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COVID-19 Is Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition

One trend that has unmistakably emerged as a result of this global public health crisis has been a faster transition to renewable, clean energy.
By Jenna Tsui
Clean Energy

It's often easy to lose sight of any silver linings associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one trend that's worth noting relates to how this global public health crisis could speed the transition to clean, renewable energy. 

A new report from Lux Research predicts trillions of dollars from economic relief packages to go into deploying low- and zero-carbon infrastructure. The money could also enable more investigations into and development of the technologies that make such improvements possible. 

Mobility reductions help kickstart changes

As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated around the world, government officials instituted lockdowns and clarified that people should only leave home for essential reasons. With businesses such as cinemas, restaurants, music venues and stores other than supermarkets closed for weeks, residents had few temptations to do anything other than what officials ordered.

Many began working from home, and are still doing that now, even with businesses reopening. Companies announced that people could work from home indefinitely or said they would not have to return to offices until at least 2021. Reduced traffic on the roads led to meaningful and highly apparent emissions improvements that gave a glimpse into what clean energy choices could accomplish. 

Lux Research senior analyst Christopher Robison believes the drastic reduction in mobility was the most noticeable effect of the coronavirus pandemic on modern life. Additionally, this shift could spur future progress. 

Robison clarified: "The magnitude of the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on mobility remains unclear as more people work from home and replace work travel with virtual meetings, but the push to reduce and eliminate emissions from the transportation sector has only increased, with many post-COVID stimulus plans focused on low- and zero-emission vehicles."

Countries in Europe are robustly moving forward to encourage people to purchase electric cars as part of the COVID-19 recovery. It's too early to tell how those might pan out in the long run. Nevertheless, anything that urges consumers to purchase electric vehicles rather than those that make substantial contributions to pollution could help some of the improvements seen during lockdowns continue. 

Clean energy can bring greater resilience and agility

The coronavirus pandemic also highlighted how some companies and sectors found chances to thrive, while others faced supply chain slowdowns and substantial disruptions to operations. For example, developing trends in healthcare technology gave medical facilities options for seeing patients from their homes through computer monitors and apps. These possibilities helped slow the spread of the coronavirus while positively impacting emissions as people did not need to travel.

Innovations like telehealth platforms meant that people in rural or underserved areas could save themselves from prolonged commutes by logging into secure portals from their living rooms. Medical technology companies showed their resilience and agility during this public health crisis. Other sectors and nations can do that, too, especially by investigating the potential of clean energy.

"The aftermath of COVID-19 will shake the economic fabric of the energy sector," says Yuan-Sheng Yu, a senior analyst at Lux Research. "We witnessed many historical firsts, such as oil futures trading in the negatives, U.S. renewable energy in the electricity mix surpassing coal and the largest year-over-year drop in global CO2 emissions." 

The analyst brought up how the conventional energy sector's volatility brings macroeconomic impacts to countries around the world. Nations engaging in post-COVID-19 recoveries can capitalize on the opportunities clean energy provides, thereby enjoying more insulation from undesirable economic effects. 

Lux Research analyst Tim Grejtak examined what that could mean from the business side of things. "The pandemic highlighted the risks of disruptions to our current energy infrastructure and supply chain," he said. "In response, we will see aggressive diversification of business portfolios to avoid the risk of underutilized and, eventually, stranded assets in order to capitalize on opportunities provided by increasing renewable energies."

Declining clean energy costs can lead to future investments

The current strains exacted by COVID-19 challenged leaders and legislators to figure out how and where to invest time, attention, and funds to help nations bounce back. The good news about renewable energy is that installation costs have dropped tremendously. One report mentioned an 83 percent drop in electricity costs from new solar energy plants in 2019 compared to a decade earlier. 

Other research indicates that wind power projects cost 40 percent less to install in 2018 than in 2009 and 2010. It also showed that wind turbines have gotten bigger, and that trend will likely continue. Larger turbines can boost performance and overall output, making them especially favorable for those who invest in and build them. 

Governments and business decision-makers want to feel confident that their recovery efforts will pay off. Embracing renewables brings benefits spanning far beyond helping the economy stabilize after COVID-19. That's one of the many reasons it makes sense to include clean energy in current or forthcoming economic stimulus packages. 

​​​​​​​Looking toward a brighter future

The COVID-19 lockdowns showed that environmental progress can happen within a relatively short time. One issue that is emerging now is that some people may lose sight of that reality and take their focus off initiatives to help the planet.

Concerned individuals must continue to remember what's possible and put pressure on those in power to ensure the clean energy momentum continues rather than fizzles out. The input provided here shows that's well worth the effort.

Image credit: Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay

Jenna Tsui headshot

Jenna Tsui is a technology journalist who covers the latest news in technology, disruptive tech, and environmental science. You can read more of her work at The Byte Beat.

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