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Changing How We Think About Energy For Our Urban Future

Our constant need for more and more energy is one of the most basic dilemmas of modern life. Vincent Petit from Schneider Electric discusses how the challenge can become an opportunity.

Changing How We Think About Energy For Our Urban Future

One of the top challenges presented by urbanisation and our escalating world population is the ever-increasing need for energy. But with the right approach, we can turn this challenge into an opportunity.

The global population is expected to increase to 10 billion in the second part of this century. What’s more, drawn by the chance for a better, more modern way of living, people continue to move to cities, in both mature and developing economies.

The rate of urbanisation has increased from 29 per cent in 1950 up to 49 per cent today, and predictions suggest it will reach 67 per cent by 2050.

This represents a potential of 2.5 billion additional urban dwellers by 2050 – a migration never experienced in the history of humankind. And every one of those families will need power in their homes and workplaces.

While the global phenomenon of urbanisation opens opportunities for billions of people to achieve a higher standard of living, the movement itself impacts society and the global economy, presenting challenges in terms of resources, climate change and financing (with an expected 75 per cent increase in infrastructure investment needs in the coming decades).

How we manage energy (its generation, distribution and consumption) will be a leading factor in finding solutions for these challenges.

Renewable power is today on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where it becomes the most competitive source of energy across the entire system.

A new world of energy is emerging that is clean, competitive and electrified. Australia, for instance, is taking a giant step toward reliance upon renewable energies with a $13.8 million solar and battery microgrid project, the first of its kind in Australia. The microgrid will harness the full potential of renewable energy by dealing with the intermittent nature of solar. Working together, renewable energy engineering company Planet Ark Power and Schneider Electric will deliver a secure, sustainable and affordable energy supply to South Australia.

At the same time, digital technologies and IoT are pervading every aspect of our daily lives and business operations, bringing new levels of productivity, flexibility and energy efficiency.

For example, cement manufacturer China National Building Materials Group Corporation has leveraged digital solutions to improve performance while reducing its carbon footprint – a considerable undertaking for one of the most energy-intensive industries. But digitisation paid off: CNBM has cut its energy use, improving its overall energy efficiency by 10 per cent while significantly raising its productivity.

The transition to a clean and electrified energy system is accelerated by the digital technologies that make it possible. The transition to a new digital economy is, as well, accelerated by the emergence of a more competitive and sustainable energy system. Together, these elements are reshaping the global economy and opening new opportunities for better living.

There is a pathway to a sustainable future.

An integrated energy, efficiency and sustainability strategy is within reach. The emergence of a clean, electrified, ultra-efficient and digital energy system is achievable with today’s technologies. More, its growing competitiveness and proven benefits make this transition almost inevitable. This new paradigm can bring massive benefits to the challenges posed by the rapid urbanisation of billions of people.

The key question will thus not be if it is possible, but at what speed we can make it happen:

  • How fast can the current system move to a more electric world?
  • How fast can we tap the significant potential of efficiency driven by digital technologies?
  • What changes need to occur to accelerate these transitions?

Countries and businesses around the world have already embarked on that journey, each with specific constraints and contexts. But despite the challenges to overcome, we can view the future with optimism in light of the great achievements being realised every day.

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