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COVID-19 must not derail the 'inescapable challenge' of decarbonisation, warns IEA

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The green energy transition should not be derailed by efforts to respond to the global COVID-19 emergency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

The “inescapable challenge” of climate change and global emissions must not be compromised by the “severe but likely to be temporary” impacts from the pandemic, IEA executive director Fatih Birol argued in a social media post he penned over the weekend.

“The coronavirus crisis is already doing significant damage around the world. Rather than compounding the tragedy by allowing it to hinder clean energy transitions, we need to seize the opportunity to help accelerate them,” said Birol, chosen to head up the IEA in 2015.

Speaking as COVID-19 passed 170,000 contracted cases and 6,500 deaths worldwide, the IEA executive director said the COVID-19 stimulus packages being prepared by countries should keep clean energy transitions “front of mind”.

According to Birol, the current downwards spiral of oil prices may hamper energy efficiency policies – cheap fuel may disincentivise savings, he pointed out – but could, in turn, open a window to remove the US$400 billion in global fossil fuel subsidies.

Governments, he said, drive 70% of global energy investment. They should use such traction to support both already cheap green sources (such as solar PV, wind) and still-nascent segments (hydrogen, carbon capture and storage), he argued, adding that state guarantees for private investors would help.

Keeping the UK’s energy system running

Internationally, COVID-19 is impacting on supply chains and day-to-day business operations across the renewables sector, although the long term impacts remain unclear.

In the UK, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) – representing the UK’s electricity and gas transmission and distribution network operators – has issued a statement on plans for keeping the system running as the virus continues to spread.

There are “well-tested contingency plans” in place, including industry-wide mutual aid arrangements for the people and equipment needed to keep operating the networks.

The network companies have implemented “robust” measures to protect control rooms and contact centres, the ENA statement said, with engineers having received extra training across multiple disciplines to provide additional resilience.

There are also backup centres should operations need to be moved, for instance if deep cleaning is required.

According to analysis by National Grid ESO, demand across the country would reduce in the event of long-term mass self-isolation due to likely reductions in industrial and commercial demand.

David Smith, chief executive of the ENA, stressed the networks are following government advice closely and reassuring customers the networks are “continuing to operate as normal for the public”.

“The UK’s electricity and gas network is one of the most reliable in the world and network operators are working with the authorities to ensure that their contingency plans are reviewed and delivered in accordance with the latest expert advice.”

A version of this article first appeared on sister title PV Tech.

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