Our Net Zero World Initiative Ushers in Clean Energy Transformations

By Martin Keller, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Director

One of the most exciting things to come out of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (more commonly referred to as “COP26”), was the Nov. 3 launch of the Net Zero World Initiative.

As Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said at the time, under this initiative the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will create and implement highly tailored, actionable, technology roadmaps and investment strategies for key countries. These strategies will put global net zero carbon emission within reach of the participants.

Currently, Argentina, Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Ukraine are partners, with other nations expected to join soon.

It was exhilarating for me to be part of that announcement in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m especially proud that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the initiative’s lead lab, collaborating with other DOE laboratories via a new Net Zero World Action Center housed at NREL. NREL and its partners are deeply committed to supporting energy decarbonization in partner countries.

As Secretary Granholm said, our partnering nations will harness the power and expertise not only of the national laboratories, but also of federal agencies, think tanks, businesses, and universities, to develop tangible clean energy projects that meet their energy needs.

Participant countries will have immediate and sustained access to research and analysis. And going forward, we will apply our state-of-the-art tools and data, testing and simulation facilities, technology, and market expertise to assist these partner nations with net-zero energy transitions.

The project is action oriented and won’t be conducted at a merely theoretical level. Instead, we will rigorously apply all our capabilities to define and provide technical support for applied changes in energy infrastructure and system design and operations.

A key part of the effort is speed. We are already laying the groundwork to help the nations and priority states and cities within those countries decarbonize as rapidly as possible. In 2022, we will partner with these countries on draft net-zero implementation plans and support some quick-win implementation measures. We will do this in part by following the templates already established through NREL’s Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study (LA100). This head start will enable countries to showcase their draft plans and progress with key actions at COP27 in November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

By 2023, we intend to further refine these energy decarbonization technical and investment plans and expand cooperation to support priority policies and programs. Additionally, we will partner with U.S. agencies, multilateral development banks, philanthropies, private investors, and other organizations to scale up direct clean energy investments, mobilizing at least $10 billion by 2024 to support this transformation.

This will be a country-driven process, with their leaders engaged and taking ownership. To succeed, all internal stakeholders must collaborate. NREL will be there to support — but in the end, each country owns its own pathway.

What types of projects might result?

One country may decide to expand its wind generation capacity and green hydrogen production. Another might need to upgrade its electrical grids to manage large amounts of variable renewable energy. A third country might choose to electrify its transportation fleet. NREL and the other participating DOE laboratories will offer world-class analysis tools and data, technology testing and system simulation and optimization, and assistance with analysis of enabling policies, procurements, infrastructure upgrades, workforce development, and other actions.

To succeed, it will be up to the leadership of each country to “mainstream” elements of the initiative, connecting goals with actual budgets. Further, we believe that all stakeholders, especially civil leaders, must seek ways to support improvement plans so that progress will continue even if there’s a change in political leadership.

While there are plenty of examples of NREL and other DOE laboratories assisting energy advancements in other countries, we believe this is the first wholistic effort to achieve net zero emission energy systems in regions across the globe.

It is ambitious. But there is no time to lose. This is an exciting innovation. The Net Zero World Initiative can have a major impact as part of the overall efforts to combat climate change.

For more information on the Net Zero World Initiative, please visit our website at www.nrel.gov/netzeroworld.

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