The World Economic Forum’s Energy for Society initiative places secure and affordable energy access as the first of its five principles of which leading energy companies commit to deliver in order to meet the needs of a growing world population. Can we, however, go one step further and achieve universal access to energy by 2030 as is the target of many countries and the United Nations.
Renewable energy can play a transformative role in making this objective a reality. With the right policies, investment and public-private partnership models, we can achieve sustainable energy for all, and perhaps even before 2030.
By using our renewable resources, energy can be generated in a carbon-responsible, cost-effective manner that also creates jobs and mitigates climate change, providing a workable and affordable solution that will keep our planet healthy.
The potential of renewable energy is immense. For example, every megawatt (MW) of wind energy installed creates up to 20 jobs; a single 1.5 MW turbine can reduce CO2 emissions by over 3,000 tons every year. And, technological advances have increased the efficiency and productivity of renewable energy. In the wind industry, for example, improvement in technology have made wind turbines 100 times more powerful compared to designs from the 1980s. This is essential to meet our growing energy needs – industrialized countries need more energy to strengthen their economies and developing countries to accelerate progress.
Technological advances have also reduced the cost of renewable energy. For instance, sophisticated materials, electronics, aerodynamics and instillation of larger MW machines have brought down the costs of generating a kilowatt-hour of energy from wind by over 50%. The World Bank report, “Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development”, also demonstrates that the capital costs of wind, solar and hydropower are more than balanced by their low operational costs.
New innovative business models present an economic opportunity for incorporating renewable energy. For example, integrated desalination plants and electric cars (that can also be used to store excess energy) offer ways to reduce costs, increases efficiency and facilitate economic growth. The island community of Samso in Denmark is an example where community-owned renewable energy has helped drastically bring down carbon emissions. Wind turbines power 100% of their electricity needs, and 75% of heating needs are met through solar power and biomass. The community also makes a profit by selling excess energy to the mainland.
Replacing traditional sources of energy completely with renewable energy is going to be a challenging task. However, by adding renewable energy to the grid and gradually increasing its contribution we can realistically expect a future that is powered completely by green energy.
If we act now, we can mitigate the threat to our planet, reduce our dependence on limited traditional sources of energy and provide every person with their fundamental right – access to energy.
Author: Tulsi Tanti is Chairman of Suzlon Energy and a founding signatory of the World Economic Forum’s Energy for Society Initiative.
Image: Wind turbines stand next to power lines behind a corn field in Inning, approximately 70 km west of Vienna. REUTERS/Peter Bader