IEA-RETD Outlines Architecture of a Renewable Energy Future

IEA RETDMarch 2014: The International Energy Agency's Renewable Energy Technology Deployment (IEA-RETD) Implementing Agreement has released a position paper on the energy architecture that will be required to deliver and sustain a world with a very high penetration of renewables. The paper, commissioned by IEA-RETD in 2011, summarizes key findings from discussions among five energy experts on the architectural challenges and opportunities of a high renewable energy world in 2050.

The paper, titled 'Optimised use of renewable energy through improved system design' (OPTIMUM), addresses three aspects of such an architecture, namely vision, challenges, and policy requirements. The vision foresees the possibility of a sustainable energy system based on renewable supplies, geographically interconnected systems, smart demand, and storage, achieved at moderate costs that do not jeopardize future economic development. The deployment of the vision contains six principles: societal and political will; policies based on a “systems approach;” standards and incentives to prohibit unsustainable behavior and investment; reliance on markets; technological, social, and institutional innovation; and shared standards and plans to ensure inter-operability and flexibility.

The paper identifies and elaborates three broad challenges to realizing this vision involving: implementing and transitioning to a radically different energy architecture; ensuring system stability and security of energy supplies; and achieving an energy transition at reasonable societal cost.

Based on the vision and its challenges, the experts offer a series of policy recommendations regarding the deliberate intervention of government and regulatory authorities in the activities of business and individuals. These recommendations cover five main areas: encouraging buy-in and agreeing to targets and implementation plans; providing incentives to individuals and organizations; setting mandatory standards; setting constraints on appropriate behavior; and putting in place arrangements for agreeing and changing rules.

The authors conclude by stressing the importance for forward-thinking energy system design for the deployment and integration of renewables, particularly those based on variables energy sources. In order to realize this strategy, they stress the need to gain buy-in from leaders and opinion makers, and suggest this can be best done by convincing them that renewables will mitigate impacts from severe climate change and air pollution, while increasing global security by eliminating reliance on a small group of fossil fuel exporters. [Publication: Optimised Use of Renewable Energy Through Improved System Design]