Access to reliable, sustainable energy is essential for economic development, yet over one billion people, predominantly rural dwellers, live without electricity. Half of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. While renewable energy capacity has grown rapidly, it comprises only 19% of total energy consumption. The heat and transport sectors, which account for 80% of global energy consumption, are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The scaling-up of renewables in the transport sector has been slow, where oil products still account for around 93% of final energy consumption.
Opportunities & Challenges
There are a number of challenges and opportunities in accelerating progress on renewable energy:
Improved financing for renewable energy: More finance needs to be directed to renewable energy, particularly in developing countries. There is an estimated funding gap of $55 billion to address the total cost of Africa’s energy infrastructure needs, where lack of access to energy affects 600 million people, limiting economic opportunity and harming health through the use of low-cost energy sources such as wood fuel.
Promoting economic development: Countries with electrification rates of less than 80% consistently suffer from reduced GDP per capita. Without access to reliable electricity from the grid, many businesses must run diesel generators to keep their operations functioning, which costs between three and six times what electricity from the grid costs worldwide. Lighting alone is estimated to generate income gains of $5 to $16 per month for poor households in developing countries.
Greater energy reliability and efficiency: Increased energy efficiency enables the energy grid to service a wider population where infrastructure does exist.
Partnerships and collaboration: Target 7A specifically highlights the need for increased international collaboration to facilitate access to clean energy by sharing research and renewable energy technology. This will require open source innovations and pre-competitive sharing of best practices.
Technology in action
Digital technology will play a key role in addressing these challenges:
3D printing and robotics can ensure robust renewable energy supply. 3D printing allows advanced production techniques and nanorobots can inspect and carry out any necessary repairs on complex machinery including turbines and solar panels.
New financing models: Crowdfunding platforms and socially responsible investing platforms that rely on algorithms have the potential to provide new financing streams to renewable energy infrastructure.
Energy storage: The ability to store large amounts of energy is critical to the ultimate proliferation of renewable energy across industries and sectors, like transportation and heating. Advancement of energy storage is enabled by systems modeling, open source data sharing platforms and research aggregtors such as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, which combines the efforts of researchers to accelerate the discovery of new batteries while supporting their commercialization. AI can improve the efficiency of energy storage by informing when and how energy needs to be stored.Get Involved