OPINION: Let the (renewable) games begin

The Winter Olympics in China in 2022 is aiming to be a "low carbon" event
The Winter Olympics in China in 2022 is aiming to be a "low carbon" event
Jeremy Cresswell
Opinion by Jeremy CresswellEmeritus editor, Energy

Not many days ago, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) put out a statement saying that it is going to “help deliver” a low carbon Winter Olympics in China in 2022.

It will also deliver a renewable energy roadmap to the host city Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province. The agreement is designed to help it become China’s first energy transition pilot city.

Zhangjiakou aims to generate 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

For the 2022 games, the city is to build both an Olympic centre and Olympic stadiums powered by renewable energy. It is, in essence, the first really large step that I’m aware of in terms of decarbonising one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles, the Olympic Games.

And there’s more, as Irena will also provide strategic advice regarding the development of an International Centre for Renewable Energy Industry Innovation in Zhangjiakou, which is located

125miles from Beijing and apparently has “a strong renewable energy resource endowment”, with abundant wind, solar and biomass potential in the region.

When it comes to energy, most media headlines seem to concentrate on China’s reputation as the world’s biggest polluter because of its massive appetite for coal.

Relatively few tell us that this most populous of countries is also now a world leader in clean energy and apparently at last working to reduce production and consumption of the black stuff.

It’s not that well known, but, between 2012 and 2016, China managed to achieve a 10-fold increase in solar energy adoption, and in 2017 alone, it added 53 gigawatts of solar capacity.

Moreover, China is committed to investing £250billion in renewable power generation by 2020 and generate 20% of its electricity requirements based on renewables by 2030.

It happens, too, that China chaired Irena’s 14th and 15th Council Meetings and is president of the agency’s ninth meeting of the assembly in January next year.

Presumably Irena is keen to guard its reputation and therefore thoroughly checked out China before allowing this kind of profile. I hope so.

Bear in mind that there is currently a campaign building to remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council, the argument being that the kingdom’s membership of the body is “contradictory and ironic”.

Regardless of the fact that the 2022 Winter Olympics are to be staged in China, going low carbon big time is a masterstroke and will hopefully set a trend where, one by one, other major sporting events also take the low carbon road.

Because such events attract massive audiences, with the right kind of investment and related publicity, they could play a hugely important role in driving home the low carbon energy message to huge numbers of people in a way that’s not so far been possible.

I’m not a football fan, but I do recognise its massive popularity and therefore the importance of major competitions, not least the World Cup of 2022, which I suppose is still going to be hosted by Qatar despite the controversy surrounding that choice.

Consider the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, or 2026 or 2030 – multiple qualifying matches in multiple countries in world-class stadiums. Imagine if Irena was to partner that.

When the time comes to choose the venue for the 2026 Winter Olympics, I hope low carbon will be made a mandatory part of the bid process managed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), if that is not already the case.

The host city will be selected at the 134th IOC Session in September 2019 in Milan, Italy.

Regardless of whether a global sporting event is staged in a cold, temperate or hot location, the need to sensibly manage energy consumption is a critical issue. As for cost, green energy has become highly competitive, so that should not be an issue.

This offers the low carbon energy sector a massive opportunity to showcase technological and other forms of progress towards a significantly more carbon-neutral world over several decades.

Indeed, a low carbon solutions competition covering not just facilities like stadiums, but also related ground, air and water transportation, accommodation and other related stuff could perhaps become a part of the run-up to future Olympics, the World Cup, Commonwealth Games or whatever.

Coming down to earth in ABZ country, I’m aware of the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre’s fuel cell plant but I’ve no idea whether the actual structure merely meets current building regulations or whether it goes beyond.

Aberdeen Football Club’s new stadium, I hope that it too sets out to be a leader on the low carbon energy front.

Even one’s local football club is potentially a useful influencer when it comes to changing punter habits and where low carbon really does become cool.

A club that develops that kind of clean energy policy might also be able to attract valuable new sponsorship and advertising revenues.

Back to where this column started. In paragraph two I say that Irena is to deliver a renewable energy roadmap to Winter Olympics 2022 host Zhangjiakou to help it become China’s first energy transition pilot city.

Now that’s what I call ambition. Aberdeen, please take note.