- Energy security equals energy independence, and the key to this is greater electrification, digitalization and carbon-free energy.
- Fortunately, there are many positive externalities for mass deployments of this trio of existing and evolving technologies.
- We must act immediately, it is no longer a question of destination, but of speed and scale.
Around kitchen tables, trading desks and boardrooms, people around the world are re-examining the way forward when it comes to energy. It’s no different in Davos, as leaders gather for the World Economic Forum. This is a critical moment in the energy transition.
Over the past few months, timelines for the transition from imported fossil fuels have rapidly accelerated. And calls from UN scientists for rapid emissions cuts remain as urgent as ever.
Against this backdrop, many climate activists fear that turmoil in energy markets could distract from decarbonization priorities. There is certainly some truth to this in the short term, as countries seek new interim energy supplies.
But we must not lose sight of the long-term solution and the fact that one objective does not exclude the other — we can do both. We can achieve greater energy security and we can do so by continuing on the path to carbon-free energy independence. In fact, energy security equals energy independence, and the key to this is greater electrification, digitalization and carbon-free energy.
The solution for zero carbon energy independence
In short, the solution consists of three approaches: electrification, digitized energy efficiency and zero carbon energy. Together, this trio of existing scalable technologies can reduce energy demand while replacing imported fossil fuels with carbon-free power.
Electricity is the most efficient form of energy, and we should electrify all the processes we can. It is cleaner and more and more profitable to cook without gas, to heat buildings without oil and to refuel cars without gasoline. An example from the National Resource Defense Council in the United States: an EV motor converts 85% of electrical energy into mechanical energy. Internal combustion engines only convert 40%. And of course, mass electrification reduces the demand for fossil fuels.
Energy efficiency is another way to reduce the demand for fossil fuels and, in fact, it is the unsung hero of decarbonization. But efficiency isn’t just about better insulation and better building design. And it’s not just about replacing an old HVAC system with heat pumps. These steps have big impacts, but you can go much further.
Digital intelligence makes massive amounts of invisible energy waste visible. It’s the same principle as improving performance through a fitness tracker that visualizes your heart rate and calories burned. With AI, digital twins and other software, it is possible to create IoT-enabled “fitness trackers” for homes, office buildings, data centers, factories and infrastructure.
When efficient machines work in efficient systems, the result is digitized energy efficiency. By creating a digital thread through the lifecycle of any facility, it becomes possible to build carbon-negative data centers. It becomes possible to build an office building like IntenCity, in Grenoble, France, which uses a tenth of the average energy consumption of a building.
Even if you can reduce energy demand by 90%, you cannot reduce demand to zero. So all this electricity must be produced without emissions. It’s there that zero carbon energy Wherever the sun shines and the wind blows, you can create energy. You can generate it locally through a microgrid and distributed energy resources, like IntenCity does, or buy it on the grid. Either way, you gain energy independence by locking in decentralized access, long-term pricing, or both.
Test the theory
The first test: Do these solutions exist on a large scale? Unlike other cleantech innovations, the answer to this question is a clear yes – these are all proven technologies that are already in widespread use.
The second test: do these triplet solutions really solve the double challenge we face? According to the latest energy and emissions models, there is hope.
Regarding decarbonization, three achievable Net Zero pathways by 2050 each build their pathways on the same set of electrification, digitized energy efficiency and zero carbon energy solutions:
1) Net Zero Emissions Scenario by 2050 from the International Energy Agency.
2) The Net Zero Emissions by 2050 model of the Schneider Sustainability Research Institute.
3) The model of Rewiring America, an American think tank.
What about energy independence? A first analysis by German think tank Agora Energiewende identifies a promising path to reduce the EU’s dependence on imported natural gas by 80% by the end of 2027. This path relies on the same trio of solutions .
Our planet is straining under the weight of a world population of almost 8 billion people.
The World Economic Forum’s Center for Nature and Climate accelerates action on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.
- Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we bring together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world through the eradication of plastic pollution.
- The center champions nature-based solutions. Global companies are working together through the 1t.org initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030. As of September 2021, more than 30 companies have pledged to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in more than 60 countries.
- Through a partnership with US Presidential Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and more than 30 global companies, the Forum encourages companies to join the Early Mover Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies so they are available for a massive scale-up by 2030 to enable net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
- The center also brings together leaders to engage in a circular economy approach. Globally, the Scale360° initiative will reduce the environmental impact of value chains in the fashion, food, plastics and electronics industries – an important step in making the opportunity for 4.5 trillion dollar circular economy a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance funds circular economy entrepreneurs and activities in countries like Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. In China, the Forum’s Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
- The Forum also offers crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis through its open innovation platform, UpLink. Since 2020, this digital space has hosted more than 40,000 users working on more than 30 challenges, including reducing ocean plastic pollution, stepping up efforts to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees, and innovating in the production and processing of aquatic foods.
Contact us for more information on how to get involved.
It is no coincidence that the solutions to both crises are the same. Basically, both require that we all do more with less energy and fewer emissions. Electrification combined with digitalization, otherwise known as Electricity 4.0, is how you do this at scale.
How we steepen the adoption curve
Although the math is done, the work remains. We must do everything we can to accelerate the energy transition.
Fortunately, there are many positive externalities for massive deployments of electrification, energy efficiency and zero carbon energy.
- In the IEA net zero scenario above, global gross domestic product increases by more than 40% by 2030.
- According to the Schneider Sustainability Research Institute, digitized and electrified homes can save homeowners 10-30% on their electricity bills.
- EnergySage, a digital marketplace for solar energy, found that US electric vehicle drivers spent 3.5 times less on fuel than regular drivers in March 2022.
- In the Rewiring America scenario above, embarking on a national effort to expand the trio of solutions would save American households up to $2,585 in annual energy costs while creating 25 million good jobs over the course of the year. of the next 15 years. The Agora Energiewende report predicts similar economic gains in the EU.
While there is no overnight solution to the energy and climate crises we face today, there is a technologically viable solution for both: electrification, digitized energy efficiency and carbon-free energy. But we must act immediately. It is no longer a question of destination, but of speed and scale.