Ex-BP boss Hayward criticised for saying solar can’t hack industrialisation

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A conference on climate change and business has been punctuated by a sharp exchange of views between Tony Hayward, non-executive chairman of mining giant Glencore Xstrata, and solar industry executives, according to reports.

The Business & Climate Summit, taking place in Paris ahead of the COP21 talks, which take place in the French capital in December, purports to bring together representatives of more than 6.5 million businesses from 130 countries, through 25 business networks. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described it as “an important milestone” that reflects the continuing commitment of the private sector to engage in action against climate change.

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Various media outlets chose to focus on Tony Hayward’s comments at the events, perhaps as much for his recent background and public visibility as much as for his views. Hayward was chief executive of BP in 2010 during the Gulf of Mexico oil slick and was widely criticised for his handling of the crisis, after which he received a large payout to leave the company. The headline of a piece on Hayward in the UK’s Guardian newspaper in May 2014, as he was made chairman of Glencore Xstrata, described the executive as an “oil spill pariah”. Hayward is also executive director and CEO of Genel Energy, an “Anglo-Turkish exploration and production company with world-class oil and gas assets”.

Hayward said this week at the Paris event that in his view, solar energy is “not the answer” to “broad-scale industrialisation”, claiming that the technology cannot power large industrial facilities due to its intermittency, the Financial Times (FT) newspaper reported.

The FT wrote that Hayward had claimed it to be “not possible” to phase out coal, especially in developing countries, and said that while the world’s developed nations had undergone intensive industrialisation over the past 50 years, this process is still ongoing for countries like India.

Some media outlets including Reuters reported that Hayward said this would mean that rich countries should “support” developing ones to build up cleaner power generation facilities, even if this meant paying for higher cost new-build coal power plants, which produce relatively less emissions. Hayward dismissed the argument that natural gas generation is a better alternative, saying that gas prices in India are far higher than those for coal.

However, Hayward was apparently strongly rebuked by the chief executive of SkyPower Solar, a Canada-headquartered company which in March made an agreement with the government of Egypt to build 3,000MW of PV projects over the next four years.

SkyPower’s Kerry Adler said that his company could easily build large amounts of generation capacity in the developing world.

“Solar is the new world. You’ve got to get used to it,” Adler reportedly told Hayward.

The chief of Spanish renewables company Acciona, José Manuel Entrecanales Domecq, agreed with Adler, and said solar could supply baseload as well as variable power.

Some newspapers also played up reports that Hayward had called for an end to worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels at the event. However, this appears to have been made more as a pre-emptive argument against carbon pricing mechanisms, which many at the event have advocated strongly in favour of. Hayward actually said that ending subsidies and perhaps instead levying charges on petrol use for transportation, for example, would be required before carbon pricing mechanisms could be introduced.

PV Tech contacted the organisers of the Business & Climate summit this morning to reach Tony Hayward and Kerry Adler for comment but did not receive replies at the time of publication.

Meanwhile at the event French president Francoise Hollande, making an address to open the conference, told businesses they must “make commitments and offer solutions”, saying that decisive action would have “extremely positive consequences on economic actors, on future technologies, on employment and on growth”.

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