Challenges & opportunities
Solutions and policies for modern energy provision
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), the global population without access to electricity fell from about 1.2 billion in 2010 to around 840 million in 2017. The share of renewables in final energy consumption increased from 16.6% in 2010 to 17.5% in 2016. But despite this, progress has been mostly uneven, and the deployment of renewables is lagging in transport, industry, heating and cooling. Energy efficiency improvements must also increase to a rate of 2.7% per year to meet the global target.
Accelerated action is needed to ensure reliable access to affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and achieve SDG 7 by 2030. Especially as the world population grows and the degree of urbanisation increases, we urgently need new solutions and policies for modern energy provision. The transition to district energy systems, for example, could reduce primary energy consumption by up to 50% by 2050, according to a report launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As stated in the UNEP report, such a transition could also contribute up to 60% of the energy sector’s emission reductions required by 2050.
Accelerated action to achieve SDG 7 and maximise synergies between the energy sector and other sectors will help advance numerous other SDGs as well. The COVID-19 crisis, for example, has shown that reliable access to energy is indispensable for hospitals and first-line medical services to treat critical patients, avoiding human catastrophe and speeding up the recovery process. Reliable access to modern energy services not just plays a critical role in supporting people’s health. It also catalyses economic development and helps enable a just and equitable transition to a climate-safe future.
Deep dive sessions
Ensuring reliable access to modern energy solutions
Geothermal energy in district energy systems
Shallow geothermal systems, hydrothermal processes and hot dry rock provide clean, abundant, and reliable sources of energy, even if unevenly distributed. The integration of such geothermal resources into district energy systems opens up possibilities to build an energy supply chain that meets the electricity, heating, and cooling needs in urban areas. Appropriate energy system development strategies, policies and planning along with technology innovation and commercialisation incentives are essential to realising energy supply chains that are stable, economically feasible, sustainable and secure.
Life cycle assessment of geothermal projects
While geothermal sources could play a significant role in ensuring access to energy for all, production today is only at 7% of the estimated global potential. Negative perceptions raise concerns with decision-makers and potential investors about the possible environmental impact and risks of deep geothermal energy production. Social resistance often results in significant slowdowns to the deployment of deep geothermal resources. Life cycle assessment of geothermal projects is the best way to address these concerns and to guarantee deep geothermal energy production complies with environmental regulations.
Increasing the sustainability of energy storage
The electrification of transport and the buffering of fluctuating electricity production in the grid are crucial elements of a low-carbon economy. That increases the need for batteries for mobile and stationary energy storage, which in turn requires approaches to extend battery cells’ sustainability. Life cycle assessment provides a tool to minimise the environmental footprint from production to end of life. Increasing the durability of batteries to extend their life cycle triggers opportunities to achieve a more circular value chain. Finally, batteries should provide a more efficient way to include renewables in the energy mix.