Finding solutions to replace fossil fuel is our most important project: Interview with Terje Osmundsen in Scatec Solar

Terje Osmundsen handles early-phase development of new markets and opportunities in Scatec Solar. He has had a long career in both private and public sectors, and is a regular contributor to the public debate on solar energy and sustainable development. In this interview, he shares his insights on the factors driving renewable energy development and solar technology.

You have had a long career in business, civil society and politics. Why are you so personally committed to renewable energy?

Throughout my career, I have had an unique opportunity to learn and better understand what is happening to our planet. It is all too easy, with the busy lives we lead, not to take the issues that the planet is facing seriously enough. But considering the opportunities I have been given, I am personally very concerned. I have decided that finding solutions to replace fossil fuel has to be our most important project.

I joined Scatec Solar in 2009, when solar and photovoltaic (pv) power generation was expensive. But I saw that, despite the cost, the solar industry was adapting and evolving. By joining Scatec Solar, I got to combine my personal desire to contribute to making a better world with a fascinating professional opportunity to develop a fast-growing industry.

You are responsible for developing new markets and opportunities in Scatec Solar. In what geographies and with what technologies do you see the most renewable energy growth?

There is an urgent need to solve the energy problem and replace fossil fuel with renewable energy. Solar technology has demonstrated that it is user-friendly and the industry has evolved and matured.

Solar projects, for example, do not have the same problems with delays that you see in the coal and gas industry. That makes solar power technology a low risk investment, particularly when you take into account the decreasing costs. Think about this: every time the volume of solar power has doubled, we have reduced the costs by 20%!

The solar industry is also important because it is creating jobs. We see this in India, where renewable energy is replacing fossil fuel. Building renewable energy plants creates more jobs, compared to isolated coalmines for example. Renewable energy is also attracting some of the best talent. A lot of people I work with have experience from different industries, but want to work on something meaningful, so they decided to work for this industry.

Being able to make a difference is an important motivational factor that attracts the best people, as well as investors. Renewable energy has an impact on where people live and the quality of their lives. That is important.

What signals are you seeing from the market?

Companies have to change. More and more companies are reducing their carbon footprint and becoming more sustainable, for example by reducing travel. These efforts and results are now also reported on the companies’ websites across the world.

But some companies want to go a step further. The most impactful change that can be made is using renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. Businesses can show that they are at the forefront of this trend by documenting that x% of their electricity is renewable. The RE100 initiative is very fresh, but in Paris, during the COP21 meetings, we saw many companies signing this agreement. And this is just the beginning.

Apple, Ikea, Coke, Microsoft and Facebook want to lead. Google has even invested in our solar project in Utah. That makes Google both an investmentanda market opportunity because they know that consumers are increasingly demanding companies that run on renewable energy.

You wrote several pieces in advance of COP21 with your expectations and demands. Now what?

Companies and countries are now revising their energy plans to meet the new COP21 goals. There is also increased awareness among investors. They will now include renewable energy as part of their due diligence, and disinvest in businesses that do not have a proactive approach to the sustainability targets.

What would be your one piece of advice to companies?

Get an overview of your carbon footprint, and understand that the type of energy you use affects the size of your footprint. Then make a plan for how to reduce your carbon footprint. Be ambitious. For example, join the RE100 companies in saying that within a set timeframe, you will be using 100% renewable energy. This can be done without a large investment, but will have a meaningful impact on both the company’s value and its social capital. Only a few companies have the resources to invest in their own renewable energy infrastructure like Google does. But even so, you can start today because there are tools for this now, like buying certificates or using other instruments that send a signal to the market that you too are replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Follow Terje Osmundsen on twitter @OsmundsenTerje