The catchphrase "electrification of everything" highlights the need for resilient, smart, and flexible power infrastructure, as demonstrated by recent blackouts in various regions. Renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass, accounted for about 14% of global energy in 2020, with wind and solar becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels due to economies of scale and technological advancements. While progress has been made in electrifying communities with renewable energy mini-grids and reducing reliance on the grid through solar power, decarbonizing transportation remains a significant challenge. Phasing out internal combustion engines and increasing the adoption of electric vehicles is crucial, but it is projected to represent less than 15% of the vehicles in operation by 2030. The aviation and shipping sectors, which are responsible for a significant portion of carbon dioxide emissions, require smarter logistics and improved efficiency to reduce their environmental impact. The high cost of energy storage in batteries hinders the widespread use of intermittent renewable energy sources. Improvement in battery technology, particularly in energy density, is necessary to compete with liquid fuels. Additionally, the supply chains of batteries need to be cleaned up to address working conditions in raw material mines and pollution associated with improper disposal. The transition to renewable energy sources is promoted as a shift away from fossil fuels, driven by rising costs and the need for sustainability. Organizations will face increasing pressure from ESG regulations to implement alternative energy strategies. Currently, fossil fuels still make up 81% of the global energy mix, and global greenhouse gas emissions are largely driven by energy consumption and production. Achieving an inclusive, affordable, secure, and sustainable global energy system is essential, considering the "energy triangle" of security and access, environmental sustainability, and economic development. The speed and shape of the energy transition will be influenced by public-policy and private-sector responses, as well as geopolitical factors. The transition to a zero-carbon-emissions future requires collaborative efforts and long-term commitments.
Transition to Clean Energy & Energy Reversal
In the wake of rising costs and environmental concerns, the global community is shifting from fossil fuels towards sustainable, renewable energy sources. This transition is not only necessary for the survival of our planet but also presents an opportunity for a new wave of innovation and economic development. However, such a monumental shift is not without its challenges. Here, we explore eight emerging sub-trends within the broader transition to clean energy and energy reversal.
Accelerating Energy Access
Expanding access to energy, particularly in developing regions, is a moral and practical imperative. The progress made in India, Bangladesh, and Kenya, where access to electricity outpaced population growth for the first time in history, indicates a promising trend. Yet, the global population without access to clean, safe cooking fuels remains alarmingly high. Investments from tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft, along with the increase in solar capacity installations, are encouraging signs of progress towards universal energy access.
Building Energy System Resilience
The global energy system is becoming increasingly vulnerable to disruptions, both internal and external. Whether it's cyberattacks, geopolitical conflicts, or extreme weather events, these disruptions pose a significant threat to energy security and economic stability. As such, innovative energy solutions focused on digitalization, decarbonization, and diversification are crucial for enhancing energy system resilience.
The advent of cleaner fuel sources is revolutionizing the supply chain industry. E-fuels, hydrogen, and inductive charging for electric vehicles are not only reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but also offering significant savings in energy costs. Major players in various sectors, from shipping to aviation, are investing in cleaner fuel sources, paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient supply chain industry.
CO2 Capture, Utilization, and Storage
As part of our effort to build a net-zero-carbon economy, the removal of legacy carbon emissions is essential. Technologies that capture, utilize, and store CO2 have the potential to contribute to gigatonne-scale removal while serving as a source of fossil-free carbon products. However, these technologies currently face hurdles in terms of high costs and potential environmental impact.
Designing the Future of Power Systems
The future of power systems hinges on the adoption of green technologies and innovative financing approaches. With wind and solar power now outperforming newly built, fossil fuel-based electricity generation in terms of cost, the demand for renewable energy sources is set to rise. However, integrating renewable power into existing grids and meeting the growing demand in a sustainable manner remain significant challenges.
Driving Energy Technology Innovation
Innovation in clean technologies is paramount for a cost-effective transition to net-zero carbon emissions. While progress is being made in the fields of smart grids, energy storage, and carbon capture, more research and innovation are needed to overcome the barriers to electrification in manufacturing and transportation sectors.
Electrification of Everything
The electrification revolution is set to transform industries and everyday life. From industrial sectors to transportation and buildings, the shift towards electrification, coupled with the expansion of renewable energy sources, is a potent tool in the fight against climate change. However, the full impact of electrification will depend on advancements in automation and renewable energy technologies.
As a clean, versatile energy carrier, hydrogen has the potential to play a crucial role in the global transition to sustainable energy. While its current applications are limited and the costs associated with its clean production and use are high, increased support from the public and private sectors, as well as breakthroughs in cost reduction, could lead to a clean hydrogen economy.
Navigating Future Energy Supply and Demand
As energy demand shifts, the long-term role of fossil fuels is being called into question. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant decline in global energy investment, interest in renewables has shown resilience. Meeting growing energy demand while reducing emissions will require a reorientation of investment and supply chains towards markets like China, India, and African nations.
Next Generation Batteries
The surge in demand for lithium-ion batteries has raised concerns over environmental damage and human rights abuses associated with their production. Consequently, scientists are exploring next-gen battery technologies that are affordable, environmentally friendly, long-lasting, flexible, and scalable.
Next Generation PV
Next-generation photovoltaic cells (PVs) made of perovskite offer the potential for low-cost, low-temperature manufacturing of lightweight, ultrathin, flexible cells. While lab tests prove promising, the scalability and durability of this technology remain to be tested.
Re-mapping Energy Geopolitics
The changing dynamics of the energy landscape, marked by the US re-emerging as a net energy exporter and China becoming a clean tech manufacturing powerhouse, are remapping energy geopolitics. As we transition towards a net-zero emissions future, the geopolitical implications of this shift will be increasingly significant.
Smart grids, integrated with digital communication technologies, offer the potential for a more efficient, resilient, and flexible electricity network. However, their vulnerability to cyberattacks highlights the need for robust security protocols.
Strengthening Energy Policy and Governance
Policies that spur innovation and reconfigure markets are needed to facilitate the widespread deployment of clean technologies. While progress has been made at the federal, state, and local level, more international action is required to achieve long-term emissions-reduction targets.
Unlocking Energy Finance
Innovation in public policy and finance is crucial to align global energy investment with sustainability and security objectives. New mechanisms, such as “blended capital” vehicles and “green bonds,” along with supportive regulatory frameworks, can help bridge the investment gap and accelerate the transition to clean energy.