“The one renewable source of energy that the IEA doesn’t expect to grow this year is biofuels, because of the downturn in public transport.”
King’s Cross station in London is usually enveloped in pollution, especially during the evening rush hour. Not yesterday. One of the few silver linings of the coronavirus cloud for city dwellers worldwide has been the improvement in the environment. And as carbon emissions are set to decline by almost 8% this year, demand for renewable energy has surged.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), measures in place in almost every country are driving a major shift towards low carbon sources of electricity including wind, solar PV (in which solar radiation is converted directly into electrical currents), hydropower and nuclear.
While the IEA predicts a 6% drop in global energy demand – seven times as much as after the 2008 global financial crisis – demand for renewable energy is expected to grow by 1% this year.
In particular, demand for renewable electricity is expected to grow by 5% in 2020, with hydropower playing an increasingly important role.
“The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas,” said Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director.
The Tipping Point
Will this last? Well, the pandemic has illustrated the vulnerability of fossil fuels to storage and distribution problems. Oil prices turned negative for the first time in the US earlier this month. A Guardian analysis of Flightradar 24 data suggested that the number of aircraft at an altitude of over 50 feet was down by half the usual level in March.
At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has underlined our need for reliable electricity for ventilators, computers, businesses and every day needs.
Birol argues that governments can learn from this by putting clean energy technologies – renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture – at the heart of their plans for economic recovery.
“Investing in those areas can create jobs, make economies more competitive and steer the world towards a more resilient and cleaner energy future,” he said.
Countries with strict lockdowns have seen a 25% drop in week-to-week energy demand as factories are shuttered and people stay home. Demand has fallen by 18% in nations with partial lockdowns.
Last month, the Danish government hosted talks in which ministers and business leaders from around the world discussed making sustainable energy a key component of global economic recovery.
The one renewable source of energy that the IEA doesn’t expect to grow this year is biofuels, because of the downturn in public transport. And, in the worst case scenario, some green power stations, which rely on collections of organic food waste, could have to shut down.