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The power in, and of, NDCs

The Paris Agreement is built on Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. In them, country parties pledge what they will do within their borders to help keep global temperature rise “well below” 2C. Most developed country NDCs are based on economy-wide mitigation targets, like the EU’s 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 from a 1990 baseline. Most developing countries seek mitigation through sectoral pledges, like conserving additional forest acreage and increasing the share of renewable energy (RE) used to make electricity. The World Resources Institute (WRI)’s recent webinar, Enhancing NDCs in 2020: Opportunities in the Power Sector, spotlighted opportunities for revising NDC energy sector targets. Importantly, it emphasized moving beyond simply increasing RE targets to swiftly decrease emissions during the next decade.

Globally, the energy sector still produces the majority of GHG emissions, even though some countries have moved almost completely off fossil fuels. UNEP underscores, in its 2019 annual gap report, that this sector has the highest potential for making big impact reductions by 2030. It outlines five energy transition options, including expanding RE for electrification and phasing out coal, decarbonizing transport (via electric mobility) and energy-intensive industries (like steel and iron production), and avoiding future emissions while improving energy access.

This webinar’s experts — from the International Energy Agency (IEA), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the US Department of Energy, and, of course, WRI — emphasized the importance of NDCs addressing grid flexibility, existing coal assets, “institutional changes,” and synergies between power generators and end users. They gave specific examples of how countries can revise in 2020 to connect these energy sector strategies with specific NDC targets, like:

  • increasing energy storage and smart meter deployment by specific amounts;
  • referencing strategies for addressing stranded coal assets;
  • restructuring power institutions and markets; and
  • doing cross sectoral planning, e.g. between electricity production, efficiency, and end users.

WRI has recently issued this working paper that captures recommendations for specific NDC enhancements for the power sector (as well as for transport, agriculture, and forestry.)

IEA, which produces the World Energy Outlook each year to help policymakers make informed national policies over a 20-year horizon, points out that RE represents the vast majority in new construction.

But legacy coal-fired plants, predominantly in SE Asia, are relatively young (average age of 14 years old) and contribute to 1/3 of global GHG emissions.

According to IEA, getting to net zero by 2050, will require tackling these legacy coal-fired plants byretrofitting the with CCS, transitioning their production use, and retirements.

NREL gave specific examples of its capacity building work in Mexico (long range planning, RE integration, aggregating large industrial demand) and in Vietnam (data sets, grid modeling, private sector investment, bulk power purchase plans, and apparel manufacturers to aggregate demand for retrofits of major industrial parks with RE and EE). Through this work, NREL is building regional and professional networks for sharing best practices.

The Grid RE Community of Practice (CoP) targets knowledge sharing and technical assistance in Asia and Africa.

The New Global Power System Transformation consortium brings together power system operators from around the world, because they are the ones implementing these changes, especially integrating large amount of RE into their grids.


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