In 2015, Marjolein Helder, CEO Plant-e published an article on the World Economic Forum website. It was titled: “Renewable energy is not enough: it needs to be sustainable”. She outlined that over a billion people on Earth don’t have electricity. Energy production will need to rise for them, and for the growing world population as well.
Greater energy production through renewables is clearly not the only answer to this. After all, greater energy production will eat up more resources, which will lead to further, faster destruction of the planet. Energy efficiency and sustainability also need to play a part.
CEO Helder’s company Plant-e produces electricity from living plants, a testament to her commitment to sustainability.
Global Energy Demand is Growing Rapidly
The US Energy Information Administration forecasts a 47% surge in global energy demand by 2050. It also forecasts that oil will still be the top energy resource, with renewables making up just 27% by then. Clearly, that needs to change if we are to save the planet and reduce the effects of global warming.
The switch may not even be as expensive as once thought. A recent Time Magazine article by Yuval Noah Harari, author of “Sapiens” commented on the cost of fighting climate change. According to the author, 2% of the annual global GDP is what’s required to do so. That’s a large amount, however, it’s miniscule when compared to the world’s wealth.
However, only switching to renewables doesn’t address the major issue of a growing energy demand. More efficient utilization of energy as well as switching to greener forms of energy may cause global energy demand to slow.
Energy Efficiency and Renewables Need to Work Together
At the moment, energy efficiency may actually be a more viable solution than renewables. The investment and political will needed to switch to renewables require not just money, but transformation of economies.
Potentially hundreds of millions of jobs dependent on fossil fuel or fossil fuel-related operations will be jeopardized. Pivoting from that to a green economy will face political barriers and, very probably, public backlash.
Energy efficiency tactics to reduce consumption include:
- Energy Efficient Buildings: While an initial high investment, energy efficient buildings can reduce energy consumption steadily over many years. It’s a net surplus in saved energy costs and reduced damage to the environment.
- zero carbon construction is already being implemented in various countries. 3D printed polymers, low energy lighting, lightweight design, and energy efficient motors are all being introduced into commercial businesses.
- Using AI and Machine Learning to improve energy efficiency: Big companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple are working on algorithms to make their energy consumption more efficient. The clearest example of this is Google’s application of the DeepMind AI to reduce energy consumption in their data centers.
Energy Limitation: Going One Step Further
While energy efficiency and renewables are both great tools for sustainability, energy limitation goes one step further. Reducing the amount of energy we use each day is paramount to reducing our dependence on growing energy. Even with greater production and efficiency, the population grows every day.
Technological innovation and the creation of more products every day will eventually exhaust energy resources. Even the UN advises that energy limitation and efficiency need to go hand in hand with renewables to benefit the environment.
There is a long road ahead to a sustainable future. It will require resources, political capital, and most importantly, a transformation in our own lifestyles. However, we don’t have a choice if we are to live in a sustainable world.
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