Board Member View: Pandemic Drives Human Connections, with Lasting Energy Impacts

14th May 2020


Written by Dr Mike Howard, CEO at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Vice Chair, Special Responsibility for Innovation, World Energy Council 

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave indelible imprints on society well beyond its physical toll. A physiological crisis with broad economic impacts, the pandemic also carries with its genuine psychological effects. Remarkably, a global challenge requiring social distancing and isolation has, in many ways, reignited human connections. Around the world, there are countless accounts of neighbors joining in song, communities cheering their frontline heroes, and families spending a little more time connecting in person and online.

If the same pandemic had struck just 20 years ago, society would have been far more limited in its opportunities to connect. The significant technological innovations over the past three decades have presented us with incredible new ways to cope. Today, we have the option of being physically isolated yet socially connected. We can communicate face-to-face with family in real-time, collaborate seamlessly with co-workers around the world, and students can engage in remote learning from almost anywhere on the globe.

As we increasingly come together through technology, how will the innovations that make virtual human connections possibly impact our energy system and the environment?

The energy system is an extension of the society its supports. Technology-enabled social interactions require a vast amount of energy. A two-way video webcast consumes many times more energy than a phone call – but the resulting increase in social value is even more significant. 

As technology helps us overcome a world of separation and strengthen our social connections, it illuminates a future that we can help shape. It helps bring human stories to life, delivers hope through shared expressions, and connects us across the globe like never before. Technology brings us closer to our communities and helps satisfy curiosities about the world around us. Through this crisis, many have grown to appreciate the real value of the environment and the energy that keeps us connected. With this perspective, the value of transitioning to a cleaner energy system and a cleaner environment – for our future and that of future generations – is increasingly apparent.

COVID-19 has forced each of us to reflect on what is most important – to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our future. The lasting impact of this enlightened perspective will enable a generation of thought leaders who will design, build, and shape a cleaner energy system that will lead to a more pristine environment. For an industry that touches all corners of society, the pandemic will shape more than how we interact; it will transform the energy system on which the world’s social interactions depend. Long after the pandemic has ended, sustainable advancements built on social connections will lead to environmentally impactful energy solutions benefiting generations to come.

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