Powering a Greener Future for the Post-Pandemic World

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

A rare bit of good news related to the coronavirus pandemic is that the crisis appears to be accelerating the transition from fossil-fuel–based to renewable energy sources...

A tectonic shift is underway in the global energy landscape that seemed unlikely only a few years ago. The transition to renewable energy today is a virtually universally acknowledged trend. We appear to have little choice in the matter: The population of the planet continues to rise, and non-renewable energy sources are limited. Renewable sources require considerable societal commitment and investment if they are to succeed, but it’s clear that the only path for fossil fuels is toward decline (with the possible exception of natural gas, which currently is propped up by subsidies). Expediting the energy transition toward the “zero emissions” objective is also the financial scenario, as companies disinvest in fossil fuel businesses because of the industry’s diminished prospects.
A Greener Future
The latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report projects that renewable sources will meet more than 40 percent of total global energy demand in the coming decade. The recent growth in renewable power is a result of tech innovations that have increased production efficiency and enabled a drastic decline in prices, particularly for solar energy. A rare bit of good news related to the coronavirus pandemic is that the crisis appears to be accelerating the transition from fossil-fuel–based to renewable energy sources. A report by BP, the former British Petroleum, observed the impact of Covid-19 on oil demand, noting that demand had begun to fall in absolute terms for the first time in modern history. The company’s annual report on the future of energy says oil will be replaced by clean electricity from wind farms, solar panels, and hydroelectric power plants as renewable energy as the momentum behind the renewables industry reaches unprecedented levels. The most pessimistic of the three presented scenarios for renewable versus fossil-based resources assumes that oil consumption levels will remain constant until 2035 and then begin to fall. However, even under that scenario, oil consumption does not increase. As the energy ecosystem takes a green turn, the pandemic could be accelerating the process. Economically developed countries are implementing more ambitious climate policies and increasing carbon taxes, focusing on the ecological turnaround to boost economic recovery. The growth in sales of electric, hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles will also dampen oil demand. At the same time, the pandemic may have permanently altered driving habits, as some of the workers who began telecommuting in the early lockdown days continue to do so. The cumulative effect of all of these developments is that oil demand will drop as much as 80 percent by 2050, according to various studies. Many countries have committed to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise this century to well within 2°C above pre-industrialized levels. That imperative cannot be wished away, nor can it be achieved without substantial effort, investment, and innovation. The required changes will put a strain on global energy networks. Microgrids, solar storage systems, electric-vehicle chargers, distributable energy loads, and other distributed energy resources will play a critical role in determining the balance between electricity supply and demand.

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