Expert’s Pick: Reflecting on the past 10 years in energy

This week’s expert’s pick comes in the form of a podcast, chosen by our Research & Community Management intern Fiona Corcoran. Fiona picked The Energy Gang Podcast’s episode from December 2019, Reflections on the Last 10 Years in Energy and Cleantech.

The episode reflects on the past decade’s energy stories, focusing on the main trends in business, policy and technology. The hosts of this podcast are cleantech journalist Stephen Lacey, energy policy expert Katherine Hamilton and energy futurist Jigar Shah. Fiona is an avid listener of the Energy Gang’s podcast: “Each week they do a deep dive on an energy-related topic, covering everything from the projected impact of climate targets and corporate divestment trends, to the latest developments in energy storage technologies.”

“This episode was more of a bird’s eye view of the energy landscape over the past decade, cutting across technology, policy and business topics. Now that it’s 2020, I think it’s valuable to look at the lessons we’ve learned over the past 10 years to see how these lessons may help us shape future outcomes.”

The Energy Gang podcast features three hosts: cleantech journalist Stephen Lacey, energy policy expert Katherine Hamilton and energy futurist Jigar Shah.

The first half of the podcast reflects on attitudes toward renewables (RE), highlighting how disappointment over the slow adoption of RE over the past 10 years often distorts our view on the progress that has been made. It’s easy to forget that even though we experienced the worst global financial crisis in decades, renewables are still growing significantly.

The second half of the podcast makes projections for the next ten years.

Policy expert Katherine Hamilton argued on the policy front:

  • Power sector doing well but more progress needed in industry, buildings and transport
  • Seemingly mundane topics (such as changing the codes for building materials and appliances, updating manufacturing policy, including more RE incentives in the tax code, improving the emissions standards for vehicles) are really important in making sure we drive RE adoption
  • Important to redirect incentives for fossil fuels into RE before placing outright bans on fossil fuels
  • Need more blended finance to point private sector funding in the right direction
  • Policy needs to come from the top and permeate all sectors
This figure is practically famous for us here at REN21– we see a sectoral disconnect in renewable energy penetration. We’ve seen impressive progress in the power sector, and not enough progress in heating and cooling or transport.

On the business side, podcast host Jigar Shah calls for employing what he calls the “4 D’s” of modern infrastructure: decentralised, decarbonised, digital and democratic. He speculates that by the end of the decade, it’s likely that shifting away from fossil fuels to RE in every major end-use sector will be driven by cost savings — governments and consumers will just do it because it saves money!

One point of disagreement between hosts was whether action would occur in a top-down or bottom-up manner. Will citizens drive renewable energy development, or will pressure will come from the top, i.e. through national and regional government policy? In a way these are chicken-or-egg questions worth being explored. Our Renewables in Cities 2019 Global Status Report delves deeper into the role of cities and towns in the renewable energy transition, with a specific chapter dedicated to citizen participation. Citizen support for renewables will be explored on a more global level in the feature chapter of our 2020 Global Status Report, which argues that the decentralised nature of renewable energy calls for huge amounts of local support and investment as well as higher level policy developments.

Stay tuned for further discussion on this subject and other renewable energy developments here.