The World still needs to make an effective Energy Transition following this crisis

Energy is essential to the modern economy. It provides the vital power source of electricity for industry, for public services and powering infrastructure, as well as resolving domestic activities where heating, lighting, cooking can take place in different ways from traditional wood fires. Our growing reliance on communications, technology, and mobility all are reliant on having this constant source of energy.

As we grapple with the impact and effects of the CORVIt- 19 virus, we are rightly ‘transfixed’ on saving lives, keeping people healthy, but underpinning this is maintaining essential services. A reliable, constant power source is critical for hospitals, for our homes and work environments to support and sustain us.

The energy mix has dramatically dropped off within Manufacturing and Commerical Buildings as we all are forced to stay at home. The Utility companies are doing fantastic jobs of switching power to where it is needed but making sure they are indeed #keepingthelightson. Yet we do need to think beyond the present at some time, hopefully, real soon.

The energy systems we rely upon are old, outdated in design, in their efficiency, and in tapping into alternatives in the electricity source. Mostly we rely on gas, coal, or oil to by the primary sources of our energy. We had been making the transition to renewables (wind, solar, hydropower), but a significant slowing down in the momentum will likely happen as financial funding this change dries up.  In many ways, we can’t allow this, see my post “Has the pace of ambition in the Energy Transition suddenly vanished?

As our energy consumption continues to rise, we are facing several global challenges. The primary sources of our energy production will need to change, as carbon emissions and warming greenhouse gases are continuing to amass in the planet’s atmosphere creating a more unstable world we are living in today.

Traditionally we have been heavily dependent on mainly three types of fossil fuels historically in use for energy generation; coal, oil, and natural gas are all non-renewable sources, depleting the resources of the planet.

Environment Sustainability concerns have become the catalyst to make radical changes globally, driven by Scientific advice and Political will.  Today we have air pollution increasingly becoming a significant challenge, with PM2.5 emissions worsening for 67 countries, causing around 6 million premature deaths per year globally. The combination of political and scientific pressures is providing the need to reduce our carbon emissions footprint in an energy world

The continued burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation, is giving levels of carbon intensity that need to be dramatically reversed as this continues to put pressure on rising temperatures and a warming planet. We have this real need for an effective energy transition built on electricity supplied by renewables. The renewable energy sources offer cleaner alternatives based on solar, wind power, hydroelectric energy, biomass from plants, hydrogen and fuel cells and geothermal power

Any energy transition is a massive shift in energy supply

The energy industry has many problems transitioning from the present fossil reliance to renewables.

We need to build different energy solutions, to resolve the current grid difficulties of accommodating variable sources of power like wind and solar energy, the fastest-growing sources of renewable power. As these resources begin to supply increasing percentages of power to the grid, integrating them into grid operations will become increasingly difficult.

Our present energy grids are partly to blame in their out-of-date design and the reliance on fossil fuels to power them. Most of today’s grids were built early in the last century work and work on a central distribution model that has minimal flexibility to adapt to alternative energy sources or sudden outages.  We have a reliance on energy grids that are large scale, designed over many decades of upgrades and simply fixing and patching, and these are not up for the job to deal with the challenges of increased power demand. They are very carbon-intensive.

The energy transition is about reducing carbon emissions. Globally it is recognized electrification from renewable sources becomes central to reducing carbon. Carbon emission reductions are necessary for new transportation solutions as well as our energy supply needs for industry and cities.

We do have real alternatives through renewables.

At present renewables are overcoming many challenges to make them economically viable.

Firstly, there is a physical reality that the wind, solar, and geothermal resources often are located in remote places, or reliant on the sun or weather conditions.

Secondly, energy distribution radically needs to change to efficiently distribute the power from renewable to where much of the power demand is, in urban city areas, is one of the significant infrastructure issues to resolve.

Thirdly, a new strategy for providing storage capacity will be central to this ability to switch to renewables and this conversion to electricity

Fourthly, we need to build electric superhighways that provide power infrastructure that is radically different than the past to meet the future demand.

Our new energy sources of supply are being designed to be bi-directional, so power utilities, intermediaries, or final consumers can all play their part in managing their role in the generation and management of electricity. This two-way energy flow allows for returning to the grid excess capacity, offering very different business models than the past for new pricing models that are increasingly flexible, challenging the past, often monopolistic positions of one energy provider.

The challenge is building a global consensus of understanding for an effective energy transition and making sure this becomes even more of a commitment after the COVID 19 virus and our economies start to pick back up. We need some radical approaches now.

Bailouts need Energy Transition Conditions attached to them

Energy needs to shift to more dependency on clean energy from renewables. This change should be part of any new economic deal. We bail you out Mr. Car Manufacturer but you have to commit to ramping up electric or hydrogen cars. You want a bailout Mr. Airline then you have to commit more funds to find alternative fuel solutions than the existing ones. Mr. Iron and Steel, Mr. Big Oil, Mr. Cement, etc., etc all need to have conditions attached to loans, bailouts or new borrowing.

So the bottom line for all, irrespective of the energy sector they are in is simply if you, make clear, quantifiable commitments to RD&D or changes in your energy mix, then you do not qualify for public money or you will have tougher conditions from our private institutions if they draw down from Federal funding.

As for your existing shareholders they can determine which side of history their future invest is going; to the past extending fossil fuels or to the brighter future of investing in clean energy of renewables that improve their own and all our lives and contribute more to saving our one planet.

We need to achieve a global momentum in the time of significant energy change and pushing much harder on forcing change needs to happen. Out of this current tragedy we can build a new deal, a deal based on switching to renewables or in twenty or thirty years’ time we will be facing another crisis that might have even more human impact, which is called “global warming” and equally unhealthy environments where we are forced back inside our homes due to the air we breathe will be equally impacting our lungs and shortening our “useful” lives


Useful references

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is providing the meeting place for building a global understanding for an effective energy transition. The WEF, in collaboration with analytical support from McKinsey & Co, offer in in a report “Fostering Effective Energy Transition: A Fact-Based Framework to Support Decision-Making, March 2018, a useful Energy Transition Index (ETI).

Having this common understanding will enable a quicker energy transition. The goal of the global transition is sharing the ETI three principles of working towards 1) inclusive, economic development; 2) environmental sustainability; 3) secure and reliable access to energy.

“The ETI can serve as a tool to track countries’ performance and readiness as well as to identify energy systems’ strengths and improvement areas, business opportunities and threats. In addition to global benchmarking, peer comparisons against countries with similar structural backgrounds and starting positions, it enables identification of relevant reference points. It also supports the development of a vision of energy transition, and ultimately, a roadmap”.


Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems and the energy system

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