Reflecting on COP26 and the road ahead

There were heavy expectations placed on COP26, which was widely touted as the last opportunity to avert climate disaster, with the focus on capping global warming at 1.5℃. More than 20,000 delegates arrived in the city of Glasgow, with the conference overcoming the obstacles of a global pandemic to bring together world leaders, policymakers, leading industry figures, environmentalists, and global civil society representatives.

We were proud to have played a part in representing the wind industry at the conference, as a member of the Global Wind Energy Council’s (GWEC) COP26 delegation. Both in the Blue Zone and at the fringe events outside of it, there was a palpable positive energy. We can all play a positive role and contribute in some way to tackling the climate crisis, and the discussions and negotiations between the thousands of representatives from across the world demonstrated the potential of collaborating on a challenge that unites us all.

Akselos at COP

As well as a panel session at GWEC’s pavilion in the Blue Zone, we joined two panel sessions as part of their delegation at a series of fringe events run by engineering company Wood Plc. Our CEO Thomas Leurent attended our first Wood session, joining a panel to discuss ‘Digitisation in Energy’. alongside representatives from Octopus Renewables and Microsoft. As well as contributing to high-level conversations about the future of the industry, Thomas put forward Akselos’ position on the need to accelerate new innovations – which we believe will be key to pulling the industry out of its “Frankenstein” approach to technology and reducing the timeframe for global wind deployment.

Akselos’ Vice President for Customer Success, Michiel van Haersma Buma, joined a second Wood session on ‘Realigning capital for the new economy’. Alongside panellists from RES, EY and Glennmont, Michiel discussed potential solutions to the global issue of financing the energy transition and contributed Akselos’ perspective on the role that tech scale-ups such as ours can play in the green economy.

Our time at COP26 culminated in the Blue Zone, where GWEC hosted a range of sessions across the two weeks in their pavilion for representatives from industry and government to have collaborative discussion. Dylan Mitchell, our Sales Director for Wind and New Energy, joined a panel session on scaling up the deployment of offshore wind in the US, bringing Akselos’ perspective and experience as a technology start-up to the panel. Dylan emphasised the importance of supporting innovators and scale-ups if the US is to meet its targets for wind deployment.

If we want to scale up, instead of only looking at how many assets we can develop, we should also be questioning how we can most efficiently design the structures to reduce the amount of time and materials required to do so – and that requires enabling technology.Dylan Mitchell

The road ahead

So now COP is over, what next? Opinions naturally diverge on how successful the summit was, and that largely reflects the reality of what was achieved at COP – whilst we saw landmark commitments on coal and deforestation, some of the language didn’t go far enough and risks hindering progress.

COP may be over, but our collective work is more important than ever. It will be vital to seize this post-COP momentum and take positive steps towards tackling climate change. As GWEC’s CEO Ben Backwell noted, “the direction of travel continues to be clear”, and it will be “increasingly difficult for any parties to delay or obstruct progress in the year ahead”. He called on industry to:

“Work together with governments, communities and investors to create viable investment frameworks and markets that are built for the energy transition.”

We agree. We must capitalise on this momentum to drive forward the progress needed – but also to achieve the changes that we need. As with most sectors, we cannot rely on the status quo when it comes to the wind industry. Whilst every action taken is a positive step towards net zero, the current models we have in place around the world for scaling offshore wind favour safe, established technologies at the risk of ostracising the newer technologies that can get us to net zero faster.

As Akselos’ Dylan Mitchell highlighted in his blue zone session, the US for example has set a target of achieving 30GW of offshore wind by 2030 – to put the scale of this ambition into context, global offshore capacity currently sits at around 32.5GW. The US’ deadline is just nine years away, and when we consider that it takes an average of 6 years just to build a wind farm, it will be incredibly difficult to meet this target. Offshore wind has a key role to play in our energy transition, and not meeting these targets risks undermining global progress towards net zero.

One thing that COP26 made clear is that we need action now – we cannot wait until 2030. This rings true for the wind industry. Alongside the Vestas, Siemens and GE’s of the world, we need disruptive innovators to bring new technologies to the table that can speed up existing models of deployment and derisk capital allocation into offshore wind. At Akselos, we believe we can play a big role here, through our simulation engineering technology that has the capability to reduce both development timelines and costs, as well as the expenditures during the operational phase by enabling a much more data driven approach to maintenance and inspection. Imagine what it could mean for the world if we reduce the ‘time-to-first-power’ of an offshore wind farm from 6 to 4 years: if we were to do that for all future projects. We could reach the IEA wind targets 5 to 10 years sooner!

As an innovator, we know that greater support from governments can play a defining role. De-risking investment in innovation must be a priority, alongside creating an open policy environment that clearly favours renewables. Industry must continue to collaborate, and must also start to prioritise data sharing, so that our industry is more accessible for smaller players… in the end the planet will benefit.

By drawing on the foundations laid at COP26 for collaboration and quick action, we can push the wind industry forward in the right direction and provide a blueprint for other sectors in using innovation to accelerate the energy transition.