discussed the question: “What is the most effective incentive/lever to secure public support around renewable?” Each group distilled their discussion into one ‘sticky note’.
What was the outcome at ACEF? Five key points
Five points emerged from the lively discussion, forming conclusions on how public support can help drive renewable energy uptake:
- Amplify local successes and learning; use these to show what is possible.
- Communicate the economic benefits of renewable energy to all parties, including citizens, investors,
- Increase our sphere of influence. To do this, the renewable energy community needs to speak louder than
the fossil fuel industry.
- Expand on the climate gains seen during the COVID-19 lockdown. Build on the public’s
appreciation of cleaner air and talk about other benefits of renewables, e.g. creating local jobs and
ensuring energy sovereignty.
- Understand that switching to renewables isn’t just technical, it’s political. The
public has the power to ramp up pressure on politicians to make change happen – now!
The event at ACEF closed with a virtual coffee break. Participants stayed online to chat and network.
Thank you to everyone who participated, and those from the REN21 community who helped to make it happen.