The effects of climate change are quite clear and continuously growing as a threat to Earth’s life sustaining environment. Although we are still heavily depended on fossil fuels, the world is now trying to phase out conventional energy and shifting towards renewable energy. However, recent studies show that ‘what’s next after all fossil fuel reserves are depleted?’ is not the most urgent question right now, that position is being quickly taken over by the threat of disastrous effects of climate change. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has highlighted on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that how we protect our climate in next 3 years will reflect on our future.

It has been estimated that taking actions to permanently lowering carbon emissions by 2020 will put a stop to irreversible climate change (that is about to happen). Understanding the plight, world Governments have decided to take on ‘beyond mandatory’ initiatives to stop global warming within time.

The Primary Cause of Climate Change

Our fossil fuel extraction and consumption causes the biggest amount of CO2 generation within the atmosphere.

Global energy supply through fossil fuels have reached from 6,100 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1977 to 13,700 Mtoe by 2014. And unfortunately, Coal still holds its position as the second-largest energy source in the world. Such utilization choices have resulted into making countries like- China, India, and United States the top coal-related CO2 emitters, which are suspected to account for 70% of global CO2 emissions in future. Research shows that if our fossil fuel usage dependency persists, energy-related CO2 emissions in the world will increase from 32.3 billion metric tons in 2012 to 35.6 billion metric tons in 2020, ultimately reaching 43.2 billion metric tons in 2040.

Global energy related CO2 emissions are estimated to increase at an average of 1.0% from 2012 to 2040. Emissions in Mexico and Chile grew by 1.1%/year, while South Korea saw an increase of 1.0%/year (in average). In Europe, CO2 emissions increased by 0.2%/year and in the Americas, 0.3%/year (in average) increase is noted. Asia stands with approximately 59% growth in global CO2 emissions from 2012 to an estimated 2040. China contributed to more than 41% of the total CO2 increase in Asia’s greenhouse gas emission, although the country has shown only 1.0%/year growth in CO2 emission. In comparison to other countries, it is noticeable that India stands with a 2.7%/year increase in CO2 emissions. From coal combustion alone, Asia’s CO2 emission is estimated to rise more than 2.2 billion metric tons in the future.

So it is easy to figure out that our dependency on fossil fuels is short-sighted. And limited fossil fuels would not be able to satisfy the energy demand that will rise with the population boom. This simple understanding indicates a fatal flaw in our conventional energy powered plans for the future.

The Change

Understanding the need to evolve, the world came together and started looking for alternate energy choices, initiating the energy revolution. Fossil fuel usage was indeed a progressive move for us, but when it still failed to provide energy to 1.6 billion people around the world, it was time for the world to evolve and initiate a transition to renewable sources of energy.

Championing Solar

On the other hand, focusing on sustainable energy promises to help us construct a safer and more energy rich future without inflicting any damage to our climate and planet. Among various forms of renewable energy, solar received global acceptance as it is easy to manufacture, use, maintain, and feasible (followed by 90% drop in solar module prices) than other renewable energy choices. The whole world accepting solar and collaborating to speed up its growth as a main stream energy source makes it a revolution, which the world desperately needed.

What Solar Revolution Offers

While conventional energy pollutes the world, solar energy does nothing of the sort. Only 1 KW of green energy can reduce more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 annually. Utilizing renewable energy has helped Japan to phase out fossil fuel usage, displaying a decline in CO2 emission by 0.4%/year.

Advantages of solar energy-

  • Solar PV modules are easily installable than other energy choices.
  • Solar PV modules are low maintenance, but offer high performance.
  • Solar PV modules can be used to harness energy from your roof as well (making you energy reliant).
  • There comes an option with solar energy to sell your power to the grid and earn.
  • Solar installations can offer consistent performance whether it is rain, snow, or a hot and humid.

Renewable energy sources impact the economy very positively, both on a global and local level. That is why developing countries like- Brazil, Philippines, Africa, Morroco, India etc. are seriously investing in renewable energy – especially solar ($286 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2016, and out of that amount $131.56 billion was invested by developing countries). The opportunity to re-structure economy and create jobs is so tangible with renewable energy ventures, that developing countries are betting huge on it, shifting from conventional energy. A closer look at developing countries highlight, that rising cost of conventional energy (due to their limited reserves) and threat upon climate have made it problematic for developing countries to initiate any kind of progress (since energy is the life force of development).

Judging from the changes that will surface with increased renewable energy usage in sectors like health, education, environment, and economy, global welfare is expected to rise by almost 2.7 per cent. So, besides optimum climate improvement, solar energy shift is promising socio-economic growth, which developing countries drastically need.

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In pursuit of saving the planet, and to find a more feasible energy source, we readily accepted solar. Little did we know that the simple decision to ‘go back to the basics’ would not only connect us with an infinite energy source, but also offer a way to save natural resources. And by saying natural resources we mean the most important one: water.

Energy generation and transmission utilizes huge amounts of water; and on the other hand, approximately 8 per cent of the global energy is used to treat, pump, and transport water. So, it is fairly simple to understand that water and energy are interdependent resources.

With the increasing population (approximately 7.5 billion in 2017 globally) and pollution, keeping water clean and uncontaminated has become a challenge.

However, even in this scenario, our conventional energy generation and transmission choices syphon off a huge amount of water, which could have been used to sustain life. It may appear surprising to the uninitiated, that we use water- to pump, remove pollutants during processing, and to control the temperature of the energy plants during energy generation from crude fossil fuel.

How much water? Research suggests that we use near about 2.30 liters/kWh for Nuclear, 1.90 liters/kWh for Coal, and 1.60 liters/kWh for generating energy from Oil. However, the story doesn’t end here, conventional energy choices create waste, which eventually ends up in the water, contaminating water bodies in a more profound manner. For example, if we consider a 500 MW coal based power plant, we will get approximately 200,000 tons of sludge waste and coal ash weighing up to 125,000 tons per year. Even disposing just this amount of waste year after year presents a threat to our eco-system. So, imagine how much damage we are continuously doing to our water supply, given the huge number of coal, oil, and other conventional energy power plants exists in the world. And it is easy to understand that we don’t have much time until clean water becomes a rare commodity.

On the other hand, solar energy solutions present not only the opportunity to avoid wasting water but also protects water, which is definitely the most important resource to sustain life.

Water Free Energy Generation

Oil and coal extraction is often supported by fracking the soil with high-pressure liquid (water) and besides that, gallons of water are used to turn fossil fuel into energy. On the other hand, solar energy generation virtually needs no water. Solar panels harness Sun’s energy when the Sun rays hit the panels. There are no moving parts in the process and there is little to no need for cooling the panels. Although, a little amount of water is used during solar panel manufacturing (0.110 liters/kWh) and cleaning, the total amount is considered to be as little as 1/200th of the water used in conventional plants. So, we can say that solar energy generation is a better option to save water while generating energy.

Extended Life Cycle and Eco-Friendly by Design

Solar panels come with a guaranteed life expectancy of 25-27 years (from trusted manufacturers). Having a longer life expectancy helps in minimizing water footprint, keeping a healthy reserve of clean water. Additionally, solar panels are easy to re-cycle. Therefore, environmental impacts are extremely low through these energy generation choices.

Pumping and Cleaning Water

Pumping and treating water using conventional energy for agriculture or drinking, levies a lump sum charge on countries, while eating up generated energy that could have been used for other purposes. And with rising expense of fossil fuel based energy, it has become very expensive to send water to the farthest corners of our world, even when our planet has 8 million cubic miles of freshwater. However, with solar energy usage, pumping water and treating it would become less costly and more efficient.

Protection from Evaporation

Floating solar farms utilize space while generating required energy. Additionally, they can reduce the rate of water evaporation, maintaining the reserve of water intact. Left unchecked, hot summer days can evaporate huge amounts of water from the lake, ponds, and other fresh water bodies. Floating solar farms, providing shade, helps in saving water, protecting our interest in more than one ways.

To be faced with water crisis would be a terrible consequence of our short sightedness. However, global acceptance towards solar energy presents a hope for a sustainable and bright future. And it is exactly what we need at this juncture, to leap towards a fulfilling future.

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IRENA reaches out to energy innovators at European Utility Week and the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference

The ‘three Ds’ of renewable energy — decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation — are bringing new opportunities and transforming the energy sector. Innovations in technology, operations, policy, regulation, and business, are all interacting and re-enforcing each other’s contributions to the power system transformation towards low-carbon energy.

To better understand the reproducibility and scalability of the energy sector’s innovations and to accelerate the sector’s transformation, IRENA organised in October 2017 two sessions to discuss developments directly with innovators at the European Utility Week 2017 (EUW2017) in Amsterdam, and the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) in Brussels.

“Everywhere we see the signs of change. Utilities are key facilitators for the energy transformation. To be successful, they must embrace transformation driven by a power system with high shares of renewables that is increasingly distributed, digitised and interconnected,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin at the opening of European Utility Week.

The trend is that consumers are turning into “prosumers” — becoming more informed and empowered, and taking an increasingly active role in the power sector. The two IRENA events created a space for stakeholders from utilities and consumers, to network and share their views about breakthrough innovations.

An innovation network

Through events like these and next June’s Innovation Week, IRENA aims to strengthen its role as a platform for networking and open dialogue between the stakeholders — including the private sector and policy makers — to foster innovation for the energy transformation.

“Innovations emerging all over the world, have the potential to lead the energy transition and decarbonise not only the power sector, but associated sectors like transportation, industry and end-use sectors,” says Dolf Gielen, the Director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre.

“Close cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders is needed, where the policymakers and regulators enable the emergence of new business models, where utilities and entrepreneurs come together and create new value streams for the consumers,” Gielen says.

In addition, IRENA’s forthcoming Innovation Landscape Report for the Power Sector Transformationaims to increase awareness of the emerging innovations among policymakers and guide them in what suits their country’s context and needs best.

Innovation landscape

Leading-edge innovations

In IRENA’s sessions during EU Utility Week and G-STIC, companies and projects presented their innovations that could support the energy transformation. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Along with increasing distributed generation, distributed storage has recently gained momentum with behind-the-meter storage, allowing customers to store electricity generated by their rooftop solar panels for later use. Using batteries, heat pumps, PV-panels, recycled-heat air ventilation systems, plastic window frames with triple glazing, and isolation facades 30 centimetres thick, the Dutch project Stroomversnelling, is refurbishing homes and making them energy neutral.
  • Electric vehicle (EV) innovation is bringing the transport and power sectors together, and potentially decarbonising both. In the power sector, EVs can be decentralised storage resources that can provide additional flexibility to support power system operation, but must be managed in a smart way to avoid power system disruption at peak load times.
  • The Parker Project, developed by the Technical University of Denmark, is a Grid Integrated Vehicle (GIV) concept, and the first ‘vehicle to grid’ hub in the country. GIVs increase a grid’s flexibility allows for advanced grid services. VERBUND Solution GmbH, Austria’s leading electricity company, is working on the first deployment of ultra-fast chargers for EVs in Austria and Germany.
  • As the world shifts towards greater interconnectivity, the wider use of smart meters, sensors and internet of things applications, has created opportunities to provide new services to consumers, enabling them to participate in the electricity market by controlling consumption and reducing electricity bills. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, BeeBryte, a French energy intelligence company, is making buildings smarter and cleaner by modulating energy consumption with sensors that control heating, cooling and battery storage.
  • Decentralisation and digitalisation has allowed for a variety of innovative business models to emerge. One of them is Virtual power plants, which aggregates distributed generation and demand response to sell electricity and ancillary services in the system. Paul Kreutzkamp from Next Kraftwerke, a virtual power plant operating in Germany and Belgium, believes that setting energy generation and demand should go hand in hand through price signals, spurring some utilities to consider new business models. The Dutch utility Eneco, is developing a network of home batteries into a virtual power plant to provide capacity and grid services to the Dutch grid (CrowdNett project).
  • Platform business models based around peer-to-peer power trading is aiding the democratisation of electricity. Lumenaza, a new software platform in Germany, lets utilities buy and sell ‘regional electricity’ by connecting up small producers with consumers.
  • Blockchain technology is coming to the energy sector and has the potential to change the paradigm by cutting-out the middlemen, and enabling peer-to-peer transactions based on smart contracts. SolarCoin, a blockchain-based digital asset, grants solar power producers 1Solar coin per MWh of energy produced.

To learn more about the events and to see the presentations, visit IRENA’s EU Utility Week and G-STIC event pages.

To learn more about innovation in the energy sector, read IRENA’s latest innovations paper and visit IRENA’s website.

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As sustainability leaders from around the world gather at the One Planet Summit, we’re reminded of the urgency of the climate crisis and inspired by those who, together, are rising to meet the challenge head-on.

Two years ago, the Paris Climate Agreement gave us all a clearer understanding of what’s at stake. Limiting global temperature rise this century to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is essential if we are to avoid widespread, disastrous ecological problems.

It was at COP21 in 2015 where we first presented our 10 sustainability commitments in order to build carbon neutrality within Schneider Electric’s ecosystem and to accurately quantify the carbon impact of all our major customer projects.

So, as we meet once again to collaborate in the fight against climate change, I’m excited to provide more details about Schneider’s strategy to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Schneider has joined RE100 and EP100 — two global, collaborative initiatives of influential businesses led by The Climate Group and committed to climate action.

  • RE100: to use 100% renewable electricity by 2030 with an intermediary objective of 80% by 2020. This will be accomplished by increasing on-site renewable energy projects at more than 1,000 electricity-consuming sites around the globe, including 200 factories.
  • EP100: to double energy productivity by 2030, against a 2005 baseline, setting an ambitious target to doubling the economic output from every unit of energy consumed.

In addition to this acceleration toward carbon neutrality, Schneider — together with Crédit Agricole, Danone, Firmenich, Hermès, Michelin, SAP, and Voyageurs du Monde — is launching a new impact investment fund, with a target of 100 million euros. The fund aims to improve the lives of two million people and avoid the emission of up to 25 million tons of CO2 over a 20-year period. The Livelihoods Carbon Fund will invest in ecosystem restoration, agroforestry, and energy with projects beginning next year in developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

We’re also strengthening our commitment to measurable targets and transparency:

  • Before 2020, Schneider, along with more than 400 other companies, will work with the Science-Based Targets initiative to identify and validate our sustainability goals based on the assumption that Earth will breach the 2 °C warming limit by 2050.
  • As of this week, Schneider will provide full visibility and transparency for our sustainability targets through the quarterly publication of our Planet & Society Barometer.

In order to deliver on these promises, we will leverage EcoStruxure Power and EcoStruxure Grid. We’re already seeing significant success — according to our Planet & Society Barometer, which is audited by a third party, Schneider reduced energy intensity by 42% between 2005 and 2017, and carbon intensity by 35% between 2012 and 2017.

By developing affordable and reliable low-carbon solutions, we’ll also work to help the one billion people on the planet who don’t have access to energy and the 10% of inhabitants facing energy insecurity.

As I have said before, when it comes to the climate, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m an activist. This is because, in working for a more sustainable world, we not only ensure a healthier planet for future generations, we also promote innovation and prosperity here and now. What’s good for the climate is good for the economy. We must speed up the transition to a low-carbon economy as it promises to bring sustainable economic growth, employment, and better public health.

At Schneider, we’ll continue to actively participate in all useful initiatives to increase the low-carbon approach to the world’s economy and accelerate progress to a sustainable future. Finally, as we have done this week, we’ll continue to refine and strengthen our own commitments to sustainability to help ensure a healthier and more prosperous world for future generations.

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