Stephan Singer of CAN on the NSWPH programme: “Time is of the essence”
Stephan Singer has a background in sustainable development and a PhD in carbon dynamics. He has been with WWF for 23 years. Since 2015, he is working at the Climate Action Network (CAN) that unites over 1500 NGOs in more than 120 countries. They are working to promote actions by all to limit human-induced climate change. Singer supports and advises CAN member organizations on climate policy and renewable energy expansion in all countries.
What is your view on the role of offshore grid development from a North Sea European perspective?
“It has great potential. Offshore wind energy in combination with other renewables can easily replace coal, gas and nuclear. It’s cleaner, affordable and reliable. At first, all clean renewable energy was considered expensive. This has changed now in most markets where particularly new solar and wind power is now cheaper than their polluting competitors. And in the case of offshore wind energy, early implementation in the UK Atlantic waters showed that a strong learning exercise reduced investment costs fast. They aimed to bring down the cost of electricity by 50 percent in 2020, but they already achieved this goal already a few years ago. So the learning curve in developing offshore wind is very steep and we are not at the end yet.”
In your opinion, to what extent do we need international coordination in connecting large scale offshore wind?
“We need regional coordination, mostly in the North Sea countries. Growing amounts of variable, weather-dependent solar and wind power might generate more than 100% electricity in certain very windy or sunny periods and seasons; what we see already in various European countries like Portugal, Germany, Italy and Spain. This extra load of energy cannot be used right away unless it is stored such as renewable hydrogen or traded with other countries that have an undersupply of clean power. European grid companies (TSO) are usually very good at managing that flexible load, preventing blackouts in case there is undersupply. But apart from the technical side, this flexible load – excess wind power, for example – needs to be accommodated via curbing down of conventional power supply, which is legislated in Europe with the “renewable energy priority grid access” or marketed to other countries. Participating countries in the NSWPH need to work on fair, transparent and sustainable grid management. This is valid for all new renewable energy development anywhere. I am co-chairperson of the Renewables Grid Initiative, an international collaboration between NGOs and TSOs that helps to achieve this.”
What is a learning you can offer, having vast experience in international collaboration on renewable energy?
“If industry says something is impossible, don’t believe them. Innovation happens so fast. Do not underestimate the human genius. For example: we were told since decades steel could only be produced using coal, but we can have carbon free steel in 2025. Pressured from the global climate emergency, there is a new technique in development coming from Sweden to produce steel using renewable hydrogen which gains lots of attention across the world. The largest bumps in the road towards renewable energy are not technical or financial, but political. As Nelson Mandela said: the biggest renewable resource on earth is political will.”
What do you see as main challenges in the coming years to significantly upscale offshore wind in pursuit of the 2050 climate targets?
“We need expansion and modernization of both the high and low voltage grid for reliable and cost-effective electricity distribution – both local small and cross-borders large scale – in a European economy running on 100% renewables. The challenges are the political processes and the legislative procedures in different countries. We need to keep in mind that electrification is the key means for a fully decarbonized economy. Hence, solar and wind in particular need to grow massively and speedily and much beyond the present electricity sector such as transport, industry and heating. Also, time is of the essence. I think the NSWPH consortium need to build the grid as soon and as smoothly as possible, because the fossil fuel industry – particularly fossil gas – is moving fast and smart, too and seeks its control of the future energy markets. It is clear that offshore wind is key to achieve climate goals anywhere in the world. But this is the chance for Europe to show its best.”