Renewable Energy Solutions Learn how to correctly analyse this topic.

Sarah Simon

13 min Read Time | December 24th 2021

Key takeaways

1

This topic addresses how companies are making efforts to transition to renewable energy.

2

It is in the form of products and/or services that allow individuals and other businesses to produce, store and distribute renewable energy, which should be measured through assessing installed capacity or how widely used the product/service is.

3

Investments can be mentioned as a secondary point to the analysis if the direct positive impact can be measured.

The analysis should not discuss renewable energy generation for the company's own consumption.

Executive Summary

Today, many companies are working to provide renewable energy or developing technologies for easier, affordable, and widespread access to renewable energy.

This topic addresses how companies are making efforts to transition to renewable energy and facilitating this transition for others. It assesses the impact of the products and services that allow individuals and other businesses to use, produce, store and distribute renewable energy.

The analysis should not include the renewable energy produced by the company for its own consumption. 

It should only treat the energy produced that is supplied to others (households or businesses) for consumption.

What is it?

Fossil fuels are responsible for driving one of the most important technological developments in human history - The Industrial Revolution. Ever since the shift to mechanization in the early 19th century, fossil fuels, namely, coal, petroleum (also referred to as crude oil or oil), and natural gas have been the primary source of energy that powers the world.

Today, around 84% of the world’s energy is derived from these fossil fuels which have been formed over millions of years and will not be restored on the human timescale. Hence, these are not renewable and will be exhausted in almost a century.

The main concern with fossil fuels is the greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, emitted. These gases trap the sun’s heat and have raised the earth’s average temperature by over 1°C since the 1800s. We have just begun to witness the catastrophic consequences of global warming accompanied by climate change which includes sea-level rise, drought, and intrusion of saltwater that have forced people to relocate.

Hence, there is an urgent need for “renewable” sources of energy i.e., sources that are naturally restored on a human timescale. More importantly, most of these are also clean sources of energy that do not emit planet-warming greenhouse gases and thus help in mitigating climate change. They are integral in meeting the objectives of The Paris Agreement that intends to limit the average global temperature rise below 1.5°C or at the most 2°C from pre-industrial levels.

The renewable sources of energy are:

  • Sun or solar energy obtained from radiation emitted by the Sun
  • Wind energy obtained from the kinetic energy of air in motion
  • Water - utilizing the kinetic energy of water in motion
    • Hydropower from the flow of naturally moving water, usually of rivers
    • Marine energy from tides, waves, and ocean currents
  • Geothermal energy from heat below the earth’s surface
  • Bioenergy obtained from biomass and biofuels
    • Wood and wood waste
    • Biodiesel
    • Municipal solid waste
    • Biogas and landfill gas (methane)
    • Ethanol
  • Hydrogen Fuel cells that convert chemical energy of hydrogen (combined with oxygen) into electricity


Caution: Although burning wood biomass for energy is considered carbon-neutral, its use as a clean source of energy is hotly debated. It is justified on the basis that the CO2 released on burning will be sequestered as new trees grow. But burning wood releases CO2 instantly and the time lag between sequestration and emission is usually high that elevating the risk of not meeting the Paris Agreement Targets.

Nuclear Energy is another energy form that produces zero emission. But its classification as a renewable source of energy is disputed. The fuel that is mostly used (uranium-235) is often considered ‘non-renewable’ and the radioactive waste generated is a long-term threat to the environment. Hence, the qualification of nuclear energy as a clean or green source of energy is a topic of debate.

Disputed renewable energies should be discussed as a secondary point in your analysis, whilst remaining critical.


Sources

https://ourworldindata.org/energy-mix
https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/years-of-fossil-fuel-reserves-left
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/distribution-fossil-fuels/
https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/global-temperatures
https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy
https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/
https://www.energy.gov/clean-energy
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/climate-change/europe-s-biomass-problem-68695
https://unfccc.int/blog/a-brief-guide-to-renewables
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_proposed_as_renewable_energy
E SDG PRINT 07

SDG Choice

Impact assessment

In your analysis, always describe the what, how much, and the who, following the IMP framework. Keep in mind the Logic Model and focus on the outputs, outcomes, and impact which are tangible effects, as opposed to intentions, inputs, or activities. Learn more about these in this article - Step 1: Understand Impact.

Be critical when discussing Nuclear Energy, Biomass, and other disputed renewable energies. Do not focus on these as the only renewable solutions. They can be secondary information in the note.


Introduction

The introduction should describe the broader impact issue to set the stage for the reader.

It should aim to answer the following questions:

  • Why do we need renewable energy solutions?
  • What is the product or service that will be talked about?
  • General background information on the use and benefits of the particular product or service


Core Analysis

Many oil and gas companies are looking to add renewable energy to their portfolios. They do so by building or investing in renewable energy projects like solar and wind farms, geothermal and hydroelectric facilities, etc.

Sometimes, they provide support to renewable energy projects in the form of technical expertise or other operations.

They can facilitate access to renewable electricity by installing charging units or providing access to clean energy and electricity in off-grid areas.

They are also involved in the development of biofuels and hydrogen fuels.


Assessing the products and services by a company that allows individuals and other businesses to use, produce, store and distribute renewable energy.

The analysis should discuss the following points:

  • Total installed renewable energy capacity

  • Percentage (and type) of renewable energy

  • Benchmark the company’s capacity using the total installed capacity globally or in a particular country

  • How much GHG emissions were avoided

  • How many people benefit from the renewable energy supplied (threshold: minimum of 100,000 beneficiaries)


Not to include : The company’s renewable energy use or production for its own consumption


How to attribute the impact to a company


Option 1

Companies usually provide the data regarding their installed capacity of renewable energy and how many people potentially benefit from it. The installed capacity is in the units of Power i.e., GW or MW.

If the number of beneficiaries is not disclosed by the company, external sources or studies can sometimes be used to estimate this number.

Option 2

Another way is to convert the capacity into the estimated amount of annual energy it provides (units of energy MWh or GWh) using external sources.

Further, the number of beneficiaries can be estimated using the per capita energy consumption for a particular country or calculators like the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Similarly, the amount of CO2e emissions avoided can sometimes be estimated using external studies.


Example:

If a geothermal energy power plant has an installed capacity of 3,000 MW, we can use the following calculation to estimate the amount of energy it produces in a year.

Geothermal Power generation has a capacity factor of at least 90%. The capacity factor indicates how often the plant actually operates during a certain period of time.

3,000 MW × 0.9 × 365 days × 24 hours = 23.6 million MWh

23.6 million MWh of energy is sufficient for the energy needs of around 2 million US homes.

If a company does not create, for instance, a renewable energy farm on its own from beginning to end, then it is more interesting to know how widely used the renewable energy product is.

For example:

  • Siemens producing wind turbines: is the product widely used? For instance, the scale can be shown by stating that it is used in 80% of wind farms or is the top-selling wind turbine in the world.
  • If you cannot find a specific project where the farm is only using the company's product, then the analysis can discuss the installed capacity of X amount of MW or MWh.


When discussing investments, if it can be clearly demonstrated that there was a positive impact, such as realising a project with X amount of installed energy, then it can be mentioned as a secondary point to the analysis.

If the positive impact generated from the investment is vague, such as green bonds, where a company spent X million USD on renewable energy, then it is better not to discuss it because it is about future impact.


Make sure to describe the scale of the impact by taking into account:

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many people are concerned? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?


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