The executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, said that the turmoil in the oil sector caused by the covid-19 pandemic gives governments the perfect opportunity to embrace green energy as a source of jobs that also serves climate goals.
In an interview with Reuters, Birol said that not only well-established technologies, such as those behind solar and wind generation should receive a boost, but also lithium-ion batteries and the use of electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water should be candidates for subsidies and policy support.
Besides being the backbone of electric vehicles and electronic devices, li-ion batteries are becoming more and more important in solar and wind farms to store energy when nature is not doing its part.
“Lithium-ion batteries are now a technology opportunity for the wider energy sector, well beyond just transport,” a recent report by the IEA states. “There is a need for manufacturing capacity to grow further. Assuming that the global auto industry’s announced targets for electric vehicle production are met despite the covid-19 crisis, around 1,000 GWh of battery manufacturing capacity would be needed in 2025. This output would require the equivalent of 50 plants, each on the scale of a Tesla Gigafactory.”
When it comes to electrolysers, which are devices that split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrical energy and are considered a way to produce clean hydrogen from low-carbon electricity, research is moving towards making them a viable option for the mass transportation, shipping, aviation, long-haul trucks, the iron and steel and chemical industries.
“The deployment of electrolysers has also picked up in recent years, both in terms of the number and the size of the projects,” the IEA document reads. “Over the last three years, several projects were in the range of 1 MW to 5 MW, with the largest at 6 MW. In Japan, a 10‑MW project just started operating, and a 20‑MW project in Canada is under construction. Larger projects in the hundreds of megawatts have been announced. As a result, the next two years could set new records, with announced projects bringing the global installation of electrolyser capacity from 170 MW in 2019 to 730 MW in 2021.”
Globally, there is growing interest in the development of efficient solutions to produce and store renewable energy. So much so that, for the first time ever, green power overtook coal as a source of electricity generation in 2019.
Figures from the IEA itself show that, overall, fossil fuels dropped by 245 TWh last year, while renewables production rose by 119 TWh from 2018 to 2019.
In Birol’s view, however, the oil sector should not be demonized as not only its products are to be used for years to come but also because many of such petrochemical products, such as sanitizers, have proven to be important in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.