Environmentalists, scientists and the United Nations (UN) all agree: climate changes are a great threat to maintaining human life on Earth, and the burning of fossil fuels is their greatest causes.
At a conference on climate change held in May, 2018, the UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, highlighted that global warming is the biggest “threat to our very existence”. No wonder energy is one of the entity’s major areas of action. Sustainable Development Goal number 7 (SDG 7), whose goal is to “ensure reliable, sustainable, modern, affordable access to all,” is the basis to drive environmental, social and economic sustainable energy alternatives.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for about 80% of the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide that human action emits into the atmosphere every year. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the generated pollution impacts the health of 80% of inhabitants in the planet’s urban areas.
“Investments in clean, green infrastructure need to be scaled up globally,” said Guterres. “For that, we need leadership from the finance and investment community and by local, regional and national governments who will decide on major infrastructure plans over the coming years.”
And one of the nations leading this movement is the one polluting most, China.
China: from villain to environmental activist
According to a survey by McKinsey Global Institute, the global energy demand curve is slowly decreasing. Conversely, in China, the need to supply its industries that ship goods to the entire world makes this rate steadily rise. Today, 23% of all global energy is consumed by the Chinese - the United States, second place, consumes 16%. If this trend continues, by 2035, China will consume 28% of the world’s energy, that is, one-quarter of the total.
With its energy matrix based primarily on the burning of coal, China is the nation most impacted by pollution consequences. A study by researchers from the United States, Canada, China and India revealed that, just in 2013, 5.5 million people died around the world from pollution-related health problems - 1.6 million of them, Chinese. “Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, professor at the University of British Columbia in a conference.
The most populated country in the world - 1.3 billion inhabitants today - started then a green revolution in its energy matrix. In 2017, the Chinese government announced an investment of US$ 360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 and gave up on building 85 coal-fired power plants. Just in the first year of the program, the financial contribution was US$ 126.6 billion and the UN recognized the Chinese effort in producing solar energy: two years before the deadline, the country overcame its goal, which was to generate 105 gigawatts from photovoltaic modules - enough to supply 30 million residences.
The budget China is allocating to intensify the use of renewable energy today is higher than the sum of annual investments by the United States and the European Union. Moreover, the Chinese invest, annually, US$ 32 billion in energy renewable sources beyond its borders - the Chinese energy company leads the global value chain in renewables.
Besides the environmental offset, this set of actions raises the energy market interest in the country. According to EY advisory, the Chinese energy market is the most attractive in the world.
Alternative energies boost economy and labor market
According to the UN Environment, 20% of energy consumed globally today come from renewable sources, and this rate is growing fast. The entity estimates that in ten years’ time clean energy matrices will be more affordable than fossil fuels and that, by 2050, 100% of the global energy will be clean.
The UN report reveals that the interests of the conventional energy industry, based on burning of fossil fuel, are one of the main barriers for renewables to reach 100%, especially in the USA, Japan, and Africa. However, the report also cites that the global economy has increased 3% for three consecutive years, but emissions of hazardous gases related to the energy sector have declined.
According to the report How technology is reshaping supply and demand for natural resources, developed by the McKinsey Global Institute, this is a future trend. Less intensive use of energy and increase in energy efficiency may impact global production by 40% to 70% in the next 20 years.
Renewables may also boost the labor market. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 24 million new jobs will be generated worldwide by 2030 if the right policies to promote the green economy are applied - 2.5 million of them just in energy generation sectors.
According to the report The 2018 World Employment and Social Outlook: Greening with Jobs, developed by the same entity, sustainable activities already employ 1.2 billion workers. “The green economy can enable millions more people to overcome poverty, and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations. This is a very positive message of opportunity in a world of complex choices,” said ILO Deputy Director-General in a statement.
Alternative energies in Brazil
The same document drafted by the ILO points out that Latin America is one of the greatest beneficiaries of green energy-targeted policies. “At least 1 million jobs will be created as a result of the use of renewable energies, greater energy efficiency in buildings and greater demand of electric cars, as well as other technological changes in consumption patterns to combat climate changes,” said Guillermo Montt, of the ILO, in a statement.
And Brazil is one place that can contribute most to the planet. High incidence of solar rays and wind, hydrography with voluminous waterfalls and large-scale production of biofuels make the country one of the greatest fields for clean energy in the world.
“Brazil has many strategic advantages regarding energy generation. First, the country has a huge hydroelectric potential that’s almost depleted, unless new hydropower plants are built in the Amazon, with much more significant environmental impact. Brazil also has a huge potential for electric power generation, through solar and wind energies, especially in the Northeast,” said Paulo Artaxo, Brazilian physicist who was a member of the IPCC committee, entity awarded with the 2007 Peace Nobel Prize.
According to 2016 consolidated data, the Brazilian energy matrix has 36.5% of its production from petroleum and derivatives, 17.5% from sugarcane derivatives, 12.6% from hydropower and 12.3% from natural gas (less polluting fossil fuel), and other sources that sum up 21%. This represents 43.5% of renewable sources in the country, a share much higher than the global average of 14.1%.
In electric power, Brazil has a more efficient performance: 82% come from clean sources, nearly four times the global average. Out of this total, 68.1% come from hydropower plants, 8.2% of biomass, and solar and wind energy fields already represent 5.4%.
“There’s this world trend of expanding renewable energy, especially solar and wind. This phenomenon also occurs in Brazil; we can already see a significant expansion of energy generation from both sources in the Brazilian energy matrix. We expect that investments in the coming years will be directed to these segments that present great potential (wind and solar irradiation) and competitive prices against other sources,” said Rui Altieri, president of the Electric Energy Trading Chamber (CCEE) Board of Directors.
The installed capacity for wind and photovoltaic solar farms in Brazil is, respectively, 13.1 GW and 1.3 GW, and it might grow: there are over 180 contracted projects, from generation auctions, capable of adding 3.6 GW of wind energy and 1.4 GW of solar energy by 2024.
On the other hand, the country is walking on thin ice when it comes to energy efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published in 2016 a study on the performance of the 23 countries leading consumption in the world; Brazil places the penultimate position.
To improve performance, the way is by diversifying matrices.
“Solar and wind energies are technologies available which are feasible, with competitive price. Brazil is missing a great opportunity to become more competitive globally by not adopting large-scale generation of these energies,” ponders Paulo Artaxo.
“The country’s economy can benefit from attracting investments, generating jobs, strengthening the machinery industries for these plants and even reducing energy costs, benefiting all Brazilian economic activity,” added Altieri.
Published 06 December 2018