Guillaume Meheut is Director of Cabinet at the General Directorate for Energy and Climate Change of the French Ministry of ecological and inclusive transition. In this role, he helps coordinate and implement the ministry’s research and innovation strategy, in particular in the field of clean energy. He participates in the steering committee of actions supporting clean energy RD&D within the French “investments for the future programme”, operated by ADEME and ANR. Previously, He worked for the French telecommunications regulation authority ARCEP, on the development of high-speed broadband networks and services.
Could you give us your view on the outcomes of the second Mission Innovation (MI) Ministerial in Beijing? Did the gathering meet your expectations, were the meetings as productive as you would have liked and what in your view were they real cornerstone advancements made at this time?
The first MI Ministerial meeting held in San Francisco in 2016 was about giving figures regarding member countries’ commitment of doubling public spending in clean energy R&D over 5 years: from approximatively 12,75 billion Euros1 a year to approximatively 25.3 billion Euros2, by 2021, with a technological focus specific to each member.
The second MI Ministerial that took place in Beijing last June enabled MI to enter a more operational phase: a detailed work program was endorsed by Ministers and published with action plans for seven innovation challenges, including the one on off grid access to electricity jointly led by France and India.
Now we have to deliver concrete results for the next ministerial meetings (that will be hosted by the European Nordic countries in 2018, and by Canada in 2019): shared scientific and technological roadmaps, new research or demonstration projects, and eventually costs and performance improvements.
When looking at the role of the private sector (and business) in relation to the commercialisation of clean energy technologies worldwide, what obstacles to progress would you most like to see tackled first?
There is a crucial need that companies and investors adopt a long term view. Some technologies for renewable energy or energy efficiency have return on investment periods of 10 years or more but in the end they are more competitive than fossil fuels based alternatives. Some risks need to be taken to experiment new solutions. In France, the state sometimes invest in equity in first-of-a-kind projects together with private actors, so as to share this risk and give a chance to these new solutions (see our “investment for the future program”). And it is also the role of governments to set a stable and predictable regulatory framework combined with the right economic signal, such as a carbon price at a sufficient level.
You have explained that France is co-leading (with India) the innovation challenge on off-grid access to electricity. Which world territories are you targeting first and where could progress be made most rapidly in your view?
I would like to re-emphasize that the challenge is about research and innovation, so we do not really target specific territories for deployment plans, even if we cannot ignore the huge challenge faced by Africa in particular. Our Indian colleagues are also very committed to this challenge for their own needs and there are specific problems in islands in many regions of the world.
The goal is rather to accelerate the development of off grid access solutions that are affordable, sustainable and reliable and that bring new services, beyond basic needs of lighting and communications, such as productive uses. However, we want to take local implementing conditions into account: how can we design an off grid system that is easy to install, operate and repair with locally available materials and skills? How can we make sure that the technologies are best fitted to local climate conditions?
"It is not only about technology, it is also a question of collective engagement and mobilisation. We all need to understand that we have an active role to play."
Please explain the work of the MI steering committee. What are its core objectives and how does it operate on a week-by-week basis?
The steering committee, currently chaired by the European Commission, is composed of 8 to 10 among the most active countries in Mission Innovation. We unfortunately cannot have in person meetings very often so we have calls, on a roughly monthly basis, to provide strategic guidance for the various workstreams of MI work program: innovation challenges, business and investors engagement, information sharing and communication, preparation of the next high level events, especially the Ministerial meetings (choice of the main focus, outreach strategy etc.).
What are your personal aspirations for the growth and development of sustainable energy resources over the next decade?
The development of clean energy relies on competitive and reliable technologies and we have reached that stage, for example with impressive price evolutions for photovoltaics or batteries in the past and coming years. But it is not only about technology, it is also a question of collective engagement and mobilisation. We all need to understand that we have an active role to play: when we buy a new electric appliance, when we choose our mode of transport to go to work or on holidays, when we dispose of our garbage, etc. There is still a big communication effort to make so that everyone is aware of their capability to make a small but important difference.
1 USD 15 billion
2 USD 30 billion