There is an unprecedented level of awareness of the role of decarbonization in enabling environmental sustainability moving forward.
In particular, there has been a major focus placed on the carbon produced through electricity generation, as it is responsible for roughly 30% of emissions globally, per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CO2 emissions in India, too, rebounded strongly in 2021, rising 80 Mt above 2019 levels, led by the growth in the use of coal for electricity generation. Coal-fired generation reached an all-time high in India, increasing by more than 13% than the levels recorded in 2020 - when coal generation had declined by 3.7% due to the lockdowns.
When focusing on the energy sector alone, it is apparent that nation states are coalescing into two groups when targeting carbon reductions:
- Industrialized nation states, which have been responsible for the vast majority of the total carbon generation thus far.
- Emerging economies, which are less responsible for past carbon emissions.
As the former pushes the latter, which are heavily reliant on fossil fuels to transition towards renewable energy solutions, there is a tension that needs to be navigated if we are to meet carbon reduction targets – and they are, to be clear, shared targets.
A nuanced approach to navigating this tension will see industrialized nation states collaborating with emerging economies to deploy a portfolio of solutions with the low-carbon generation, storage and demand side management with advanced technology focusing on energy efficiency.
To facilitate the shift more efficiently towards renewable energy adoption globally – here’s what we need to follow:
Energy efficiency applications
To address the concerns around financing, that is, the transition to renewable energy solutions, industrialized nations can circumvent potential waste issues when collaborating with developing nations by providing them with more energy-efficient applications and tools instead of funding.
Consider light bulbs. The amount of electricity required to run LED light bulbs is about 25% of what is needed to run incandescent light bulbs producing the same amount of light.
By providing developing nations with lightbulbs that are more energy-efficient, industrialized nations can ensure that energy consumption – and, by extension, carbon emissions – are being reduced without worrying about financial mismanagement and waste.
Carbon capture systems
Deploying carbon capture systems will help to ensure the emissions created during the energy generation phase will not be emitted into the atmosphere – these technologies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions in energy systems across the board significantly.
Carbon that is captured needs to be sequestrated. But sequestration technologies are not as developed as carbon capture systems; thus, there is a limit to how much carbon can be captured.
Renewable energy integration
In many cases, emerging economies have the advantage of not having obsolete infrastructures already in place. It can often, be easier to integrate renewable energy solutions into an infrastructure that is not so robustly built out than to transition away from something that is already established.
Specifically, emerging economies lacking an established infrastructure can build more strategically, focusing on where energy is needed most. This pertains to three core components – energy generation, transmission, and distribution.
Unlike industrialized nations, emerging economies can save a tremendous amount of money when strategically deploying renewable energy solutions, as there is not an established, wasteful infrastructure already in place.
Hydrogen and storage solutions
Low-carbon hydrogen will help emerging economies meet environmental goals in and of itself – it’ll also serve to provide for diverse energy portfolios, improving resilience while also lowering costs.
Similarly, storage solutions can serve as optimizers for other renewable energy solutions. For example, with wind energy, storage solutions can be leveraged to ensure that electricity generated during off-peak hours does not go to waste.
Cross-border energy transfer
Energy systems have, historically, been challenged by jurisdictional boundaries. However, there has recently been a shift towards cross-border energy transfer and integration stemming from the desire to lower the overall investment and operating costs of the systems in question.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has identified three main modes of cross-border energy integration – bilateral, multilateral and unified. While these three modes are fundamentally different in terms of operationality, they all serve to provide lower costs for parties involved, as well as improved grid resiliency and environmental impacts.
We all are impacted by environmental changes. And, as we are in this fight together, our solutions should be collaborative, as that’ll enable us to secure better outcomes for all countries, regardless of location.
Advanced nuclear technologies
Nuclear technologies have come a long way since their inception.
Now, advanced nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), can play a role in providing a diverse portfolio of solutions to address environmental sustainability.
Unfortunately, there are only a handful of these technologies developed globally. Ramping up the development of SMRs, which are smaller and can be built more quickly than more traditional nuclear reactors, can help to produce energy when and where needed – in turn, this energy could be integrated into existing power grids, helping to provide improved resiliency while simultaneously reducing emissions.
The 2022 IEEE Ad Hoc Committee to Coordinate IEEE’s Response to Environmental Sustainability – the first of its kind – is chartered to develop a cross-IEEE strategy to synchronize and guide the organization’s global response to changes pertaining to the environment.
As the world’s largest organization of technical professionals, IEEE has both the opportunity and the responsibility to assist in organizing the response of engineers, scientists, and technical professionals to address the causes, mitigate the impact and adapt to environmental sustainability. This not only includes IEEE members all over the globe working within our various organizational units and societies but also engaging utility companies, not for profits, non-governmental organizations, and other groups to identify opportunities for collaboration in order to support this important effort.