Energy bosses jostle for a piece of the grid at Cop28

Wind seeks big role in push to treble renewables as fossil fuel talks dominate in Dubai

Pink-coloured turbines installed by Octopus Energy at Expo City Dubai. EPA
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The Cop28 summit enters a day of energy-themed talks on Tuesday as each sector makes its case for a prime spot in the world’s future power grids.

An early pledge by 118 countries to treble the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 gives industries such as wind and solar a chance to capitalise.

Nuclear power also wants to be embraced as part of the clean energy line-up, building on new momentum behind fission as countries search for reliable power sources.

And discussions on a phase-out or phase-down of “unabated fossil fuels” means the oil and gas sectors look set to remain in the fray.

Many industry bosses want the same things, such as improved electricity grids that nuclear plants, wind turbines and solar panels could all benefit from.

But the talks on fossil fuels – and how to pay for a massive electricity expansion – are expected to go on well beyond Tuesday’s energy-themed day.

The National has been hearing from bosses in different sectors before and after the summit as they set out their agenda.

Wind and solar

The basics The sun and wind are free – and their energy can be captured by turbines and photovoltaic cells, although only at the right times of day.

Wind and solar have expanded worldwide as they become more cost-competitive. Solar capacity has risen by more than 900 per cent worldwide over the past decade, helped by a boom in China.

The political battleground The wind sector aims to contribute as much as 40 to 50 per cent of the world’s power, Irfan Mirza, the president of the World Wind Energy Association, said in Dubai.

Chris Hewett, head of the Solar Trade Association, said: “Solar and wind are the two power technologies which are absolutely essential to deliver transition as fast as we need it, and we’re seeing that happen already globally.”

What supporters of both would like is to make it as easy as possible to connect up turbines and solar panels, even at a micro-level such as on a balcony, and start selling electricity to the grid.

Getting a permit for new wind power typically takes 29 months and it “this the kind of impediment which needs to be removed”, Mr Mirza said. In many developed countries there are “very weak grids”, he said.

A report underpinning Cop28’s key negotiating text says stronger power grids are “critical to unlocking the potential” of clean energy, but it is not yet clear whether this will be reflected in the final decision.

Nuclear

The basics Splitting the atom produces a tremendous amount of energy and accounts for about 10 per cent of global electricity production. This produces minimal carbon dioxide, although it does generate other waste.

There are 32 countries that use nuclear power, including the UAE, the US, Britain, France and Russia, under the supervision of a UN body in Vienna that checks whether their intentions are peaceful.

The political battleground: For supporters of nuclear, a level playing field with other renewables is “all we ask”, Tom Greatrex, the head of Britain’s Nuclear Industry Association, told The National before the summit began.

Leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron have sought to secure nuclear’s place in the fold at Cop28 with a declaration, backed by the UAE, that pledges to treble the “clean, dispatchable baseload power” source.

“The UAE is a very good case study to show how nuclear can contribute to reducing carbon emissions,” said Mr Greatrex, who touts nuclear’s advantages including its on-all-the-time reliability compared to wind and solar.

Opponents raise fears about hazardous waste, reliance on uranium imports from countries such as Russia and the danger of catastrophic events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. Germany has banned it on safety grounds.

But supporters are pushing for a “technology-neutral” approach that keeps nuclear as an option – look for language such as “low-emission energy systems”, which is in a first draft of the stocktake.

Another key part of the tug-of-war is whether investors will find nuclear on official menus of options that count as climate-friendly (“green taxonomies” in policy jargon), although that debate takes place outside Cop28.

Fossil fuels

The basics Burning hydrocarbons – mainly coal, oil and gas – has powered the industrialised world for centuries but the realisation that this fuels climate change has turned the tide against them.

Still, coal remained the world’s largest electricity source last year, followed by natural gas, while transport and domestic heating remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

The political battleground The future of fossil fuels is the primary talking point for the rest of Cop28.

The summit’s President Dr Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, has described a phase-down of fossil fuels as inevitable.

Fifty leading oil and gas companies including Adnoc, Aramco and Shell signalled their intentions on day three of Cop28 by signing a charter committing to net-zero operations by 2050 and clamp down on gas flaring.

But the exact language that emerges from the global stocktake – on which countries are expected to base their national climate plans – will be closely fought over.

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Adding the qualifier “unabated fossil fuels” would mean they could still be used if emissions are reduced, for example by carbon capture, a compromise that the US and EU – but not everyone – is on board with. Then there is the question of a “phase-out” versus a “phase-down”.

“We imagine that this issue of how we’re going to address fossil fuels will be at the top of the list” of negotiations in the second half of the summit, said top EU negotiator Jacob Werksman.

Hydrogen

The basics Not really a power source in itself, hydrogen is more like electricity – whether it is climate-friendly or not depends on how it is produced.

At the moment it is only made in small quantities, much of which is “grey” hydrogen produced with natural gas rather than the “green” kind.

The political battleground Many are still mulling how to approach hydrogen, which the technical stocktake report calls a possible solution in certain sectors.

Dr Al Jaber said on Monday that a declaration on hydrogen would be issued at Cop28 in the coming days.

Tipped as a fuel source in sectors such as aviation, shipping and heavy industry when it is impractical to turn to electricity, the UAE’s Masdar has said a “green wave is coming” in which hydrogen will be produced in sustainable ways.

However, Finland’s Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen said hydrogen should not “become a buzzword or a goal itself” and is best reserved for industrial use.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 8:22 AM