Last week, the International Renewable Energy Conference (IREC) was held in Madrid, Spain. The annual conference serves as a common platform for government, private sector and civil society leaders from more than 100 countries to jointly address how to drive renewable energy uptake. Its mission is to build collective know-how to advance renewables at the international, national, and sub-national levels. This year’s IREC - also dubbed “SPIREC” given its location - was organised by REN21 and the Government of Spain and held in parallel to GENERA 2023, Spain’s annual, international Energy and Environment Fair. was invited to shed light on the role of innovation and multi-stakeholder collaborations to drive the global energy transition.

We have summarised our key takeaways from SPIREC below.

Spain as a renewables champion

2022 was marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the global energy crisis that followed shortly after that. In Spain, renewable energies represented 42% of the energy generated in that same year. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez highlighted in the Conference’s opening ceremony that Spain is well on track to become a European - and to some hopefuls - global benchmark:

  • Spain occupies the 8th position worldwide in installed power, and the 2nd position in the European Union;
  • Spain is the 3rd largest exporter of wind turbines in the world;
  • In 2021, the renewable sector registered 111,409 direct and indirect jobs.

  • Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez during the opening ceremony of SPIREC on 20 February. Source: El Mundo
  • Digitalisation across the board
  • A factor that was brought up by experts as essential to accelerate renewables uptake was digitalisation.‘Upstream’, digitalisation can help integrate variable renewables by enabling grids to better match energy demand. On the consumer level, it can improve accessibility as well as procurement practices. Challenges still remain - data sharing issues, a lack of regulation and the need to upskill a consumer base and workforce will provide enough substance for further debates in this area.
  • The need for a common language
  • SPIREC was a great reminder that hundreds of experts in the same room can - and in fact did - agree on the urgency of the situation and share a joint commitment to solve a global challenge like the energy transition. Yet, background, language and nuance often differs, which in the best case scenario leads to miscommunication or confusion, and in the worst case scenario polarisation. It is clear that we need a common language and shape a strategic narrative for renewables (and all solutions that can be considered part of it).
world map
  • Sample from TSC’s horizon scanning dashboard deployed at SPIREC.
  • A shift towards multi-stakeholder collaboration
  • Leaders from industry, government, civil society and academia made it clear that collaboration is key. In particular, peer and multi-stakeholder partnerships are considered central to innovation and policy breakthroughs.

Sample from TSC’s stakeholder mapping capabilities deployed at SPIREC.

Some recent examples of multi-stakeholder collaboration in the space:

  • 8 Feb - Kris Peeters, Vice President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), formally agreed today to join the India Hydrogen Alliance (IH2A) and increase support for large-scale green hydrogen hubs and projects across India with an indicative funding of EUR 1 billion, subject to Indian Government and EIB approvals. (here)
  • 18 Feb - NSW Labor says a new $1 billion publicly-owned corporation ‘Energy Security Corporation’ will be created to partner with the energy industry on renewable projects, including solutions for energy storage to aid grid stability including pumped hydro or community batteries. (here)

ESG as a guiding blueprint

ESG has long surpassed its mere financial scope and definition. At SPIREC, ESG was highlighted not only as a key consideration to accelerate investments in renewables, but also to aid a broader systems shift and the role companies can play in it. For example:

  • A (double) ESG materiality assessment determines the areas where a company should “play” - i.e. the topics or areas the organisation will have an impact on and vice versa.
  • ESG reporting requires stakeholder engagement and polling across material topics. This practice also enables a company to ‘stay in tune’ with all stakeholders in the value chain, enhancing inclusivity, holistic (and long-term) decision-making and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
  • A strong ESG mandate is carried by the company as a whole, not the sustainability alone. Some measures to enhance alignment and drive ‘ESG ownership’ across functions and at all levels can include: incentives (linking pay to ESG KPIs), governance structures (cross-department ESG committees) and tools (materiality monitoring, stakeholder management).