Storage seen as key in COP21 talks

COP21 2015: We analyse what participants at the Paris Climate Conference are saying about climate change and energy storage, and how it will affect global industry investment. Photo credit: COP21

COP21 2015: We analyse what participants at the Paris Climate Conference are saying about climate change and energy storage, and how it will affect global industry investment. Photo credit: COP21

By Jason Deign

Energy storage looks set to benefit from increased funding worldwide if leaders make good on pledges at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) this week.

Up to USD$30 trillion in investment could be freed up to fight climate change in what has been hailed as the “end of the fossil era.”

The money would be needed to improve renewable energy penetration to reach the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) being presented at COP21.

An initial $20bn or so in funding for renewable energy innovation, including storage, was announced on Monday when the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of 30 or so major investors, joined the fight against climate change.

Elsewhere, energy storage was specifically cited as an investment target for “tens of billions of dollars” by White House sources at the COP21 talks in Paris.

Key for global decarbonisation

And in the lead up to this week’s talks, the UK Foreign Office Permanent representative for Climate Change, Sir David King, highlighted storage as key for global decarbonisation.

“I believe energy storage is the single most important area for investment in research and demonstration into the marketplace today,” he said.

COP21 kicked off on Monday amid concerns over global terrorism and a growing sense of urgency regarding manmade climate change. Several nations are expected to make a show of leadership in carbon emissions reduction.

China, the world’s largest polluter, has for example committed to start reducing carbon dioxide emissions from 2030 or earlier, and at the same time increase the proportion of renewables in primary energy consumption to 20%.

While the Chinese INDC stops short of mentioning energy storage directly, it does promise “to further increase budgetary support” for low-carbon development, with measures such as tax breaks and green credits.

Specifically mentioning energy storage

India, which is the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas polluter and has proposed reducing 2030 emissions 33% to 35% compared to 2005, specifically mentions energy storage in its INDC.

“One of the important areas of global collaborative research should be clean coal and fossil fuel, energy management and storage systems for renewable energy,” says the contribution document.

Canada, with a reduction pledge of 30% by 2030, is already ploughing ahead with a CAD$200m commitment to support innovation projects including energy storage, broadcaster CHCH reported.

Naturally, the pledges being made in Paris may not come to pass. Previous COP talks have had mixed results, at best. And the promises made by the US, in particular, could be subject to change.

While Barack Obama, president of the nation with the world’s largest per-capita emissions, took a tough stance on climate change in opening speeches on Monday, some have questioned whether the US can achieve its INDC.

Furthermore, recent advances in US renewable energy policy could easily be undone by a Republican win in national elections next year.

Republicans reject climate policies

“The 17 Republican candidates have rejected all climate policies in the US and offer no plans to support clean energy or solar,” reports Solarplaza.

Even if all the nations present in the COP21 talks make good on their INDC pledges, that might not be enough to reduce carbon emissions below dangerous level, a World Resources Institute analysis has found.

Over and above national carbon reduction pledges, “I would say we need some macro changes,” said the CEO of one renewable energy company last week.

These would include, for example, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worth more than USD$5 trillion a year and introducing carbon pricing mechanisms to account for the externalities involved in coal, oil and gas use.

For now it remains to be seen whether any agreement will be reached in Paris, let alone one that can convincingly deal with climate change. In the meantime, though, the willingness to invest in energy innovation is clearly on the up.

And energy storage is increasingly being seen as a key target for that investment effort.