WindEnergy Hamburg 2020: Why communication must be central to energy transition

COP26's climate champion called for stronger messaging from the wind power industry at the WindEnergy Hamburg 2020 virtual event

GWEC chief Ben Backwell interviewed COP26 climate champion Nigel Topping at the WindEnergy Hamburg 2020 conference
GWEC chief Ben Backwell interviewed COP26 climate champion Nigel Topping at the WindEnergy Hamburg 2020 conference

The wind power industry needs to tell a “compelling” story of what the future energy system could look like, according to the high-level "climate action champion" for COP 26.

Nigel Topping is in charge of liaising with governments and industry ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 – postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Topping is in charge of liaising with governments and businesses ahead of the COP26 conference next year. He had previously led the We Mean Business association, which describes itself as “a global nonprofit coalition working with the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change”.

In an interview with GWEC chief executive Ben Backwell at the WindEnergy Hamburg virtual event, he said strong demand for net-zero can help to encourage policymakers to set ambitious targets.

Topping explained: “When you see hundreds and thousands of businesses and cities demanding net-zero, it changes the politics.

“It’s easier to be bold.”

While policy can send strong signals to the industry to invest, the private sector demanding change can also send strong signals to policymakers, he explained.

“We want to get to Glasgow with the inevitability of the transition,” Topping added.

Wind's communications role

Topping explained that the wind power industry will have a role to play in building momentum ahead of COP26 – a meeting of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Climate Agreement.

COP21 in 2015 resulted in the Paris Agreement, which calls for limiting global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

He added: “The wind industry needs to tell a really compelling story of what the possible and likely future looks like. We have to be able to sell a simple story and then back it up with detail.

“How much wind could we put in the ground, and how cheap can it get? How can that penetration of intermittent renewables form the backbone of a clean grid, and what are the roles of demand response and different kinds of storage? 

“How can we tell this story – not just of wind – but also clean grids? What needs to happen in terms of market design and in terms of policy?”

He added: “We have to get the headlines right.”

Despite momentum gathering for a global energy transition – with net-zero ambitions of China, Japan, South Korea, the UK, the EU and US president-elect Joe Biden – Topping said more needs to be done.

He was critical of gaps in some countries’ published plans for how they aim to decarbonise and acknowledged that others were yet to submit blueprints. However, he added that all governments will likely have been “distracted” in handling the health and economic crises brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of the current plans, only 10% have plans for transport – which is shocking,” he said. “Transport accounts for so much of emissions.”

Topping added that industry could also do better in spelling out the need for greater investment in enhancing grids and electrification of hard-to-abate sectors such as transport, heating and cooling, and heavy industry.

“I don’t think the power sector and renewable sector have really been punchy enough in sending that message of more power,” he said.

WindEnergy Hamburg 2020 is being held virtually this year across two channels on the WindTV platform

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