The CommUnity Post coverage of The CommUnity Days 2019
Nov 07, 2019
The success of an organisation should be greater than the sum of its parts, and nowhere was this more evident than the CommUnity as the first day of TCD kicked off. After a market freeze-frame and update from InnoEnergy CEO Diego Pavia at the kick-off evening, we heard that businesses were going to cover 80% of our efforts in the energy transition and that businesses were currently not just meeting these obligations, but in many cases exceeding them due to favourable financial condition. However, Diego warned us to look out for the individual, the end consumer, who would make up the important final 20%. Taking this insight into the first day we would see how businesses were successful already, and how the end consumer was of the utmost importance.
Diego wouldn’t be the only speaker to highlight the challenge we face as a society in changing consumer behaviour. Liudas Mikal highlighted that we needed to change our lifestyles before we change our energy sources to ensure we have a lasting impact, as any new constructions, regardless if they be for clean energy projects or not, will have negative social or environmental externalities beyond our control.
Swaroop Rao, PhD student at Grenoble School of Management, suggested one way we can all tackle this problem head-on. He discussed his opinions on the energy transition in the Post-truth era, defined as the disappearance of shared standards for truth. He said that we must be especially conscious of what information we consume, and encourage others to do the same to combat false information which is driving vitriol against climate activists doing their best to steady the course of a faltering ship.
Whilst many agreed that renewable energy had become competitive in the market, most also agreed that there was still a problem in financing these projects. Haitze Siemers of the European Commission highlighted the necessity of mobilising private investment to get these projects off the ground and running, but Pieter de Pous of E3G warned that should China continue to succeed in investing as heavily in renewables as they are, Europe faced not just a challenge to its global market competitiveness, but also its political system. As such, in a time when China has been accused of trying to export censorship, it was especially important that the EU emerged as a global leader in the energy transition, with the US seemingly taking a break under Trump’s tenure.
Africa remains the last full continent with major electrification problems, and the deep dive dialogue was split on how to help Africa leapfrog fossil fuel dependency and hit the ground running with cleaner technologies. Emma Patmore of Ecoligo, Andres Gonzalez Garcia of Waya Energy Inc, and expert consultant on energy finance Eduardo Appleyard all seemed to be proponents of small scale distributed systems, such as microgrids. Andres explained how his company had performed a study for the Rwandan government and found the least cost solution was for 12% of the country to be supplied by microgrids -- the government agreed to go for 6%. However, Dr Stefan Liebing of the Afrika-Verein Der Deutschen Wirtschaft told us he simply didn’t believe that these small scale solutions would work in the long-term. He said that whilst now these African households may only need to power a TV and a lightbulb if the continent is to grow and become prosperous, it would need utility-scale installations to fuel 50 years of rapid development. However, these installations are expensive, and the risk posed by such projects in Africa was simply too great for standard banks to accept the terms; after the financial services crash in 2008, Basel III requires banks to maintain higher cash assets when investing in riskier projects, and African power infrastructure projects were simply too risky. A proposed solution was to allow the construction and development companies to purchase their own insurance on projects in case end customers do not pay. In the long run, the development will create jobs and build the economy, and people will be able to pay, there just needs to be a spark for this development.
Pous mentioned that the greatest challenge facing governments was in going from 30% renewables to 65 or 70% renewables. Well, TCD 2019 showed that there were many entrepreneurs putting their heart and soul into ensuring that that will happen. Andre Moura of ProDrone shared his experiences as a sailing instructor turned CEO, a journey during which he found that the most precious non-renewable resource of all is time. After securing an SME grant he said that his company now faced a period of relevant stability, but that his last 3 years had been a constant series of ups and downs. Now he is trying to smooth out this rollercoaster, learning to live in the moment, not be so caught up in the future that anxiety takes hold, nor be so caught up in the past that regret and “what could have been” detract from his present. After all, the past is history, the future a mystery, but now is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present. Jordi Cusido of Smartive, a serial entrepreneur, agreed that the journey faced ups and downs, but stated that for him it was worth it to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by our society.
With all these stories, it was clear that we’re slowly taking steps to combat the issues in climate change on both a societal level and energy sector level. However, travel remains most European’s major source of emissions in the form of air travel. TCD 2019 offsets its emissions with Blue Halo, and David Ziegler let us know that despite almost 25% of participants taking the train, we could and should still do more. The most powerful thing that the conference participants could do besides reducing their own flight time was to inform others of the terrible negative impact of flight travel, and do our best to encourage others to find alternatives without preaching. There are obviously times when flying is necessary, but many times it is not.
With that, TCD 2019 finished. A short, powerful and impactful discussion filled with people from many sectors and professions, all working towards a common goal: enabling ourselves and others to save our only planet. We’ll see you at TCD 2020.