Development challenges in the energy sector are key to a greener future

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The energy sector is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions. It is also essential for socio-economic development. Squaring this circle promises to be one of the century’s defining challenges.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

The lives of hundreds of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific have been transformed by access to electricity over the past decade or so, providing them with a dependable source of power for the first time. Now when it gets too hot they can keep the fans whirring, or the lights switched on after dark. 

Renewable energy, once economically unfeasible, is edging in from the sidelines. At the start of the last decade, renewable sources excluding hydropower generated around 2% of electricity in Asia and the Pacific. Now that figure is closing in on 10%.

Much more is needed however, to keep global temperatures near the 2°C cap agreed in Paris. Energy demand in Asia and the Pacific has more than doubled since 2000, but the primary mix still relies heavily on coal and crude oil, changing little over the past 20 years. 

There needs to be even more transformational change in the years to come, building on the ambition and momentum achieved so far.

This means dramatically increasing the access, reliability and affordability of sustainable energy. Developing economies that are grappling with the competing demands of climate change and economic growth, while making sure all their citizens can benefit from clean power, are at the forefront of this change. 

A new funding and partnership program

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is looking to support technologies at the pilot or proof of concept stage that have the potential to scale and accelerate sustainable development through a new funding program, the Technology Innovation Challenge, supported by the High-Level Technology Fund.

The first challenge, now nearing completion, focused on energy. As part of this special series on the Technology Innovation Challenge, Tech For Impact is showcasing some of the shortlisted technologies, as well as eventual winners, that point the way to more sustainable development and a greener future.

The ADB’s energy sector challenge invited technology providers to propose technical solutions to three areas of particular importance:

  1. Efficient clean heating/cooling solutions
  2. Renewable energy-based micro-grids 
  3. Artificial intelligence for energy demand management 

Heating and cooling are major drivers of energy use, making up around half of final energy demand worldwide. However, the role of renewable energy can play has received relatively little attention, compared with other areas.

Electricity demand for residential cooling may more than double by 2030, testing the ability of power grids to keep up. The PRC, India and Indonesia alone account for 60% of new units installed worldwide.

At the same time, microgrids are becoming an increasingly cost-effective way to connect islands or mountainous regions, thanks to technical innovation. These provide more than power, bringing improved health and education to remote communities, as well as social capital and a better information flow.

Energy efficiency, meanwhile, is a key measure to meet the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. AI could become a critical enabler for balancing energy demand and supply, by monitoring and simulating the behavior of individuals and businesses as the digitization of energy services enters the mainstream.

 

Reining in power outages with kinetic energy (Teraloop)

A plan to turn microgrids into virtual power plants (SOLshare)

How to make a solar-powered mini-mall, using nanogrids (Sesame Solar)

How AI can rejuvenate loss-making utilities (Village Energy)

Smart heating and cooling with zero set-up costs (BeeBryte)

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