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Hazelwood owner Engie launches push for 1,000GW of solar

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ABU DHABI: French energy giant Engie, the owner of the Hazelwood brown coal power generator in Victoria, has launched a major public-private initiative that aims to ensure that 1,000GW of solar capacity is installed around the world by 2030.

The plan has been dubbed the Terrawatt initiative – the equivalent of one trillion watts of solar electricity, or one million megawatts – and it is the first significant engagement from the private sector to deliver on the ambitious climate target agreed in Paris in December by 195 governments.

The 1,000GW target might be below some of the more optimistic forecasts for 2030, particularly those by Greenpeace and others (and it should be noted that Greenpeace, which predicts up to 1,800GW of solar, has been the most accurate forecaster in the last 10 years).

But it is broadly in line – and in some cases even passes – with the target that institutions such as the International Energy Agency says is needed under its 450 scenario, which would achieve a 2C temperature cap. The Paris deal aims at “well below” 2C, and even to try and reach a 1.5C cap.

There has been some considerable doubt about whether the promises made in the Paris agreement will translate into action by individual government at policy level, and by the private sector in investment.

kocherThe fact that this initiative is driven by Engie – a major utility – makes it even more interesting. It might be dismissed as greenwash by some, and time will tell if it is or not. But by making such a major commitment on solar, its incoming president and CEO, Isabelle Kocher (pictured right), is nailing her colours to the mast.

Engie is a giant of a company, with operations in 70 countries and 150,000 employees, and – probably embarrassingly for its new focus on sustainable energy – it operates Hazelwood, the ageing generator that is labeled the dirtiest in the world. It is proving to be an embarrassment to a company hoping to be taken seriously on its commitment to a new energy future.

Kocher, who takes over in April, is seemingly firmly committed to effecting that energy transition, both within her own company and in the global energy system.

Last year, she spoke of solar as the “energy of the future,” saying it was no longer a subsidised niche, and she predicted that decentralised energy – rooftop solar and battery storage – will provide more than 50 per cent of power generation.

“As energy solutions become smaller and smaller, so energy itself is becoming increasingly local: looking to the future, more than 50 per cent of energy generation will rely on local sources,” she told a major gas forum last year.

At the launch of the Terawatt initiative at the World Future Energy summit in Abud Dhabi on Monday, Kocher said:

“We believe in the solar potential. The resource is available. The technologies are affordable. They are full of hope …for the planet, for humanity, but it won’t happen if we are not fully mobilised.

“We need to identify ways to implement solar technologies at large scale, not incrementally, but at a massive scale.

That is the main focus of the Terrawatt initiative, which is not an investment vehicle, but a partnership with the likes of the International Renewable Energy Agency and others to ensure there are no roadblocks.

In a brief discussion with RenewEconomy, Kocher said the biggest impediment to the solar sector was the regulatory framework, which in turn was holding back finance.

“The regulatory framework … is not designed today to make it easy for large installations of solar,” Kocher said. “We need to work on that. The solutions exist and it is not impossible to master.”

It was these hurdles that could mean that many private forecasts – of more than 100GW of solar capacity additions a year from 2020 – from achieving reality. “The 1,000GW target is not very long and not very far from here,” Kocher told RenewEconomy.

The initiative is also a sign that the hoped for participation of the private sector in delivering on the ambitious targets agreed in Paris may in fact become a reality.

The initiative was launched in Abu Dhabi with the local energy minister and Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who guided the recent Paris talks to its successful outcome.

IRENA secretary general Adnan Amin said the involvement of the private sector is critical. “This is the way of the future,” he said.

IRENA argues that renewables can deliver more than half of the efforts needed to keep the world on track to its 2C targets by 203o, with energy efficiency doing much of the rest. It also argues that these efforts will deliver significant economic, employment, health and environmental benefits.

IEA’s head of renewable energy Paulo Frankl told RenewEconomy that the initiative helped to bring momentum from the historic Paris agreement into reality.

“We need the participation of the private sector in this effort. The Terrawatt initiative is in the order of scale that needs to be achieved in the coming years.

“Maybe we will do better than that. At least this puts us on right path to limit temp increase to less than 2C.”

Which then leads to the next question. What will the likes of Engie and others do with the massive, and massively polluting brown coal generators in Australia’s Latrobe Valley and elsewhere.

The end is inevitable, but when and at what cost remains the question. That is why major utilities have had to split their assets – separating the centralized fossil fuel generators from decenetralised renewable energy assets, storage and energy services.

They reason there is no way to marry the past with the future. It will be interesting to see if Kocher finds herself making the same choices.

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  • lin

    Good news! Here’s hoping that their first solar installation replaces Hazelwood with a PV and pumped hydro facility.

  • Tim Forcey

    Target the terawatt…

    • trackdaze

      I think greenpeace has got it about right.
      In essence you need an overbuild to account for intermittency and storage. The electrification of transport (&everything else) will ensure households and local businesses take the reins.

      Engie purchased hazelwood seeing something on the upside the market didnt. I suspect it wasnt early closure.

  • David

    Whilst I welcome this type of rhetoric from the incumbents as recognition that the future of energy supply is renewable, I suspect what they are after in the immediate term is taxpayer subsidy to close their dirty assets. Same as AGL with their ‘no coal by 2050 plan’ or in other words ‘no coal once you pay for our our coal assets or they have paid for themselves’
    Taxpayers shouldn’t bail out dirty energy investment. The concept of climate risk was well documented at the time Engie approved, constructed and/or purchased dirty energy assets around the world. Same for many incumbent ‘gentailers’. The fact that it was ignored by their boards of directors is a straight up failure of their responsibility to shareholders and reason enough for countries not to have to bail them out.
    Engie should put their money where their mouth is and write down their dirty energy assets. It shouldn’t be that hard for them, given the post Paris impetus they could easily underwrite those losses in renewable PPA’s with retailers, governments and consumers around the world.

    • John McKeon

      And a carbon tax applied at the coal face and oil and gas well might help things along somewhat. Make it revenue neutral if necessary to win the political argument. Our government should be collecting to compensate for the external costs (externalities). The way things are anyone would think that corporations owned the world.

      • juxx0r

        No, no, no. The government should be collecting to build the future and that is all.

        • John McKeon

          “collecting to build the future”

          I couldn’t agree more, juxx0r, but why so squeamish about a simple carbon tax? Even Tony Abbott – at one time long ago – admitted it was a good idea.

          • juxx0r

            I’m OK with a carbon tax, but only to build.

    • Robin_Harrison

      You are absolutely right, taxpayers shouldn’t bail out dirty energy investment. However, since our ‘Honourable’ politicians on both sides are clearly in their pockets, we probably will.

  • Ian

    “Nous croyons dans le potentiel solaire. La ressource est disponible. Les technologies sont abordables. Ils sont pleins d’espoir … pour la planète, pour l’humanité, mais il ne se produira pas si nous ne sommes pas pleinement mobilisés.

    Bulldust sounds better in French!

  • Only 1000 GW? Bad news if that were to happen.

    At the end of 2015 we have ~250 GW installed. So 750 GW more over the next 15 years. That is an average installation rate of 50 GW/year. Predictions are we will surpass the 50 GW mark this year. To continue to grow after that.

    And to benchmark these numbers against IEA projections, well Giles, you should know better. And afaik, even Greenpeace have been underestimating solar growth.

    The 1000 GW by 2030 prediction is stagnation, nothing to cheer about.

  • John McKeon

    Engie features in the article cited here –

    https://theconversation.com/meet-the-fossil-fuel-firms-sponsoring-the-worlds-biggest-climate-conference-51876

    Big corporations should be treated with respect – handle them as if they are salt water crocks. Please excuse my whimsy as I note that the new CEO has a surname which is a discomforting reminder of a pair of brothers in the USA.