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Front-loading a net zero future – a few key transition steps away

This autumn, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – will bring the world together to accelerate action toward a net zero future. We already have the necessary technology to reach worldwide carbon neutrality. Will we soon have decisions to fast-track net zero?

This autumn, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – will bring the world together to accelerate action toward a net zero future. We already have the necessary technology to reach worldwide carbon neutrality. Will we soon have decisions to fast-track net zero?

Speed is of the essence in climate change mitigation. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stresses that immediate, large-scale reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are imperative if we hope to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

To reach net zero by 2050, global CO2 emissions must drop 45% by 2030 in comparison to 2010. While reaching this goal will require great effort on a global scale, it is achievable – and it comes with a silver lining. As we save our planet, countries will also reap considerable cost savings. 

Wärtsilä Energy’s new report – Front-loading Net Zero – showcases how rapidly shifting towards 100% renewable energy systems would help mitigate climate change while simultaneously cutting overall electricity costs around the globe.

A transition from fossil-based to 100% renewable electricity generation would, for example, halve India’s electricity costs by 2050, while California and Germany could cut costs by 17% and 8% by 2040 respectively.

“A rapid acceleration in renewable energy output can provide the near-term emissions reductions that are crucial for holding the global temperature rise to 1.5C°, but only if pathways to 100% renewables are fully embraced by energy leaders. The time to act is now,” says Håkan Agnevall, President and CEO of Wärtsilä Corporation.

Agnevall emphasises that Wärtsilä’s strategy can be summarised to one word: decarbonisation. Wärtsilä is committed to enabling sustainable societies through its energy and marine businesses.

“We already have all the technologies needed to achieve global net zero electricity generation – and expeditious progress is being made in the development of future fuels such as green hydrogen and green ammonia, as well as in carbon capture, and other innovations that will help decarbonise the shipping industry,” Agnevall states.


Flexibility is the key to decarbonisation

Wärtsilä Energy’s Front-loading Net Zero report models cost-optimal pathways to 100% renewable power systems in three different markets – Germany, India, and California – and also includes on-the-ground insights from Wärtsilä Energy’s experts on the risks and opportunities facing Australia, Chile, and the UK during the energy transition.

The report confirms that decarbonisation is not just feasible – it is technically and commercially viable with technologies that are already available at scale.

The key to decarbonisation is flexibility and technologies that already exist. In addition to harnessing solar, wind and other renewable power sources, countries must manage sudden surges in demand or drops in renewable generation by rapidly adding both energy storage and thermal balancing power plants that can run on sustainable fuels.

“Our modelling shows that it is viable for all energy systems to be fully decarbonised before 2050, and that accelerating the shift to renewables, as the main source of electricity, coupled with flexibility, will help economies to thrive,” says Sushil Purohit, President, Wärtsilä Energy and EVP, Wärtsilä.

“We have all of the technologies that we need to rapidly shift to net zero energy. The benefits of renewable-led systems are cumulative and self-reinforcing – the more we have, the greater the benefits – so it is vital that leaders and power producers come together now to front-load net zero this decade,” Purohit adds. 

A central finding of Wärtsilä Energy’s Front-loading Net Zero report is that the sooner we move forward, the greater the paybacks. A smoother transition to a decarbonised world is within our reach if utilities commit to front-loading their efforts and investment strategies.

Wärtsilä Energy’s modelling of energy systems in both advanced and developing economies, from California to India, supports the inarguable economic case for utilities to lead the transition, rather than being shaped by it.

“It is the job of every power company to now put strategies and capital in place to navigate to net zero and to embed flexibility at the heart of grids to unlock 100% renewable energy systems,” Purohit remarks.

“Not only will this open a wealth of new commercial opportunities in a transformed power market, but our very future also depends on it,” Purohit reminds.

What we need is ambitious legislation

For Roger Holm, President of Wärtsilä Marine Power, a carbon-free future is more than just a passion; it is a tangible reality.

"Many claim that the road to decarbonisation is paved with uncertainties. I see this differently; if we want to achieve the IMO targets, 60-100% of the global fleet will need to transition to green fuels. This transition is unprecedented and cannot happen overnight. The technology to enable this transition exists today and there is no time to waste."

For the past 20 years, maritime has not been marked by monumental changes, but rather incremental improvement. The current climate crisis is a wake-up call.

With almost two centuries’ experience and a strong history of innovation - the first dual-fuel engine in 1995 and the world's first vessel to run on renewable methanol in 2015 – Wärtsilä shows no signs of slowing down. They are currently focusing on a variety of alternative fuels and this summer they launched a major test programme towards carbon-free solutions with hydrogen and ammonia tests where they successfully ran an engine on 70% ammonia at a typical marine load range. With plans to demonstrate an engine running on 100% ammonia in the next few months.

Wärtsilä also has a strong understanding of zero-emission, green hydrogen, and its dual-fuel gas engines can already run on blends of up to 25% hydrogen. Their ambition is that by 2025, their engines will be capable of running on 100% green hydrogen.

 Holm acknowledges that decarbonisation brings with it significant costs for operators and owners but reminds them that the business imperative for action is clear and that the longer they take to embark on this journey, the steeper the cost will be.

“Companies who triumph will be those who develop a decarbonisation strategy for their entire fleet. There is no ‘one size fits all’. We encourage customers to reach out so we can support them on the right technology and solutions for their vessels, fleet, and business” states Holm.

Holm reminds us that “decarbonising maritime will take more than technology and that ecosystem collaboration, regulations and legislation will be key in responding to this transformational challenge.”

"There has been a noticeable shift as the industry prepares to step-up its sustainability game to meet 2030 & 2050 IMO targets. However, as many search for the elusive ‘silver bullet’, we have to keep reminding ourselves that the technology to drastically reduce emissions already exists. This is no longer a question of ‘when’ but ‘how’. We have the technology and know-how to make a real difference now," Holm explains.

“What we need, is action! World and industry leaders have to walk the talk. What we need is investment, infrastructure, and legislation to fast-track this journey." he concludes.

Clear, deliverable pathways to 100% renewables

A monumental worldwide energy transition is underway. Håkan Agnevall, Sushil Purohit and Roger Holm concur that the global energy sector will inevitably move from fossil-based systems of energy production to 100% renewable energy systems. It is no longer a question of if we will make the journey, but when we will arrive at a decarbonised future.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Wärtsilä Energy’s Front-loading Net Zero report is intended to rally government and business leaders to work together to avert the climate emergency.

“The policies, strategies, and capital must be put in place to transform energy systems this decade, not somewhere down the line,” Roger Holm emphasises.

“In our report, we model clear, deliverable pathways to 100% renewables in vastly different energy systems. It demonstrates that affordable net zero economies are in reach for every country at COP26,” Sushil Purohit says.

Regardless of where countries start, the building blocks for 100% renewable electricity are the same everywhere. The world is now facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically scale-up renewable generation, energy storage, and flexibility to bridge the gap to 100% renewable energy without adding to the cost of energy.

“Momentum is critical – countries and companies must act now. Front-loading investments in renewables and flexibility leads to reaping the greatest benefits over the long-term. It makes economic and environmental sense,” Håkan Agnevall concludes. 

Written by
Joanna Sinclair