G20 Special event: innovative clean-tech solutions and strategies to accelerate energy transition

The meeting focused on the importance of research and technological innovation in order to accelerate the energy transition and develop solutions for matching supply and demand in the most efficient and sustainable way.

G20 Special event: innovative clean-tech solutions and strategies to accelerate the energy transition

The Special Event of the Energy Transition Working Group and the Climate Sustainability Working Group of the G20 Italian Presidency, held on 19 May 2021, focused on the importance of research and technological innovation in order to accelerate the energy transition and develop solutions for matching supply and demand in the most efficient and sustainable way. Close collaboration between business, research centres and policymakers is key to promoting the proper framework aimed at implementing viable market conditions and providing a stimulating ecosystem.

In this context, the potential of offshore technologies is promising; in addition to offshore wind, which is already widespread, ocean energy could provide 10% of the EU electricity demand by 2050. It offers substantial opportunities in terms of both energy production and technological development, thanks to its high predictability and complementarity to wind and solar energy. Currently, however, this sector still struggles to create a European market, although it has already cut costs by 40% since 2015, faster than anticipated. The European Strategic Energy Technology (SET Plan) aims at developing cost competitive ocean energy technologies, in accordance with the EU targets set out in the “Strategy to harness the potential of offshore renewable energy for a climate-neutral future”. In Italy, with the support of research center enterprises and Universities, projects combining offshore wind and floating solar electricity production along with green hydrogen production are already underway.

A wider deployment of solar energy is also necessary. Many companies are committed to the growth and efficiency of this sector and to the creation of innovation labs. Among these are PV manufacturing companies and innovation ecosystems open to universities, start-ups and enterprises that promote PV development – also by using emerging technologies such as automation.

Among the innovations proposed was the need for a clear vision and strategic plan for the development of the green hydrogen market, which would stimulate demand, unlock production, reduce costs and develop efficient infrastructures. Cooperation between governments, international organisations and the private sector will be crucial to this end.

As regards the electricity system, it is going through a phase of broad change throughout the entire value chain. The increasing penetration of renewable energy and the continuing decommissioning of conventional thermal sources pose new challenges to TSOs, such as increasing grid congestion or growing system operation challenges, due to the increasing role of distributed generation. In this regard, among the enabling factors discussed were: reinforcement of the transmission and distribution grids, increase of renewables deployment and the evolution and integration of markets to meet new needs.

Moreover, regulatory agencies have a key role in fostering innovation for energy systems transformation and resilience; pilot projects and pilot regulations help defining transitional regimes to cope with these issues.

Research and innovation are essential to design technical solutions for long-term value creation and for access to energy, also with reference to developing countries. A special focus was therefore devoted to the African continent, the world’s fastest-growing region in demographic terms, where energy demand is expected to increase more rapidly than anywhere else globally. Digitalisation is going to be the real game changer in order to decarbonise electricity, thanks to its ability to increase flexibility and facilitate the integration of variable renewables.

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