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New Perspectives for Decarbonization: Interview with Douglas J. Arent, Executive Director, NREL

New Perspectives for Decarbonization: Interview with Douglas J. Arent, Executive Director, NREL
29 . Oct . 2021

Douglas J. Arent, Executive Director, Strategic Public Private Partnerships, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Dr. Arent focuses on strategic public and private partnerships with NREL to transform energy economies at speed and scale across the globe. Dr. Arent has worked in research on energy and sustainability for more than 30 years, publishing extensively on topics within clean energy, renewable energy, power systems, natural gas, and the intersection of science and public policy. In addition to his NREL responsibilities, Dr. Arent is senior visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He serves on the World Economic Forum Future of Electricity Working Group and advisory boards for the Post Carbon Transition Program at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford University, U.K.; the Smart Electric Power Association; and the Energy Academy of Europe, Netherlands. He is also amember of the Keystone Energy Board. Dr. Arent is the editor in chief for Renewable Energy Focus and is associate editor for the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. Dr. Arent has a Ph.D. from Princeton University, an MBA from Regis University, and a bachelor’s of science from Harvey Mudd College in California

Most countries around the world are competing to set challenging goals that lead to a drastic cut in CO2 by 2030. However, if you look at the path taken in recent years, the real results are often not in line with expectations. In your opinion, what needs to be done for the energy sector to decarbonize as soon as possible?

Energy transformations occur over decades. Transitions have begun in most if not all countries. Countries have taken a deep look at their power system systems, considered their geopolitical situations, looked at technology innovation, cost performance and resources. Combining all of that,  most countries have made commitments toward decarbonizing their power system while simultaneously addressing affordability equity, reliability, and security. Further, many national and global companies have all committed to decarbonization pathways. Also, we are seeing bold commitments being made in the transportation sectors and significant innovations come through for electric mobility, mobility as a service, biofuels, hydrogen and other low carbon transportation.  Lastly, new innovations are under development for the harder to decarbonize sectors such as steel and concrete. Many see that we are at a tipping point in the transition toward a deep decarbonized energy system, yet with much work and deployment of new, low carbon energy systems yet to occur.

The competition for so-called rare materials to produce batteries, photovoltaic panels, etc. could be a slowdown in the path towards greater sustainability of the energy industry?

Sustainable material supply chains are front of mind for many in the research community, business community and of course, governments. There is concerted effort at the local , national and global scales to ensure sustainable supply chains,  as well as considerable innovation and new approaches to design for reuse, recyling and repurposing. Nrel has launched a strategic set of activities in this area particularly focused on materials for energy systems. Globally,  significant efforts are underway for reuse and recycling for photovoltaics, wind, and batteries, for example.

How much could the commitment to greater energy sustainability lead to a change in geopolitics balance?

Much has been published on the ever-changing geopolitical dynamics of our energy economy, combined with increasing stressors from climate change and other stressors. Moving from an energy economy which is dominated by underground molecules to above ground resources and system dynamics implies a significant rethinking of countries’ approaches to geopolitics, and is front of mind for many. It is likely there will not be a single approach followed for this as the resource base for each country is different and regional coalitions may bring both strength as well as vulnerabilities to be considered. Scholars have noted the complexities of energy, food, water, economic prosperity, and many other factors which all have to be taken into account when considering the ever-changing geopolitical dynamics. 

There is no company in the world that does not claim to pursue objectives of greater sustainability. In your opinion, what must a company do to be really sustainable?

Sustainability as a company includes many factors including diversity, equity, care of employees, communities and the earth’s resources. Smart companies look across these and many other factors as they think about sustainability.

ABOUT NREL:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, a registered 501c3 research non-profit in the United States on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. From breakthroughs in fundamental science to new clean technologies to integrated energy systems that power our lives, NREL researchers are transforming the way the nation and the world use energy. NREL works with organizations—large and small—to expand the clean energy economy. Together with our partners, we can accelerate the movement of renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions into practical applications. See www.nrel.gov

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