The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were drawn up by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 and focus on five key areas of critical importance for the future of humanity and the world: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.
Out of those five areas, you could argue that the most important of them all is the last – Partnership. Without systemic collaboration between multiple key stakeholders across all kinds of industries, it simply won’t be possible to achieve the 2030 goals.
This is especially true when it comes to the drive towards sustainability, which features in many of the 17 goals. Take for example goal number seven, to ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.’ Since the industrial revolution, much of our energy needs have been sourced from fossil fuels with little regard for the effect it was having on the environment.
Where we are
In 2020, we witnessed a drop in CO2 emissions of almost 5.8%, which was the largest ever decline and a total reduction of almost 2 Gt CO2. But we need to keep in mind the circumstances that led to this fall, which are primarily due to the recent pandemic. In fact, the last time we saw a similar drop was in 2009 just after the financial crisis.
It goes without saying that we cannot rely on global crises to help us achieve our sustainability goals, especially when the knock-on effects on other areas of focus are so negative. Besides, these drops in carbon emissions due to crises are often subject to dramatic rebounds soon after.
For 2021, there is a predicted growth of 4.8% in CO2 emissions, reflecting a renewed demand for coal, oil and gas as the economy recovers. These swings are not beneficial to our environment. The fact is, to achieve a sustainable decrease in carbon emissions, we need to see collaboration between innovative technology providers, cutting-edge research and organisational bodies.
And change is happening.
Forces of change
A recent ING report predicts that, by 2040, almost 70% of the world’s energy mix could be made up of fossil fuels, leading to a reduction of almost 80% in global carbon emissions. A large factor in achieving this at the legislative level is the Paris Climate Change Agreement, also spearheaded by the UN. This agreement has managed to get a total of 180 countries to make a pledge to limit global temperature increases, while also supporting clean energy investments in emerging markets.
As a direct result of this agreement, the UK had a landmark fortnight without burning any coal, something that hadn’t happened since Victorian times. Another great example of change in action is with the Irish semi-state-owned energy company Bord na Mona. Historically, this company has harvested a fossil fuel called ‘peat’ or ‘turf’ from the Irish boglands, which cover about a sixth of the country.
In January 2021, the company announced that it was going to end all peat harvesting on its lands and have pledged its commitment to achieving zero carbon emissions in the country by 2050.
The tech at the forefront
While regulation and collaboration are fundamental aspects in reducing carbon emissions, all of it is made possible thanks to advances in renewable technology.
Wind and solar power
The largest and most well-known examples of renewable technologies involve both wind and solar power. In 2019, we saw the world reach 67% of new capacity globally, with a record 118 gigawatts of solar power built. The drop in costs for solar equipment saw it overtake wind power to become the fourth largest source worldwide.
Much of the technological advances in this area are due to better performing machinery or other refinements. For wind energy, larger turbines, longer blades and advanced techniques – such as using drones for maintenance – are having an effect. Similarly, solar power is benefiting from better battery storage and general advances in AI technology.
The well-established renewable energy players such as wind, solar and (the somewhat controversial) biomass are definitely at the forefront of the sector. But there are many other exciting emerging technologies that could change the face of the energy industry in years to come.
Na-TECC: Researcher Shanon K. Yee is heading an effort to improve the efficiency of heat-to-electricity conversion in solar energy by using salt. By leveraging the isothermal expansion of sodium and solar heat, the team have found a way to generate electricity.
Harnessing radio waves: At the Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers are investigating ways to harness the energy from radio and television transmitters. The scavenging devices can capture the energy and convert it from AC to DC before storing it.
Optical rectenna: A rectenna is a device for converting electromagnetic energy into direct current electricity. Dr Baratunde Cola, also from Georgia Institute of Technology, has found a new way to develop smaller antennas that match the wavelength of light. Combined with a faster diode, it could end up being more efficient and cost effective than current solar cells.
These are just a few examples of the incredible research and development efforts that are poised to transform the renewable energy sector.
Continuing moving forward
In the last decade, the world has made great strides in combating climate change and ensuring the future of our planet. There is no doubt, however, that we still have a long way to go to reduce carbon emissions and bring global temperatures back down to pre-industrial levels.
Overcoming these incredible challenges involves the cooperation of professionals from all walks of life. Considering the potential of emerging technologies to transform our collective future, collaboration in all its forms is essential to keep moving forward. This is something we continually work towards at The Collider.
The Collider is a venture-building programme that works hard to bridge the gap between science, corporates and entrepreneurship. This innovation project encourages tech-transfer initiatives to connect science and entrepreneurial talent and create disruptive technology-based startups. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-focused initiative that aims to drive the digital transformation of society to help improve people’s lives globally.