In 2015, the UN identified the reduction of carbon-intense energy as one of the key measures needed for sustainable development. As it’s been nearly two years since these goals for sustainable development were agreed upon, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the state of renewable energy in 2017 and what potential action needs to take place to achieve these long term goals.
How are they linked?
For many of us, having electricity is something that is taken for granted. What many don’t realise, is that having access to a reliable and stable energy source is actually the backbone of a strong and growing economy. A good energy system is what is needed to support all aspects of society, from large businesses all the way to agriculture and education. The problem is that at the moment, energy is by far the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for approximately 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions – and the global demand for electricity is only going up. The use of fossil fuels to produce electricity is not only unsustainable, but also causes significant damage on our environment and general health (look at the air pollution problem in Beijing).
What’s the state of renewable energy, and why is it so important?
By 2030, the UN wants “universal access to reliable and modern energy”, as well as to “increase substantially the share of renewable energy”. Today, approximately 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity at all, whilst a further 2.8 billion a forced to rely on wood, charcoal, coal, etc for their energy. On top of that, less than 20% of the world’s energy is generated through renewable sources. There is good news, though. In 2016, renewable energy capacity increased by 10%, whilst the cost of investment actually decreased by 23% – this is certainly a good sign and reflects a global desire to push for renewable energies. There are some countries out there leading by example – 42% of Denmark’s energy comes from wind turbines (with a target of 100% by 2050), and China accounting for over half of the world’s solar power capacity last year.
Renewable energy has the greatest potential to boost the economies of the poorest nations, specifically those in Africa and Asia. Renewable technology is linked heavily with human development, as they can provide electricity, heat, mechanical energy at a far more efficient rate, and would significantly reduce the 400 million deaths caused by current energy solutions in these countries.
What’s on the horizon, and what else can we do?
In a world with so much political and economic volatility, it would be nice to have something to rely on, and there are so many things that we can do individually and as a society to push for a sustainably developing world. On a large scale, governments need to accelerate the transition to renewable energy – through both investment (in resources and research) and promoting best practice (ways for the population to be smarter with energy consumption). One such example could be a transition towards grid-scale energy storage, which would make renewable energy sources more reliable and save lots of money on energy overall. Most importantly, there needs to be more help and investment from the strongest nations to developing countries to improve technology, affordable energy and infrastructure as a whole.