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The Magazine

UN energy challenge

A new energy system for 3 billion more people

When governments, producers, and consumers agree on goals and processes, sustainable energy markets will expand to underserved populations and geographical areas. The United Nations has issued the challenge to provide affordable, reliable universal access to energy.

Today, one in five people, or more than 1 billion people worldwide, still lack access to energy. In 2015 the UN established Sustainable Development Goals. By 2030, governments and their partners aim to “ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services,” “increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix,” and “double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.”
These goals will only be achieved if all relevant stakeholders – governments, consumers, and technology providers – work in partnership on the energy system of the future. The good news is that we already possess the technological means to deliver sustainable energy for all today.

Global energy challenge

Ensuring universal energy access is posing a great challenge to the global community. Add to the 1 billion people who today still lack access to modern energy services the nearly 2 billion people who, according to UN estimates, will be added to the global population by 2040. Economic growth will continue over that time, with global GDP expected to increase by 125 percent, but energy demand will increase as well. The biggest growth will be in demand for electricity. What does this mean for planners today? In a little more than 20 years, the global energy system will have to double in capacity, with most of the new generating capacity added in Asia.

Different regional baselines

Over the course of this global energy transformation, countries and regions will be starting from different baselines. Individual solutions will be needed to address local challenges. Globally, 1 to 3 percent of GDP is invested to develop and expand energy infrastructure.

For oil and gas producing countries, in particular, the relatively high CO2 profile of today’s electricity mix presents a challenge in terms of lowering overall carbon emissions commensurate with the targets enshrined in the Paris climate agreement. Even in North America and Europe, with lower relative electricity intensity levels, there are still sufficient possibilities to optimize systems for efficiency gains.

Energy systems of the future

What we know is that the energy systems of the future will be much more broadly distributed, primarily because of the increase in renewable generation capacity. Breakthrough technologies and structural changes are accelerating these developments. Overall, systems will become more complex. But this very complexity brings with it many new possibilities for optimization, all of which can be leveraged with digitization.
Technology suppliers are working to ensure that generation and consumption are much better aligned in the future, and that a variable supply of electricity can be balanced out more effectively by integrating additional sectors such as heating, cooling, gas, and transportation with the electricity system. The electricity system will evolve into a multimodal energy system better able to meet the requirements in terms of being secure, economical, and – above all – sustainable.

Partnering is key

These major challenges can only be tackled successfully in partnership. It will be increasingly important for technology providers, customers, politicians and policymakers, and also society at large, to work harder and more concertedly to find solutions. It will require new technologies, long-term commitments to provide security for investment, and a willingness to accept change.

Growing populations and rising energy demands will test global leaders over the coming decades. But experience with challenging projects around the world repeatedly demonstrates that it is far easier to deliver projects on time and on budget via partnerships.

Let us all pledge to work together to seek solutions that close the energy access gap, improve quality of life, to ensure a thriving economy and safe climate for future generations. All these things need to be in place if our world is to enjoy greater security, prosperity, and peace.

Lisa Davis is a Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG.
Picture credits: Illustration: Armin Schieb/Sepia, Gary Wing, Anton Hallmann/Sepia, Pia Bublies