Intelligent World 2030: Smart About the Future with Green Energy
In our Intelligent World 2030 report, we discuss how technology will change almost every aspect of life, focusing on “8 Outlooks” that will unfold over the next decade. In part 8 of this series, we look how intelligent, green energy will not just step up to meet skyrocketing energy demands, but also play a pivotal role in avoiding potentially catastrophic environmental outcomes.
What difference does a single degree Celsius make? The answer, according to the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a lot.
Up to 250 million more people may face droughts. As much as 10% of global agricultural land might no longer be farmable. And heat waves will become up to six times more likely.
The world’s mean temperature over the last decade was recorded at 1.2°C higher than it was from 1850–1900, and the nightmare scenarios outlined above would come into view if that figure were to continue rising and climb to 2°C.
Globally, scientists agree that human activity has been a major contributor to the growth in global temperatures, and only coordinated and concerted efforts will curb further increases. With that in mind, one of the goals of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016, is to ensure that the rise in mean global temperatures remains well below 2°C, ideally under 1.5°C.
Cutting carbon emissions is key to achieving this goal, and that will require the transformation of global energy, in terms of both consumption and supply.
Adopting Renewable Energy Sources
What changes can we expect to see around the world during this transformation? The growing importance of renewables is likely to be one of the most obvious, with the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stating in March that “renewable energy is crucial for building a sustainable, prosperous, and peaceful future.”
In China, efforts to work toward that future are well underway: 50% of the nation’s total energy generation is forecast to come from non-fossil sources by 2030, with a massive increase in solar and wind power capacity. In South Korea, where a long-term renewable energy plan has already been implemented, the aim is for 40% of the nation’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2034, when all of its coal-burning power plants will be closed down.
Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, the search for renewable energy could move offshore, where there’s more space to build. There’s also higher wind intensity and fewer obstacles compared to inland areas, so wind turbines in shallow areas of seawater near coastlines offer a promising energy source that’s already commonly used by the UK, Germany, and Denmark. In fact, this is expected to be Europe’s largest single energy source by 2040.
Meanwhile, floating solar plants will also offer the opportunity to increase renewable energy sources worldwide. With less dust to detrimentally impact sun absorption and less loss caused by shading than at Inland Photovoltaics (IPV) plants, a Dutch study suggests that Floating PV (FPV) farms perform an average of almost 13% better over the course of a year.
With the potential global capacity for FPV estimated at double the capacity of all the existent solar PV installations worldwide, there’s clearly massive room for growth in this field, and enterprises are already acting on it: this July, a company in Singapore switched on a massive FPV farm that’s about the size of 45 soccer fields.
Building an Energy Internet for Smarter Consumption
As well as changes in energy supply, the ways in which energy is consumed are also transforming. Chances are you’re aware of the Internet of Things (IoT), but you may not know about the Internet of Energy, also referred to as the energy Internet. This is the application of IoT in the energy industry.
Energy networks are often inefficient and wasteful: this is where the energy Internet helps. For example, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm, supported by an energy cloud, might control the angle of solar panels in a PV plant at any given point in the day, adjusting them so that they absorb a maximal amount of light as the sun moves across the sky, improving energy yields.
That energy cloud will also have the ability to store vast amounts of data, on energy generation and consumption, all gathered by IoT sensors. It will also support algorithms that forecast levels of generation and demand, based on that wealth of historical data. Comparing forecasts to actual results, this fresh information is fed back into the algorithms to improve them — a cyclical process of refinement, with ever greater focus on the ways energy is being wasted. In the real world, this allows a power station to produce less electricity during periods of predicted low demand, minimizing its own energy consumption to lower carbon emissions.
Improving the ICT Industry to Limit Emissions
While the ICT industry will be integral to global energy transformation, supporting other industries to be more energy efficient, it also has to look in the mirror. If it does, it will see that it accounts for an estimated 2% of total carbon emissions worldwide. Clearly, this industry has a part to play in meeting reduction targets. But what does that involve?
Bearing in mind the vast proliferation of data in recent years — with the number of Internet users worldwide now double the figure for 2010 — it’s no surprise that data centers have become major consumers of energy. Put in simple terms, the equipment housed in data centers gets hot, very hot, and it needs to be cooled if it is to continue to run. So, one way to reduce a data center’s energy consumption is to find more environmentally friendly ways to cool gear, including natural sources such as ambient cold air and seawater.
AI can have an impact here, too. Using equipment temperature and power consumption data, areas of waste can be identified. For instance, is the cooling system’s water pump speed faster than it needs to be at a certain time, such as when there is a drop in the facility’s ambient temperature? Optimization algorithms help establish ideal parameters, communicating them to control systems, automatically adjusting data center operations to improve efficiency, all in real time.
Ultimately, applying techniques such as these are already helping data center facilities cut the energy they use for cooling by up to 40%.
Looking Toward a More Sustainable Future
Clearly, the work to achieve the UN’s ambitious aim of halving the world’s carbon emissions by 2030 is well underway. We’re seeing vast increases in the use of renewables and a phasing out of fossil fuels. There are also big efforts being made in the ICT industry, empowering all kinds of businesses to minimize energy consumption and emissions as well as cutting its own.
As these changes gather pace, the global energy landscape will likely look markedly different by the turn of the decade. And that new look will hopefully ensure that the world’s average temperature doesn’t exceed that 1.5°C target.
Learn more about our predictions for energy.
What else will be different in the Intelligent World 2030? Download our Intelligent World 2030 report to find out more.
Don’t miss the previous posts in this series:
- 8 Outlooks for Intelligent World
- Intelligent World 2030: How Will You Experience Healthcare in the Future?
- Intelligent World 2030: Food for Thought
- Intelligent World 2030: There’s No Place Like Home
- Intelligent World 2030: In the Fast Lane to the Future
- Intelligent World 2030: What Will Your City Look Like?
- Intelligent World 2030: A New Age of Productivity for Business
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.