Have you realised that without energy we would be living in Wilma Flintstones’ world? From the mattress where you sleep, the pillow you rest your head, the sofa possibly overused in the past 14 months to the shoes you ware or the vaccination booking, all goods and services need energy to be used.
Energy is a basic good and its distribution, a basic need. Although great progress has been made since energy access data started to be collected in 1990 by the World Bank, as shown in the graphic below, not all have access to it yet. The last decade of the XX century experienced a rampant improvement in the energy access. Overall, energy access improved over 35 p.p. between 1990 and 2000. It occurred mainly in Latin America, Caribe, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. World leaders ensured the World started the XXI century with more comfort than it began. But unfortunately, that comfort has been accompanied by extra GHG emissions as the chosen energy systems were not the most environmentally friendly. Progress came at a cost.
As we progress in the XXI century a new system is emerging. The dialog amongst civil society, businesses and governments is becoming more inclusive in solving global problems such as mitigating climate change negative impact. The transformation many sectors need to pursue is being pulled by the strength of those three actors and the urgency to act deeply to decarbonize and limit global warming to 1.5ºC or 2ºC. Although The Economist informed this week that an yearly volume of 5.5GtCO2 emissions haven’t been taken into consideration by countries, just same volume as the second most pollutant country, due to the varied reporting standards adopted by different countries. With this new data, our Carbon Budget for our Planet’s average temperature not to be risen above the limits agreed with the Paris Agreement, is most certainly smaller than has been announced.
In the previous century, a country’s typical energy mix was comprised of natural gas, oil, coal, hydro, nuclear and a insignificant presence of renewables. As technologies developed, global warming became more evident, pollution levels rose along with respiratory diseases, action to tackle this societal problem emerged stronger. Consequently, renewable investments have been increasing as shown in my post Energy Transition investments.
It’s great to see this increasing portion of renewable energy being generated and consumed. Yet, this increasing rate causes extra pressure in the national energy system operators. The uncertain nature of the renewable energy generation, that not always generates what is expected due to weather changes and the need to meet the electricity demand makes the grid balance to ensure the system’s reliability, more challenging. For each one of us to switch on the power anywhere and anytime, without disruption, system operators need to ensure electricity is generated, transmitted and distributed in the correct amount and at the right tension.
Integrating the new distributed systems in the traditional model is a challenge that will be overcome, in many parts of the world, with a collaborative action from civil society, businesses and governments.
P.S. The previous graphic wasn’t showing the % of population with energy access. The current one is the correct. Yet, this does not change the fact that population has had a more comfortable life with an increase of energy access. The number of countries with energy access has been growing for the past 3 decades, and although the last quinquennium of XX century more population were deprived of energy access, that trend started to revert as the new century and millennium began.