Energy transition: leave no man behind
As renewables advance, what happens to the existing infrastructures and workforce?
History teaches that energy transitions are not easy. For decades, whale oil was considered indispensable for a variety of applications, until it was gradually replaced by the cheaper and more efficient kerosene.
This transition led to the extinction of industrial whaling, one of the world’s first multinational businesses.
In this article Neil Ballinger, head of EMEA sales at automation equipment manufacturer EU Automation, talks us through the challenges of a different transition –one towards renewable energy sources.
Climate experts and environmental activists agree that limiting the consequences of global warming is a challenge that requires urgent attention.
To tackle the problem, in 2016 187 states signed the Paris Agreement, with the ambitious goal of keeping the increase in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
To meet this target, the decarbonisation of the energy systems of each country will play a major role. However, the transition from fossil fuels to clean power sources is not so straightforward and involves major challenges.
Just like the shift from whale oil to kerosene, the transition to clean energy will require a long-term structural change in the way we manage our power-generating systems. In this process, it is important that no one is left behind.
What will happen to the infrastructure?
As more renewable sources are added to the grid, one of the problems facing system operators is that renewables can’t provide system inertia to the same extent as fossil fuels. Inertia is the stored rotating energy in the system and is formed as a by-product of power generation through traditional fuels.
Simply put, objects with large inertia – such as turbines in a fossil fuel power station – want to keep rotating at the same speed and need large amounts of force to slow down or stop completely.
AC power systems are designed to operate at a constant speed, which is sometimes referred to as frequency. To keep this frequency constant, it is necessary to store a certain amount of inertia.
Since renewables do not guarantee enough inertia to keep the system stable, it is necessary to use the turbines in existing infrastructures to store it.
Even if power will be generated from different sources, the existing infrastructures will still be used in the transitional phase to produce and store the by-products of power generation, such as inertia.
What will happen to the people?
Engineers and other highly skilled professionals in fossil fuel power plants might adapt their existing skillsets to the renewable energy sector. However, it might be considerably harder to rehabilitate low-skilled fossil fuel workers and their communities.
If the transition to a low carbon economy is not accompanied by retraining schemes, we risk the same high unemployment rates observed as a result of coal mine closures. Therefore, it is paramount that governments plan for a just and equal transition to clean energy.
The idea of a socially-just transition has been espoused by both the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It was also a part of the Paris Agreement, which champions “the imperative of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” for fossil fuel workers.
There are several examples of successful upskilling of the fossil fuels workforce. Essen, in western Germany, has converted old coal mines into industrial heritage museums that attract millions of tourists every year.
Local coal communities have reinvented themselves to cater to tourists, with the help of the government and other stakeholders.
Liulong, in eastern China, has built a massive floating photovoltaic project on a lake covering an abandoned coal mine. Former coal miners have been retrained and are now employed in the solar project.
These examples show that sustainability and social justice can go hand in hand. As the transition to clean energy speeds up, stakeholders need to think about how to repurpose existing resources and skillsets.
By Neil Ballinger, Head of EMEA Sales, EU Automation
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.