COVID-19 and legislation blow winds of change in generation

James Kelloway from National Grid

The drive for greener power generation could be accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic as renewable power costs plummet according to the World Economic Forum and new research.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create surprises and not all of them negative. A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that the pandemic could be instrumental in accelerating “the revolution in energy systems”.

With global power demand dropping by some six percent, according to the International Energy Association, and national legislators being forced to pay for the shut-down of power production, the WEF has joined other organisations in recognising the potential long-term benefits of a ‘wake-up call’ to the industry.  It recognised the need for flexible power generation, combined with agile energy management and monitoring systems and believes the pandemic could be the stimulus required.

Watchdog organisations, such as the WEF, are hoping the pandemic will promote large-scale rapid change in all aspects of power generation, closing gaps between environment, economy and policy. 

The optimism chimes with a recent interview between UK National Grid ESO’s Energy Intelligence Manager, James Kelloway, and Red Dwarf actor turned Fully Charged You-Tube Channel presenter, Robert Llewellyn.  In a relaxed and socially-distanced interview, Kelloway clearly and articulately explained the dramatic acceleration in energy input from renewables, the challenges faced by the ESO, but also the rapid progress towards zero emissions capability by 2025.

The optimism – tempered by the challenges faced in coping with the challenges of rapid development – was further reinforced by the latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which states that more than half of the global renewable capacity added in 2019 “achieved lower electricity costs than new coal, while new solar and wind projects are also undercutting the cheapest and lest sustainable of the existing coal-fired plants.”

The report, based on 17,000 active projects around the world, goes on to state that onshore wind and solar generation costs have dropped by between three and 16 percent since 2010.  It estimates the replacement of the most expensive 500gw of coal capacity with renewable energy could cut annual system costs by as much as US$23bn (£18bn) and reduce annual CO2 emissions by an estimated 1.8 gigatonnes. The report also states that this action would add a stimulus of around one percent – US$940bn (£755bn) - to global GDP.

In his comments on the report, IRENA Director General Francesco La Camera, states: “Cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in line with the Paris Agreement remains as crucial as ever in the wake of COVID-19, while also offering tremendous potential to put millions of people back to work.”