The Real Work to Triple Renewable Energy Begins Now


Today marks a critical milestone for the climate movement. At this year’s climate change conference, countries pledged to triple the global renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030 to combat the climate crisis.

Setting such a target at the global level at COP28 is an unprecedented move. It sets out a clear goal and focuses the world's climate efforts on accelerating the deployment of renewable energy—a cleaner and cheaper alternative to fossil fuels.

Tripling renewable energy is well within our reach, and it is happening everywhere. Over 60 countries are already generating more than 10 percent of their electricity from solar and wind. Twenty-two countries already have enough solar and wind projects in development to exceed their 2030 target, according to climate think tank Ember.

It is at this point that we should ask ourselves an important question: what policies do we need to further accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to realize our goal and limit global temperature rise to 1.5C?


Remove the bottlenecks

While developers are lining up to join the momentum for renewable energy, there is a critical barrier they are facing: red tape. This includes regulatory and administrative barriers, such as inefficient permitting processes that delay project development. 

Despite high ambitions, only around 20 percent of the world’s offshore wind projects announced between 2000 and 2017 were commissioned, pointing to various bottlenecks in the process. 

In South Korea, only 2 percent of all offshore wind projects have received permits over the past decade. Researchers point to the fact that offshore wind developers in the country need to consult 29 pieces of law across 10 different ministries, making the process highly complex. This is not an exception to South Korea.

According to research by ETC (Energy Transition Commission), streamlining renewable energy project development can reduce the time of development by over 50% for wind and 75% for solar globally. 

On the upside, this means that streamlining permitting for renewable energy can significantly unlock renewable energy projects in the pipeline. In South Korea, that already amounts to generation capacity that exceeds the country’s 2030 offshore wind target. 

This highlights that we have the enthusiasm and the resources to meet the renewable energy target. But we need to tackle regulatory and administrative barriers that unnecessarily delay our ability to unlock the full renewables potential.


Level the playing field 

In many places, the power system is still oriented around a few central entities with vested interests in fossil fuels. This makes it difficult for renewable energy to access the grid as fossil fuel developers typically receive more incentives and support in systems that are designed to support centralized, fossil fuel-based power sources. 

South Africa, one of the world’s biggest coal users, has struggled to transition to renewable energy under a power system dominated by one state-owned utility, Eskom. The utility is currently becoming unbundled (a.k.a., breaking up its monopoly) because its domination of both power generation and the country’s power grids has made it very difficult for other suppliers to enter the market. The issue is that Eskom generates most of its electricity from coal, and the coal sector has a significant influence on the utility - making South Africa’s renewable energy transition very challenging under a monopolistic power system. 

In South Korea, its state-owned utility, Kepco, which generates most of its electricity from coal and gas, controls the country’s power generation, transmission, and sales. It’s like a car manufacturer mostly producing ICE vehicles being able to decide which cars can enter the highway and how much each car should pay to enter. And forget trying to invest in more public transportation!

As a result, the country remains heavily reliant on coal and gas. The power market even guarantees profits for coal and gas power developers even when they are not operating. Renewable energy developers not only have limited access to such benefits, but they are also often the first to get shut down during peak hours of electricity supply to give priority to fossil fuels. With the lack of predictability and transparency, such enforced curtailments make it challenging for renewable energy developers to operate their businesses.

Centralization of power markets around fossil fuel-reliant utilities is also more prone to opaque decision-making and possibly corruption. Hence, promoting a fair and transparent power market where renewable energy players have fair access to the grid is critical to expanding the deployment of renewable energy.

This necessitates having strong, independent governance that exists not to protect the fossil fuel incumbents, but to facilitate a successful energy transition with various renewable energy players. 


Focus on community voices

The benefits of renewable energy may seem intuitive: cheap and clean energy, jobs, and improved air quality and health to name a few. But without inclusive, early, and meaningful engagement, renewable energy projects can exclude certain stakeholders from fully benefiting from renewable energy projects. 

Including necessary stakeholders from the beginning is also key to accelerating renewable energy project development. According to an MIT study that reviewed 53 renewable projects in the United States that were delayed or blocked, local opposition was a significant obstacle to project development. However, this was often driven by certain stakeholders’ interests being inadequately considered in the decision-making process, rather than their outright disapproval of renewable energy.

Unclear development processes also exacerbate local opposition to renewable energy projects. For example, in South Korea, there is no sufficient regulation that requires project developers to engage with residents during the siting process. Hence, community members often learn about projects once sites are selected and have no dedicated process or forum to address their concerns. As a result, community trust is undermined and this can result in serious opposition that could have been avoided. 

However, rather than creating a more just project development process, many local governments in South Korea have resorted to restrictive siting regulations. Most municipalities in South Korea restrict utility-scale solar PV to be installed a certain distance from roads and houses. This results in a reduction of solar potential in the country by almost 70%, which amounts to 257 GW. 

While such regulation may seem like it protects people from unwanted utility-scale solar projects, it also preemptively restricts any kind of conversation between different stakeholders. By default, it assumes communities will oppose renewable energy projects and does not allow for various priorities to be discussed, such as people’s concerns about the climate crisis or the desire for economic opportunities. 


The Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge is a much-needed step in our fight against the climate crisis. However, it is even more critical to now implement policies to ensure that enough renewables are deployed on time, and replace fossil fuels to achieve our ultimate goal: a ramp down of greenhouse gas emissions. 

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