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The Role of Renewables in Decarbonisation



Written By: Jagriti Shahi  Introduction:

As the world grapples with the urgent need to mitigate climate change, the imperative for decarbonization has become increasingly apparent. At the forefront of this global effort are renewable energy sources, which play a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning towards a sustainable energy future. In this article, we delve into the multifaceted role of renewables in decarbonization, exploring their benefits, challenges, and the path forward.

Figure: An overview and possible decarbonisation pathways for India - Source: Mckinsey & Company The Rise of Renewables:


Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, have witnessed remarkable growth and technological advancements in recent years. This surge can be attributed to several factors, including declining costs, policy support, and heightened environmental awareness. Notably, renewables have emerged as competitive alternatives to fossil fuels, offering cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions.


Decarbonization Imperative:


Decarbonization, the process of reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, is crucial for mitigating climate change and achieving global climate targets, such as those outlined in the Paris Agreement. The energy sector, being a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, holds immense potential for decarbonization through the adoption of renewable energy technologies.


The Role of Renewables:


Figure: Growth of Renewables in the past 5 years

Renewable energy sources play a multifaceted role in decarbonization across various sectors:


  • Power Generation: Renewables are instrumental in decarbonizing electricity generation, displacing carbon-intensive sources like coal and natural gas. The scalability and versatility of renewables enable the deployment of clean energy infrastructure on a global scale, driving the transition towards low-carbon electricity grids.

  • Transportation: The electrification of transportation, facilitated by renewable energy, is pivotal for reducing emissions from the transport sector. Electric vehicles (EVs) powered by renewable electricity offer a sustainable alternative to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, thereby curbing emissions and improving air quality.

  • Heating and Cooling: Renewable energy technologies, such as solar thermal and geothermal systems, hold promise for decarbonizing heating and cooling in buildings and industrial processes. By harnessing renewable heat sources, it is possible to reduce reliance on fossil fuels for heating purposes, contributing to overall emissions reduction.

  • Industry and Agriculture: Renewable energy integration in industrial processes and agriculture can mitigate emissions associated with manufacturing, processing, and agricultural activities. From solar-powered factories to bioenergy production from agricultural waste, renewables offer innovative solutions for decarbonizing these sectors.


Renewables in Low Carbon Construction:


Figure: Primary Energy Mix,% Source: Mckinsey & Company


Low carbon construction encompasses practices and technologies aimed at minimizing carbon emissions associated with building materials, construction processes, and building operation. Renewable energy plays a crucial role in this context through several avenues:


  • Renewable Energy Integration: Incorporating renewable energy systems, such as solar panels and wind turbines, into building designs reduces reliance on carbon-intensive grid electricity for powering homes and commercial buildings. Additionally, utilizing renewable energy for heating and cooling purposes in buildings mitigates emissions associated with traditional heating fuels like natural gas.

  • Sustainable Materials: Renewable resources can be utilized to produce sustainable building materials, such as bamboo, timber, and recycled materials. These materials not only have lower embodied carbon compared to traditional counterparts but also contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable land management.

  • Energy Efficiency: Renewable energy complements energy-efficient building design and technologies, enhancing overall energy performance and reducing operational carbon emissions. Integrating renewables with energy-efficient measures, such as insulation, efficient lighting, and smart building controls, maximizes energy savings and minimizes environmental impact.


Carbon Capture, Use & Storage (CCUS):


CCUS technologies are instrumental in capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes and power generation facilities, preventing their release into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 can then be utilized in various applications or stored underground, effectively reducing net emissions. Renewables play a vital role in CCUS through the following mechanisms:


  • Powering CCUS Facilities: Renewable energy sources provide low-carbon electricity to power CCUS facilities, reducing the carbon footprint of the capture and storage process. By utilizing renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels, CCUS operations can achieve significant emissions reductions while ensuring sustainable operation.

  • Renewable Hydrogen Production: Renewable energy, particularly solar and wind power, can be utilized to produce renewable hydrogen through electrolysis. This renewable hydrogen serves as a clean energy carrier for industrial processes and transportation, enabling decarbonization in sectors where direct electrification may be challenging.

  • Carbon Utilization: Renewable energy can facilitate carbon utilization technologies, where captured CO2 is converted into valuable products such as synthetic fuels, chemicals, and building materials. By coupling CCUS with renewable energy-driven conversion processes, carbon emissions are not only mitigated but also utilized in a circular and sustainable manner.


Challenges and Opportunities:


While the integration of renewables with low carbon construction and CCUS offers significant potential for decarbonization, several challenges must be addressed. These include technological limitations, cost competitiveness, policy frameworks, and public acceptance. Overcoming these challenges requires collaborative efforts from governments, industry stakeholders, and research institutions to drive innovation, scale deployment, and create supportive regulatory environments.


Figure: Sector Challenges, Source: Mckinsey & Company


The Path Forward:


To harness the synergies between renewables, low carbon construction, and CCUS effectively, concerted action is needed at the global, national, and local levels. This includes:


  • Setting ambitious decarbonization targets and policies that incentivize the adoption of renewables, promote low carbon construction practices, and support CCUS deployment.

  • Investing in research, development, and innovation to advance renewable energy technologies, low carbon materials, and CCUS solutions.

  • Fostering collaboration among governments, businesses, and communities to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and achieve net-zero emissions.


Conclusion:


Renewable energy, coupled with innovative approaches such as low carbon construction and CCUS, holds immense promise in driving decarbonization across multiple sectors. By leveraging the synergies between these strategies, we can mitigate carbon emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and pave the way for a sustainable future. Now is the time to embrace renewables as catalysts for transformative change and forge a path towards a low-carbon society.

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