Governments around the world are devising plans to initiate a quick and successful recovery from the enormously negative impacts of COVID-19. They are responding on a massive scale and measures that have already been announced are going to cost more than US$ 9 trillion, mostly to bring emergency economic relief that is intended to prevent the crisis deepening even further.
But what are they going to do?
Responding to the needs of governments worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and numerous other agencies, associations, government bodies, and experts, has produced a comprehensive three-year plan that aims to boost economic growth globally, create millions of jobs worldwide, and put the energy sector on a path that will lead to sustainable solutions based on viable clean energy technologies.
By Michael Tobias
The plan, published in the form of a World Energy Outlook Special Report in late June 2020, and discussed in detail at the virtual IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit held on 9 July, is intended for implementation in 2021. While not mandatory, it lays out a combination of carefully structured investment possibilities and policies that offer a way to overcome the devastating challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
The three primary goals of the IEA’s Sustainable Energy Plan are to:
- Boost economic growth
- Create employment opportunities
- Build energy systems that are clean and resilient
A myriad of suggestions is provided in the guidelines.
The team that has produced the recently published Sustainable Recovery Report believes that governments worldwide have a unique opportunity to boost economic growth after the global scourge of Covid-19. If global energy leaders recognize and embrace the opportunity, a sustainable recovery is possible.
Recharging an electric car. Picture: Shutterstock
The plan targets six key sectors:
- Electricity, focusing on low-carbon sources like solar and wind power as well as expanding and modernizing existing electricity grids.
- Transport, aiming to make it cleaner and more efficient.
- Industry, including manufacturing, which desperately needs more energy-efficient machinery.
- Buildings, that must become more energy efficient. Of course, air quality is also important, and HVAC engineers should encourage building owners to take steps to ensure they don’t become high-risk areas for the coronavirus.
- Fuels of various kinds, focusing on those that are more sustainable than what is currently in use.
- Emerging low-carbon technologies, focusing on carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), batteries, small modular nuclear reactors, and hydrogen.
The decisions that governments make in the months to come will affect investments that will have the ability to re-shape industries and infrastructure herein on.
The crux is that the decision choices put forward (or suggested) by the IEA have been designed to put the global energy sector on a more sustainable path. Since the 2008/2009 economic crisis, the costs of clean energy technologies including solar and wind have decreased considerably even though newer emerging technologies like hydrogen and batteries are starting to scale up.
The recovery plan attempts to establish a base from which emissions can be put into a more permanent structural decline.
Rampant unemployment leads to hunger, poverty, and despair. Picture: Shutterstock
The number of jobs lost worldwide since the start of COVID-19 is frightening and in many parts of the world, it continues to spiral downwards. Estimates are that at least 3 million jobs have been lost or are at risk of being lost in the energy industries alone (including renewables and fossil fuels). The number doubles if related industries including transportation and buildings are factored into the picture.
But the IEA maintains that its sustainable recovery plan can not only boost annual growth and give hundreds of millions of people access to electricity and clean cooking solutions, but also create millions of jobs. Most of these will relate to projects that concern improving energy efficiency, retrofitting buildings, and also improving the electricity sector in terms of renewables and grids, they say.
Estimates are that electricity grids are set to see a 40% increase in investment. The backbone of reliable power systems, the increase in sustainable grids is envisaged to help ensure that communities will be better able to withstand all kinds of potential threats and disasters in the future, be it severe weather or pandemics.
The infrastructure for low-carbon transport and more efficient new-energy and/or electric vehicles are also sectors that are open to increased employment possibilities.
Ultimately, the IEA sustainable recovery plan has been designed to save or create as many as 9 million jobs in the three years between 2021 and the start of 2024. But, of course, it will also mean the need for training will be significantly increased, which brings us back to the critical need for increased investment.
It is hoped that governments and energy leaders worldwide will take advantage of the opportunities suggested for a sustainable global recovery.
While it is true that the energy sector, especially electricity, has played an important role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the need for cleaner, more resilient energy systems has never been greater.
Perhaps ironically, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased enormously because of a decrease in transportation, industry, and so on during the pandemic. But one of the big fears is that once the health crisis has subsided, emissions will bounce back possibly at a greater rate than ever before, simply because of the global need for economic growth.
But it doesn’t have to be like that, the IEA states categorically. Rather, this is a unique opportunity for governments to improve their energy goals and to shape a clean, sustainable future for the global energy industry. Hopefully they will embrace the challenge.