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O’Connor hopes climate talks will agree faster global CO2 cuts 

Mainstream Renewables founder backs emphasis on wind and solar

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Founder of Mainstream Renewables Power, Eddie O'Connor. Picture by Tom Burke

Founder of Mainstream Renewables Power, Eddie O'Connor. Picture by Tom Burke

U2's The Edge 'great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff?' Picture by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

U2's The Edge 'great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff?' Picture by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

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Founder of Mainstream Renewables Power, Eddie O'Connor. Picture by Tom Burke

Renewable energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor is hopeful that the US and Chinese climate envoys, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua will reveal their nations’ strategies to achieve net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at Dublin Climate Dialogues, an online climate conference he has organised that takes place this Wednesday and Thursday.

The founder of Mainstream Renewable Power – a deal for the €1bn sale of which to Norwegian energy group Aker closed last week – says the online event seeks to reach an agreement about how to accelerate efforts to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions. It will culminate in a formal declaration ahead of the COP26 UN climate change meeting that takes place in Glasgow in November.

The event will hear a more optimistic cost-benefit analysis of the multi-trillion transition to net zero than that by the likes of international renewable energy agency IRENA, based on research by leading Chinese energy researcher Dr Biying Yu, the assistant director of Beijing Institute of Technology’s Centre for Energy and Environmental Research.

O’Connor told the Sunday Independent that her research is “more optimistic and forward-thinking than other analysis he and his colleagues had examined. It is “more aligned with” the thinking of O’Connor and his colleagues at Supernode, the business he’s founded that aims to build a supergrid for transmitting European renewable power.

Two scenarios presented in Dr Yu’s research state that a net-benefit of the annual $4.39trn global investment in achieving global net zero (totalling $131.61trn by 2050) won’t be realised until either 2065 – based on a 1.5-degree temperature rise and net zero achieved between 2045 and 2050, or 2070 – based on a 2-degree rise, and net zero achieved by 2055.

Some $50trn of energy-related investment is needed, including $22.2trn in power generation, $26.5trn in the grid, according to research by IRENA and others that Supernode has compiled, O’Connor said.

Wind and solar power will make up the majority of future power generation, along with a lot of battery storage. Mass adoption of electric cars could help to balance the power grid, he added, along with his belief that a rise of 2 degrees is most realistic.

One key finding of the research that will be presented at the talks is that the cost of technologies needed to achieve these goals needs to fall by 25pc every five years. This is not impossible, however he said. “Solar power costs are down by 90pc since 2009, and offshore wind is down by over two-thirds.” 

Many people would be able to benefit from and buy into the energy transition through their pension funds investing in climate bonds providing a steady, guaranteed return, O’Connor said.

The 73 year-old entrepreneur was also dismissive of other solutions such as nuclear power and direct air capture – a method of sucking CO2 from the air. Technology to suck CO2 from the air is “nonsense,” and nuclear power “just doesn’t cut it when it comes to price,” he argued, adding that he couldn’t oppose nuclear power outright, because it doesn’t have any CO2 emissions.

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He also dismissed recent comments made by U2 musician The Edge - reported in the Sunday Independent - that next generation nuclear power should be seriously considered as an option to help reduce global CO2 emissions.

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U2's The Edge 'great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff?' Picture by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

U2's The Edge 'great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff?' Picture by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

U2's The Edge 'great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff?' Picture by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

“The problem with guys like The Edge and also [Microsoft co-founder] Bill Gates is that they know sweet f**k all about energy. “The Edge: great guitarist, but where did he learn his energy stuff? And I was in Bill and Melinda Gates’ house five years ago after a conference I attended in Seattle. I questioned his logic after Bill spoke about his investments in next generation nuclear energy, possibly using thorium. But I note recently he’s supportive of the idea of solar and wind power and a supergrid.”

Geopolitical tensions between China and other countries, including the US shouldn’t be an obstacle to climate talks, O’Connor argued. 

“If the US, China, and EU can agree on the way forward to net zero, together they account for about half of global CO2 emissions The growth China and its 1.4 billion people are going to see means that they’re the most important player in the world right now. Politics and human rights of course are important, but let’s deal with global warming. We all live on the same planet,” he said.

Among the other speakers at the event are Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe; former President Mary Robinson; former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy; Jim Barry, chief investment officer of investment firm Blackrock; and Lord Deben, chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change.



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