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The future of power in the age of climate change

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Electrical energy in simplistic terms is a juncture that inter-connects economic prosperity, amplifies social equity and ushers in a liveable environment for us. No development in its true sense is possible if we leave aside energy and specifically sustainable energy. It is almost indispensable for holistic and sustainable progress of any kind.

As we are aware, coal is currently the most common raw material for electricity production. In fact, ever since the industrial revolution, development has almost singularly relied on the burning of fossil fuels, emitting huge volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As per data by World Coal Association, a little over 41% of all electricity generated is produced from coal. Owing to high level of hazardous carbon emissions and rising levels of pollution (water and air pollution during mining and air pollution during burning), added to the disastrous working conditions of miners, coal cannot be regarded as a sustainable source of energy.

Moreover, global warming and its toxic impact on our environment has never been more pronounced. Despite increasing awareness, not much is being done to mitigate climate change. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has reiterated that unless global temperature rise is not kept within 1.5 degrees Celsius, natural and human systems will be irreparably damaged. Even a slight increase in atmospheric temperature by 2 degrees Celsius will result in substantial rise in sea levels, which would in turn translate into a whopping 10 million more people going homeless and another 50% people facing severe water scarcity. To join the efforts, many global public and private stakeholders have pledged their allegiance into becoming net-zero carbon emitters. However, we are still far from achieving our objectives, as the IEA (International Energy Agency) recently reported that the Earth’s temperature rise will range between 1.8 degrees Celsius and 2.7 degrees Celsius soon.

As the world approaches to embrace a deeply interconnected world – of life, work, play and more – energy efficiency and energy management have slowly come to be the central driving force. In order to power smart homes, industries, hospitals and other mission critical operations, sustainable energy is no more a matter of choice, but of necessity. In a business environment where every second counts and downtimes are unaffordable, technology adoptions like IoT and connected services can greatly enhance energy efficiencies and many global behemoths are coming to terms with this reality. Environmental factors, coupled with rising costs and stringent regulatory guidelines, are adding to the demand for alternative sources of energy, which can not only satiate the growing consumption needs, but are proven to be a sustainable option in the long run.

Therefore, to lay the foundation stone for a sustainable future, there is a critical need to investigate how we create and consume energy. To contain global warming and surging pollution levels within permissible limits, Electricity 4.0, that is, sustainable methods of energy generation and efficient and cost-effective usage of produced energy is of paramount importance. The answer lies in renewables becoming the dominant source of power, globally. There is a growing need to build a new form of energy mix, with renewable ways of electricity creation, at its very core. A new order where electrical internet of things (EIOT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the tools of today’s digital era are fully leveraged to maximise energy efficiency.

Considering that the primary cause of global warming is atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is almost exclusively produced from burning coal, oil and gas, the first strategy to combat it would be to electrify our planet. Augmented proliferation of energy-efficient, electricity-based equipment that are prevalent now, such as e-mobility, electrical heating, innovative applications such as electric aviation fleets can be one way to go about it. Similarly, renewable energy can be the other, as it not only extracts energy from limitless sources, such as solar, hydro and wind, but can also generate sustainable electricity without any combustion, leaving no carbon footprint. Therefore, the immediate need is to scale up the production of renewable electricity and build conducive public-policy frameworks to further this goal. Also, it is imperative to adopt digital technology in order to optimise the efficiency of our energy consumption and electrical networks. Digital connectivity, software and artificial intelligence can well be dubbed as the fulcrum that will support our transition toward Industry 4.0. In order to build a sustainable future, creating a clean and new electric world is the need of the hour.

Increased electrification, widespread use of renewables and the resultant reliability and affordability will not only make massive decarbonisation achievable but would also manifest 90% of the reductions needed in energy-related emissions. Besides, global warming could be contained well below 2 degrees Celsius. It must, however, be noted that to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions or to promote energy decarbonisation, concerted efforts are required from all stakeholders – the community, regions, government and the private sector. Renewable energy is not only beneficial to the environment, but also has the potential to bring in new jobs and newer financial and economic opportunities.

Anil Chaudhry is managing director and zone president, Schneider Electric-India

These are his personal views

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