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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Sebastian Kind, international energy expert with Romanian origins: Romania has the potential to become the undisputed leader of the energy transition in Central and Eastern part of Europe

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* Interview with Sebastian Kind, Argentina’s former Deputy Minister of Energy

What is your opinion on the energy transition in Europe, South America, USA and worldwide?

Sebastian Kind: It’s happening, but too slowly. With emissions, climate disasters and energy market volatility all increasing globally, governments around the world need to act faster. We are not meeting Paris ambitions: according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) “today’s climate pledges would result in only 20% of the emissions reductions by 2030 that are necessary to put the world on a path towards net zero by 2050”. Some progress has recently been made during negotiations in Glasgow but overall, we are still very far from meeting the targets set in Paris.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) reaching the zero-emission path by 2050, requires investment in clean energy projects and green infrastructure to more than triple over the next decade. Approximately 70% of that additional spending needs to happen in emerging and developing economies, where financing is scarce and capital remains up to seven times more expensive than in advanced economies, representing a steep barrier for clean energy adoption.

Sebastian Kind, expert internațional în energie cu origini românești: România are potențialul să devină liderul incontestabil al tranziției energetice în Europa Centrală şi de Est 

 

What can you tell us about the iTrust launched by Greenmap, your organization, at COP 26? What is its added value?

Sebastian Kind: Building the clean energy infrastructure needed to put developing and emerging countries on track to reach climate and development goals requires massive long-term investments that cannot be borne by the public sector. One of the most effective ways to reach this goal for governments is by designing and implementing competitive procurement processes and well-structured guarantee schemes specifically designed to mitigate both sector and country’s risks. Oftentimes, currently available guarantees have been insufficient to improve clean energy bankability and have had a limited impact.

The International Guarantee Trust Fund for Renewable Energy (the “iTrust”) is an innovative financial solution designed to fill this gap, to mitigate clean energy investment risks in developing countries. It will be established and made available to eligible countries and eligible programmes as an international trust-like entity, to channel a growing availability of funding by providing a package of program-based guarantees to all renewable energy projects awarded through public auctions. Public auctions are the best way to obtain maximum results with limited available financial resources.

The guarantees granted by the iTrust and framed within more efficient auction schemes, will allow countries to reduce the cost of renewable energy by minimizing related risks and financial costs.

Can renewables cover the energy that will be eliminated by giving up coal?

Sebastian Kind: Depending on the current energy mix (for example, the availability or not of significant hydro power sources), specific power market design features and physical availability of renewable energy sources, each country will have different ways to phase out coal. In the next decade, cheap renewables will play a key role, together with energy storage, digital smart grid solutions and energy efficiency. Natural gas and, where available, nuclear power, will also play important roles.

Similarly, to what we said for scaling up renewables, innovative policy and contractual schemes and additional financial resources will be crucial to accelerate the process, enabling faster coal plants phase out and providing the necessary resources to smooth the transition for coal sector’s workers towards other growing sectors of the economy.

Could Romanian entities also participate in the iTrust initiative? If yes, how?

Sebastian Kind: As an upper-middle-income country, Romania does have smoother access to cheap financial resources compared to a typical developing country. Our initiative is dedicated to the developing nations, like Republic of Moldova or Albania for example. The iTrust could surely provide extra-help to the Government to further decrease renewable energy generation costs, but I think focusing on the design and implementation of a well-structured renewable energy procurement program, providing investors with clear medium- and long-term signals and commitment will be the first most important step for the Government of Romania. Recently I have discussed with the high-level officials responsible for the energy sector in Romania about our know how on auctions and CfD expressing our availability to share this know how if needed.

Based on your long professional experience in the energy field, how do you see Romania from the energy transition perspective?  Are you familiar with the Romanian energy market? How would you characterize it? Could Romania become an important energy player in the context of the energy transition?

Sebastian Kind: I know Romania from the beautiful stories of my grandfather who was Romanian. I am proud to be an Argentine with Romanian origins. About the Romanian energy market, I have been discussing a lot with my friend Razvan Nicolescu, former energy minister of Romania. We know and support each other on various global initiatives.

The future of global energy is cleaner, decentralized, and electrified. Energy transition means both, a big challenge and at the same time a huge opportunity.

I think that Romania has a unique opportunity to become a front runner in the energy transition in Central-Eastern Europe, leveraging potential, the significant resources made available by the EU Funds (roughly €30bn) and other national resources to scale up its clean energy ambitions and green infrastructure. I believe today the focus should be put on designing a clear and well-structured plan to meet the clean energy targets the country already set for 2030 (which require roughly 7GW on new clean power capacity to be installed). Then, implement this plan swiftly and efficiently, building on lessons learnt from what worked and didn’t work in the past for the country, as well as understand best practices and mistakes made by other countries.

My team developed the RenovAr programme, an efficient multistage procurement mechanism in Argentina, one of today’s most difficult long-term investment markets in the world, with outstanding results, attracting more than 7 Billion USD in 2 years to build 5GW of new clean energy capacity at the lowest electricity prices in its whole energy mix, a market that has today more than 50% of the whole IMF portfolio (worldwide), and a country that holds the fourth largest Shale-Oil and second largest worldwide Shale-Gas reserves, with a century-old tradition in the Oil & Gas sector.

Greenmap is uniquely positioned as an independently funded non-profit institution to work hand-in-hand with the Government, wearing the “same hat” to provide valuable, independent advice, and first-hand successful experience developed in very complex environments. As I said before if Romania does need any support we will be delighted to contribute. The country that was registered as the first oil producer in the world more than 160 years ago, has the potential to become the undisputed leader of the energy transition in Central and Eastern part of Europe.

What is your opinion on the outcome of COP 26? Will the climate goals be missed?

Sebastian Kind: I think the climate and energy crisis are still not addressed as “emergencies” (as they should): genuine urgency and a willingness to match words with action and to close the gap between pledges and detailed, short-term plans is still missing. The verdict at the COP26 is that Governments need to do more to address these pressing issues. It is crucial they raise substantially the ambition of their national emission reduction and clean energy targets before the end of 2022, as called for in the Glasgow Climate Pact. It will also be essential to monitor the implementation of all pledges made at COP26.

On the other hand, COP26 made it clearer that financing for traditional coal and fossil fuels energy projects will be harder and harder, with risk-reward balance massively shifting in favour of clean energy going forward. My take is that the energy transition could be vastly accelerated with existing technological, financial and policy solutions. It’s a matter of political willingness and ambition and ability to deliver concrete results by Governments, more than anything else.

Thank you for taking your time!

Sebastian Kind: I also want to thank you and wish a Happy National Day to you and all Romanians! I know from my grandfather how happy Romanians from Transylvania were in 1918 when they managed to unify the country. This year I celebrated the Romanian National Day at the Romanian Embassy in Buenos Aires, together with Ambassador Dan Petre, my family, and many others. Next year I would like to do it together with my kids in Romania, preferably at Alba Iulia.

 

CEO & Chairman

Undersecretary of Renewable Energy of Argentina (2016-2017), and Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (2018-2019), Sebastián was responsible for the country’s energy transition toward a cleaner matrix. Sebastián is the architect and primary driver of the innovative RenovAr Program, which has resulted in over US$7.4 billion and 5 GW in clean energy investments since its launch in 2016. Sebastián has 20 years of experience in the energy industry. He is the founding director of the Master of Science in Renewable Energy Program at National Technological University (UTN), and he played an instrumental role working with Argentina’s National Senate as author of the Renewable Energy National Law. He has advised on renewable energy projects for many public and private institutions around the world and has held executive positions in the private sector in Europe and Latin America. In 2017, Sebastián worked with Harvard University in setting up RenovAr as a Case Study due to its outstanding achievements. In 2018, he was appointed as Chair of the Council of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and was selected as Fellow of the Eisenhower Foundation (EF) in Philadelphia and as Global Leader of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Geneva in recognition of his accomplishments and commitment to promoting a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. In 2019, he received the Clean Energy Award of the Latin American and Caribbean Council on Renewable Energy (LAC- CORE) and the Climate Breakthrough Project Award (an initiative of the Packard Foundation with the support of the Oak, Good Energies, and IKEA foundations), a US$2 million prize for developing Greenmap. Sebastián also received the LIDE award of the year in 2019 in recognition of his contribution to the energy sector. Sebastián holds a degree in mechanical engineering from UTN in Argentina and earned a MSc. in renewable energy from EUREC Agency in Brussels, NTUA in Greece, and University of Zaragoza in Spain. He also holds an Executive Development Diploma from IAE Business School and has participated in various executive programs at Harvard University.

Sebastian’s grandfather was Romanian.

 

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