COP26 and solar satellites for net-zero emissions


The conference remained more focused on emission reductions than on the provisions of support by developed countries to developing countries as outlined in a summary by UN-Energy. It highlighted key recommendations and milestones towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all – and net-zero emissions from the Ministerial Thematic Forumskey elements of the global roadmap  that included:

  • Close the energy access gap: Provide access to electricity for the 760 million people worldwide who lack it and ensure clean cooking solutions for the 2.6 billion people still relying on harmful fuels.
  • Rapidly transition to clean energy: Abandon all coal plants in the pipeline and reduce coal power capacity by 50% by 2030. Rapidly scale up energy transition solutions to reach 8,000 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 by increasing the annual rate of energy efficiency from 0.8% to 3.0%.
  • Leave no one behind: Integrate equity and equality in energy-sector policy by planning and financing, creating green energy jobs, and mainstreaming energy-sector policies and strategies into strategies to ensure a just energy transition.
  • Mobilize adequate and well-directed finance: Triple clean energy investment globally by 2030 to accelerate access to finance. Phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies to support market-based clean energy transitions. Create enabling policy and regulatory frameworks to leverage private sector investment in clean energy.
  • Harness innovation, technology, and data: Expand the supply of energy innovation that addresses key gaps and increases demand for clean and sustainable energy technologies and innovation through market-oriented policies, harmonized international standards, and carbon pricing mechanisms.

The COP26 conference made history for being the first climate summit to explicitly include the “phasedown of coal” in its decision and laid out new rules for carbon market mechanisms commonly referred to as Article 6. This was following a recent analysis estimated that the world would save around US$300 billion annually by 2030 if a global carbon market were in place.

World's first partnership for an interconnected solar grid, known as the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) was also launched by the International Solar Alliance (ISA), India Presidency of the ISA, the U.K. COP Presidency in partnership with the World Bank Group at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, an ISA statement said. The announcement was accompanied by the One Sun declaration.

COP26 resulted in commitments for billions of investments in climate finance and the phase-out of coal-fired generation in the coming decades, alongside an increased urgency to control greenhouse gas emissions to control global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Pledges to reach net-zero 

COP26 was widely billed as a critical event for securing meaningful commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Countries put forth emissions-cutting targets, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), above pre-industrial levels, far in excess of the 1.5C set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The UNFCCC updated its synthesis of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The revised NDC synthesis report (FCCC/PA/CMA/2021/8/Rev.1),  updated key findings of the full report and confirmed a projected increase in global emissions in 2030 for all available NDCs, which may lead to a global average temperature rise of about 2.7°C by the end of the century.

According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s Net Zero Tracker, Canada, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. have signed net-zero commitments into law, with Germany and Sweden aiming to reach carbon neutrality already by 2045. Chile, Fiji, and Ireland have proposed net-zero legislation. Forty-five countries, including major emitters such as China and the U.S., have net-zero goals reflected in policy documents, and almost 80 are considering targets.

According to the UNFCCC, 733 cities, 31 regions, 3,067 businesses, 173 of the biggest investors, and 622 higher education institutions have also pledged to “race to zero.”

This year’s Emissions Gap Report found that the “latest climate promises for 2030 put the world on track for a temperature rise this century of at least 2.7°C,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP). He added that countries “need to make their net-zero pledges more concrete, ensuring these commitments are included in NDCs, and action brought forward”  by the end of 2022. (Previously, countries were asked to submit new pledges every five years.)

Harness innovation, technology: Solar power satellites

Currently, six of the world's highest CO2 emitting countries – China, the U.S., EU, India, Russia, and Japan – are investing and developing Solar Power Satellite (SPS) systems to produce clean energy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without the atmospheric, day/night light interference. And based on a new study from the Frazer-Nash Consultancy, on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the U.K. which left the EU may be joining this list as a feasible solution to cutting the country’s carbon footprint.

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SPS is the collection of solar energy in space and its wireless transmission for use on Earth or other bodies. The growth of the global SPS market has been propelled by the implementation of strict government regulations concerning environmental pollution and a rise in investment in sustainable power generation.

Currently,  China is taking the lead in SPS by building the Bishan space solar energy station in the southwestern city of Chongqing. It is expected to begin tests by the end of the year to build on experiments in beaming energy over vast distances.

According to a report published by Allied Market Research, the global space-based solar power market garnered $425.7 million in 2020 and is projected to reach $902.2 million by 2030. $100 million of this funding came from a single source: billionaire Donald Bren and his wife to the California Institute of Technology to help make space-based solar photovoltaic power from orbit a reality. The laser transmitting solar satellite segment comprised the largest market share in 2020, contributing to more than half of the total share, and is expected to maintain the lead throughout the forecast period.

Dr. Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer who has investigated SPS systems for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has summarized his recent space solar power beaming experiments in a report which concludes that power beaming offers a range of benefits for space applications to address a wide range of distances.

But “so far, there has not been a power beaming demonstration in orbit spanning > 1 meter with > 1% end-to-end efficiency. Therefore, creating a power beaming link that exceeds these modest thresholds is the logical next step in SPS technology. Because, implementing SPS might result in a clean, constant, and globally distributable energy supply — unmatched by any earth-bound source,” he said, adding. “Anything we can do to wean ourselves off of coal and fossil fuels is a step in the right direction” he added.

Nevertheless, he cautions: “For space solar to work, it will almost certainly need to offer some compelling advantage in a given application before it can compete on cost. There are several segments involved: launch, manufacture of the space and ground portions, and the industries associated with each. The logistics will be challenging.”

About the author

Selva Ozelli, Esq., CPA is an international tax attorney and CPA who frequently writes about tax, legal and accounting issues for Tax Notes, Bloomberg BNA, other publications and the OECD. She exhibited her artwork at COP26. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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