5 Questions on with Rana Adib on GSR2020

On 16 June 2020, REN21 launched the Renewables 2020 Global Status Report (GSR2020), which showcases renewable energy trends worldwide. We talked to Executive Director Rana Adib about the key points of the report.

What are the highlights in GSR2020?

“There are two highlights. One which is very positive is that renewables in the power sector are rising again. That is very much driven by the right regulative frameworks, market conditions, and also clearly the cost-effectiveness of renewable power. And the fact that it’s not only governments investing, it’s also the private sector. That is extremely positive.

The challenging part, and unfortunately it’s the same story we are telling for many years, is that renewable power success is not a renewable energy success. We have two major sectors which are lagging behind: One is the heating and cooling sector. Here we only have 10% of renewable energy share in the total final energy demand, so really not a lot. And the transport sector, where we only have 3% of renewable energy share in total final energy demand. That is something critical, and it’s even more critical when you know that these sectors consume more than 80% of all energy worldwide.

This comes from the fact that policy and regulatory frameworks historically gave much more attention to the renewable power sector. The success in this sector is the success of policies, regulatory frameworks, governmental ambitions, and targets that already started many years ago. These have led to the development of a solid industry, of solid markets that are spreading throughout the world.

In the heating and cooling and transport sectors, there are fewer countries with renewable energy targets. What is shocking is that even though there is the knowledge that we have to step up our ambitions in these sectors, there has not been an increase in governmental engagement. That is critical. It’s as if we were relying on the fact that renewables are a success in the power sector, but forgetting about the fact that power does not tell the whole story.”

What were the most important drivers for renewable energy in 2019?

“One clear driver is that renewable power is the least cost option in most regions of the world.  As result, renewable power is a no-brainer. There are, however, other drivers which are also interesting to activate even more strategically. One is the mobilisation of citizens, particularly young people. With the climate marches, there have been millions of people in more than 150 countries calling governments to step up their climate ambitions. This is a voice that has been heard very much in 2019.

The other part is, we see the private sector – but also in general big investors – on the one hand in renewable energy, but on the other hand, divesting from fossil fuels. That is a profound shift, where investors see that investing in fossil fuels is a major risk on their investment.”

What role do economic recovery packages play?

“In the context of the economic recovery packages, it is clear that governments need to make responsible decisions. This means to use the money, which can only be spent once, in a reasonable and responsible way. And this means not to support fossil fuel and not to support fossil fuel consuming sectors. But rather invest in renewable energy and efficiency and accompany energy-consuming sectors to make a shift to cleaner, efficient, and renewable energy.”

Graph global investment in new power capacity renewables coal gas nuclear

What surprised you most when looking at 2019 data?

“What has shocked me is that investment in fossil fuels continues. I think this is almost a crime in these times, where the influence of fossil fuels on climate, environment, and social aspects are clear. When we include the true costs, we are at 5.2 trillion US dollars per year on fossil fuel. When you take this amount of money and just shift it to renewable energy and efficiency, we would contribute so much to the energy transition.”

What should governments do now?

“One action: Stop investing in fossil fuels and stop subsidizing fossil fuels. The most recent assessment is that there are still 400 billion US dollars used to subsidize fossil fuels. That is a no go because it’s distorting the market conditions. As a result, even though renewable energies are the least cost option in many countries, there are unfair conditions and they cannot build on this advantage. The other part is – and here is where the renewable power sector can give us very strong indications that governments can build this up – they need to have ambitious targets, they need to create the regulatory framework. Then, renewable energy cannot only become a success story in the power sector, but also in heating, cooling, and transport.”

Rana Adib is the Executive Director of REN21, the renewable energy policy network for the 21st century. Watch the full interview on YouTube.