The Times ‘Future of Energy’: We can humanise energy, and we must do so urgently

9th March 2021

Press & MediaEuropeGlobalInnovation

The Times 'Future of Energy': We can humanise energy, and we must do so urgently

The World Energy Council has partnered with Raconteur and The Times for the publication of the 2021 Future of Energy Report, the largest and most in-depth report on the energy industry to be published in the UK national press this year.

Featured in the report is the latest from the Council Secretary General and CEO, Dr Angela Wilkinson:

We can humanise energy, and we must do so urgently

The brutal shock of Covid-19 has had a deeply uneven impact on communities and economies around the world. The world energy industry is no exception.

The crisis has highlighted the importance of energy in all our lives – for homes, health and digital productivity. It also tested the resilience of grid systems and spurred new investment in deeper decarbonisation of heat and transport sectors.

Access to modern energies is easily taken for granted: affordability, reliability and equity matters are frequently overlooked. Despite free sunshine, household energy debt, fuel poverty and even defaults on mini-grid payments are increasingly evident. Only the lucky few have abundant energy to light, heat or cool their homes. Hundreds of millions live with zero access to electricity and billions more people lack energy for clean cooking, sanitation and better livelihoods. The gap between those with abundant access and those without enough energy is widening. 

Should societies bet on techno-fixes to provide the cure all? Many green energy solutions are in their infancy and there is little thought about new and different future energy needs. Neither technology promoters nor capital market investors focus on the human pace of the ‘race to zero’.  Affordability and energy justice matters are mobilising more people and communities, especially those impacted by transition, to become involved.

Political and policy discussions are starting to touch on the new social energy agenda and it will be important to look beyond peak demand for coal and oil and address winners/losers, new uses and meet growing demand. 

We can humanise energy, and we must do so urgently.

The flows of clean, affordable, reliable and equitable energies are the lifeblood of progress. Securing clean energy and flexible storage for everyone will not be easy. It can be achieved through investment in renewables and other clean energy friends - net-zero emissions heat, power and liquid fuels. The ‘race to zero’ ignores this nuance and risks extreme polarisation between green-only energy winners and many more losers. Whose energy decisions are being driven by concerns about the end of this week, the end of the world, or both?

The scale and scope of the existing energy system and materiality of the renewable power revolution are not well understood. It is frustrating to be engaged in so many debates which reduce the ‘tutti fruiti’ of modern energies and their uses to the apples or pears of solar and wind power. Not everything can be electrified, yet! Lack of energy literacy – including amongst some investors, policy shapers, and journalists - is a risk to the future of humanity.

People, new uses and demand dynamics are missing in energy outlooks. We owe it to future generations to maintain a healthy planet and avoid destiny as a return to (renewable energy) farming. Let us inspire children to keep reaching for the stars. Energies for flying cars, meteorite mining, quantum warp drive engines are exciting possibilities!

Building forward together will involve recovery along multiple pathways and benefits from a new mindset of customer centricity and demand-driven solutions. There needs to be a safe space for honest discussion of the full costs to society, stranded communities and the ‘more energy’ implications of new human and economic development models. We can offer a safe space – as the world’s oldest, neutral and independent world energy organisation – to address these political undiscussable questions.

By the COP26 meeting, the work on new metrics for the ‘S’ in ESG reporting by energy investors and firms should be concluding, not starting; and by the end of 2021, we can all share stories of success in humanising energy which inspire future generations of energy entrepreneurs.

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