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Virtual parliamentary roundtable on large-scale renewable energy

The roundtables held on 14 and 28 July were co-organised by the Climate Parliament and the Energy and Economic Growth (EEG) research programme, with support from FCDO, and co-sponsored by the Pan-African Parliament. Ms Swetha Bhagwat from the Florence School of Regulation, Ms Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP and Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and Mr Michael Taylor from IRENA discussed pathways to achieve cheap large-scale renewable energy with parliamentarians from Bangladesh, the Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Mr Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, Environment Management Officer from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources of Zambia, also participated in the 14th July session.

IRENA has gathered data that shows a very significant decrease in cost of renewable energy over the last ten years, especially for solar and wind power. This will increasingly undercut the operating costs of existing coal plants. In most parts of the world, renewable energy is the lowest cost source of new electricity: 56% of utility-scale capacity added in 2019 cost less than the cheapest new coal options. Mr Taylor highlighted that this cost reduction is due to different factors, such as improved technology, economies of scale, more competitive supply chains and developer experience.

Policy and regulatory decision-making is also a key component for the development of renewable energy. As Ms Bhagwat emphasised, regulation creates a framework that ensures a level playing field to all involved stakeholders for the integration of renewable energy. This includes market design, and operation and planning of future power systems. In this dynamic era of rapid innovation, regulation that does not reflect change will lead to negative outcomes.

Ms Joyce Msuya focused her presentation on the opportunities and challenges for renewables in South Asia. The dependence on fossil fuel imports is still on the rise and this creates energy security and environmental concerns. However, the South Asian region has a tremendous potential for large scale renewable energy deployment. Legislators have a key role to play by setting targets and policy frameworks to achieve 100% renewable energy in line with the SDGs and the Paris agreement. They can fight to remove subsidies for fossil fuel, increase fuel taxes, promote fiscal policies or create political pressure to allocate state funds toward renewable energy projects development. Ms Joyce Msuya also emphasised on the importance of integration to facilitate the growth of renewable energy, allowing access to a more diverse pool of resources. Cross- border energy trading of renewable energy can help substitute fossil fuel imports. All these measures should be implemented using Covid-19 recovery packages for the development of a greener economy.

Several parliamentarians agreed that the transition to cheap renewable energy involves technical aspects, but remains mainly a political issue. The data shows that bioenergy, geothermal, hydraulic, solar PV and onshore wind generation are all cheaper than fossil fuel generation. The cost reduction will benefit consumers and should enhance investment in renewables. Without political will, proper incentives and the involvement of local communities in new renewable projects, people will continue to turn to fossil energy. Moreover, despite the potential for renewable energy in developing countries, There is still a lack of human resources. Governments need to make a fair transition by implementing infrastructure and training, and by absorbing job losses from the fossil fuel energy sector. Regional trade must develop in order for large-scale renewables to become profitable. Regulatory and policy frameworks should be adopted to enable the development of low-cost large-scale renewable energy projects.

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