Energy Transitions - People and Beyond


Author: Astha Gupta

Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 6. 2022

In the recently concluded Conference of Parties 26 (COP 26) in Glasgow, countries raised ambitions to limit the rising global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, through several commitments such as announcing net-zero targets, phasing out/down of coal power, and pledges around curbing deforestation and reducing methane emissions. The outcome of COP 26 - the Glasgow pact, recognizes the concept of “climate justice” and emphasizes the role of people, local communities and vulnerable populations in addressing and responding to climate change. People have become more central to the global climate discussions, as energy transitions greatly impact people at all levels, particularly those involved across the energy value chain. This can be illustrated with some examples; phasing out/down coal power might require people to transition from coal mining/thermal power plants to building offshore wind power plants, rapidly changing energy mix in the grids could require new skills for managing the flexibility of power systems. On the demand side, ongoing energy efficiency programs, the advent of distributed resources, technologies and digitalization, could require people to become more cognizant and responsive to the changing dynamics of energy systems. In addition to adapting to the new energy systems, people are on the frontline bearing the burden of economic shocks from the ongoing pandemic, extreme weather events and war crisis. In the lead-up to COP26 and since then, the topic of just transitions (people-centered transitions) has been brought to the limelight on several international platforms, including the current G7 and G20 presidencies. Many international organizations such as IEA, IRENA and UN are implementing global collaboration on just transitions, through the establishment of the global commission, collaborative framework and think labs respectively. Multilateral banks such as World Bank and ADB are supporting regional and national authorities in developing a clear roadmap on just transitions. Rockefeller Foundation and its partners are investing about $10 billion to establish the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP). The focus of these collaborations and investments is largely around supporting the economies and their communities to transition from fossil fuels (particularly coal). Beyond coal transitions, there are several other issues that would need due attention to ensure reliable and affordable energy for all by 2030. Long-term net-zero targets would require the extensive deployment of renewable energy, cleaner energy technologies such as energy storage technologies, electric vehicles, CCUS, hydrogen, biofuels etc. International technology collaboration along with public and private investments is the need of the hour for advancing technology development towards clean energy transitions. The successful deployment of these technologies will also depend on the adoption of technologies by the “people” and therefore would require the active participation of communities, small/medium enterprises, industries etc. As the world witnesses unprecedented times with ongoing pandemic, extreme weather events (snowstorms, heatwaves, cyclones etc.), and war crisis, from an energy security standpoint, ensuring resilience in infrastructure and material supply chains could protect communities and local industries from shocks of high energy prices, allowing suitable possibilities for trade and exports at the same time. Measures around skilling and re-skilling would be needed to empower people (including women) with suitable employment opportunities and thereby enable their active participation in clean energy transitions. The Government of India is undertaking measures to strengthen the policies for clean energy transitions, particularly those concerning local communities and industries. In the larger interest of consumers, electricity (rights to consumer) rules of 2020 was released that allows consumers to be prosumers of clean energy systems. There is a large focus on facilitating domestic manufacturing in India, of solar PV modules, advanced battery storage technologies and electrolyzers for hydrogen production, encouraging the production of biofuels - all this to address some of the energy security concerns. While the enabling framework at the central level provides some considerations and opportunities for boosting local employment and jobs, it doesn’t provide enough thrust to people’s active participation in energy transitions. There is an immediate need to develop innovative financing and regulatory mechanisms, create awareness and build adequate capacity, streamline and simplify administrative processes, build safety standards, etc. that can support the necessary ecosystem at the local district/state level for energy transitions. As the majority of the implementation will happen at the state and district level, there is a need to strengthen institutions and facilitate cooperation and coordination across the economic sectors and actors, in order to bring about the desired change as a result of the ambitious policies and the vision of technology development for India’s energy sector. Increasing urbanization and industrialization in India see the largest increase in energy demand of any country across all IEA scenarios to 2040. People are at the heart of India’s story of urbanization and industrialization. Empowering them with the requisite knowledge and timely financing support could strengthen and accelerate clean energy transitions and help achieve sustainable development goals. (Ms. Astha Gupta is a consultant in the energy sector. Her works focus on clean energy transitions in India and other South Asian countries.) ■□■

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