COP26 and the need for Europe to press ahead with energy transition

November 15, 2021

It’s fair to say COP26 has been a mixed bag. A coal phaseout agreement, albeit one without the world’s biggest coal power users, exemplifies the challenge ahead. Meaning, how do we get every economy in the world to reduce emissions to the collective 1.5°C target?

In addition, phasing out fossil fuels without concerted effort to replace these sources of power generation with clean alternatives and a fit-for-purpose power system, will only drive-up energy prices, as consumers in European countries reliant on natural gas have been lately experiencing.

On the positive side, COP26 included several developments aimed at facilitating the transition to cleaner power systems. For example, 40+ world leaders, including the heads of US, India, EU member-states and China, signed up to a Breakthrough Agenda. According to this Agenda, countries and businesses will coordinate and strengthen their climate action each year to “dramatically scale and speed up” development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs within this decade.

Another promising outcome regards the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) that aims to harness the full potential of renewable resources globally, through greater interconnection of electricity grids to transport the electricity generated to areas in need of it.

Climate change is the here and now

If one thing was made clear during COP26 it’s that 2021 has to be the year that climate change is taken seriously, because its impact around the world is being felt now. And felt acutely in areas as diverse as the Mediterranean, Russia, and the US that were hit by one of the worst heatwaves ever recorded, which resulted in devastating wildfires.

In Greece specifically, where Sunlight’s manufacturing plant, recycling plant and headquarters are located, from early July through to August wildfires raged across the country; from north to south, on islands and landlocked areas, from the regions to the capital.

At Sunlight we sadly witnessed events first-hand, when such a wildfire broke out not even a kilometre from our offices in the northern suburbs of Athens. We were lucky. None of us was endangered and there were no damages on assets or infrastructure. Others were not. Thousands of homes and livelihoods were destroyed resulting in mass evacuations, while precious ecosystems were razed.

IPCC Report

According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of the climate through “strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (…) to reach net zero CO2 emissions.”

The Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), to be completed in 2022. And it states that over the next 20 years global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. The report also details potential future scenarios that will occur unless deep reductions in CO2 and other GHG emissions are achieved in the coming decades.

As a business located in a region of the world vulnerable to extreme weather events, our experience this summer have taught us two things, highlighted by the IPCC report:

  • Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
  • Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation, and the severity of wet and dry events.

Reality check and need for action

IPCC bases its assessment on improved observational datasets of historical warming, as well as progress in the scientific understanding of the climate system’s response to human-caused GHG emissions. Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in GHG emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach, the report also warns.

IPCC Working Group I co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte describes the report as a “reality check” and notes that the Panel’s work gives a much clearer picture of the past, present, and future climate. This is essential, says the IPCC, for understanding where we are heading, what can be done, and how humanity can cope.

At Sunlight, we see ourselves as part of the solution, fully supporting the transition to a net zero future. And we do that by developing innovative applications in the battery value chain and more environment-friendly storage solutions, to render sustainable energy more reliable and accessible.

As clearly transpired in the recently concluded COP26, we must take immediate action to reverse the global CO2-induced surface temperature increase. What we must not do, is take the extreme weather events witnessed in 2021 as a sign that we are already too late and use it as an excuse to avoid acting.

Decarbonising energy is not a simple switch

Nations on every continent are in need of energy to power their economies, resulting in a global industry around the extraction of fossil fuels. To decarbonise, the switch from our legacy global energy system to one that uses abundant, clean, and renewable sources is not a simple shift from one model to another.

Critics of renewables point to the variability of wind and solar as the Achilles heel of clean energy. The reality, however, is more nuanced and the appetite for renewable energy projects couldn’t be clearer. In September, we witnessed the biggest sovereign green sales across the globe, while the EU sold its inaugural green bond in October.

The need for more renewables on the grid is forcing the entire energy system to adapt. This is from the traditional model of centralised power production and distribution, sending energy flows to consuming loads; to more distributed, smarter systems based on bidirectional power flows, generated by renewable power plants at the grid edge. And Sunlight participates in innovative R&D projects that aim just that: i.e., to create “smart” and reliable energy grids, while also investing and producing innovative energy storage products that support renewables and off-grid installations.

Commenting on Sunlight’s efforts towards the fight against climate change, CEO Lampros Bisalas stated: “The results of COP26, coupled with record temperatures, wildfires and the release of the recent IPCC report, is a fierce wake up call for the battery sector. We need to commit to serious R&D to design sustainable energy storage systems. And we, at Sunlight, are committed to that: by applying a circular economy model through which we recycle and produce more than half of our own demand in lead; by investing in R&D to develop lithium cells and modules; and by planning to establish an additional recycling operation for lithium-ion batteries. We’re proud of our achievements and are looking forward to implementing our plans in contribution to the world’s transition to net zero.”