Sir David King was the UK’s top climate change negotiator and adviser for 17 years. In a rare interview, he tells Compelo about the challenges the country faces in its push to increase clean energy.
The greatest scientific challenge facing the world is the need for clean energy that costs less than fossil fuels.
That’s according to Sir David King. And as the UK’s former special representative for climate change and chief scientific adviser, he should know.
“We’ve shifted away from coal to focus on offshore wind and become the leader in offshore wind technology,” he says.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that globally, renewable power expanded at its fastest-ever rate in 2015. Yet, despite this, there are questions about whether renewables are on track to reach targets set by the Paris agreement.
King’s climate strategy helped to shape the Paris climate change agreement in 2015. However, “The Paris target is low, so we will need to improve it”. If not, the temperature will increase by 4–5°C due to climate change. Moreover, it will go above the Paris target of a 2°C increase by 2020, King says.
Fighting climate change
King believes that climate change is a key factor in creating demand for clean energy. Equally, it will also increase the global share of wind-power generation.
GlobalData reports that the value of the global wind operations and maintenance market will hit around $27.4 billion by 2025. In addition, the share of the offshore wind-power operations market is expected to grow globally to 18.4% by 2025.
“We have reduced our emissions by 42%, while the level for the EU is at least 48% by 2030, and these targets have been a joint effort,” says King.
However, the parliamentary Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has warned that the UK is behind another key target. Namely, to make renewables 15% of its energy mix by 2020.
“Our key challenge today is the misunderstanding of the severity of risk if we do not comply with the current emissions targets,” he says. “Climate change creates a great opportunity for clean energy infrastructure, [and] a lot of it is already serving renewables.
“Meanwhile, the EU has already created a market for renewables, so their production price has fallen and makes them competitive with fossil fuels.”
Investment in renewable R&D
A report by the London School of Economics says just $6 billion a year is spent on renewable energy R&D. In contrast, annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries total around $550 billion. Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said that the next financial crisis will come from not eliminating fossil fuels.
“22 countries now invest in clean energy and are expected to spend $38.4 billion by 2020,” says King. “However, public spending on research and support for new technologies is paramount.”
Power to the people
King believes nuclear power can help satisfy power demand as the UK transitions to renewables such as wind and solar.
Nuclear power is commercially available and you get a lot [of power] out of Europe’s 1.6GW of nuclear capacity,” he says.
“The big question is how to make the most successful cost crossover point between renewable and nuclear power,” he continues. “Nuclear energy had a place in many countries, outside seismic countries, so the biggest danger is climate change, not nuclear power.”
Read the full interview with Sir David King in the latest edition of World Wind Technology.