Seven Challenges for Energy Transformation

2019 | By Rocky Mountain Institute

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How can we rise to drive the energy transition in the next decade? We have identified seven challenges for energy transformation, which need collective action and effective collaboration to address now.

Making Emissions Visible

How can we improve the transparency, accountability, and actionability of climate and energy data to drive new ideas and faster greenhouse gas emissions reductions?

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Bringing state-of-the-art data collection and analysis systems could trigger a truly revolutionary “big bang” of innovations by putting powerful information in the hands of key actors. It is within our reach to create an integrated, open-source system capable of generating emissions maps of the world with continuously improved granularity, smaller uncertainty bands, and reduced time lags.

Tripling Energy Productivity Gains

How can we replicate what’s working at scale, improve design of new buildings and infrastructure, and increase turnover of inefficient assets?

Wringing more work from less energy is a bigger energy “source” than oil. To achieve well-below 2°C in the most cost-effective way, we need to globally triple the pace of improving energy productivity in the next decade relative to the last few years. Energy productivity advances health, development, and security, and can save trillions of dollars’ worth of supply-side and carbon-removal investments.

Electrifying with Renewables

How can we rapidly expand renewables and increase electricity’s share of global energy use?

Electrification with renewable power is one of the most important leverage points to rapidly transform the global energy system. We can limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C if we can electrify 40%–50% of energy end use by 2040 while increasing the share of electricity generation from renewables to 75%–85%. With known technologies deployed at conservative expected costs, this could be achieved while generating net benefits of $65 trillion to $160 trillion until 2050.

Reinventing Cities

How can leapfrog improvements in urban systems and infrastructure be harnessed to deliver secure, resilient, and clean energy services for all?

High urban growth rates represent an opportunity to “boomerang” new solutions worldwide, leveraging network effects to scale low-carbon technologies and practices within and across cities, from developing to developed countries. By 2050, the 1,000 fastest-growing cities can avoid 3 GtCO2 from transport and 4 GtCO2 from buildings per year while bringing next-generation solutions to scale.

Boosting Clean Technology

How can we speed the development and rapid adoption of high-impact clean energy technologies?

Coordinated actions by industry and government can pull forward the timetable for crossing critical technology thresholds, sometimes by a decade or more, through targeted research, development, and deployment in areas like hydrogen production, long-term energy storage, insulation materials, and industrial processes. We can create well-integrated ecosystems where academia, entrepreneurs, venture capital, corporations, and government coordinate seamlessly to shepherd high-impact technologies across multiple valleys of death.

Redesigning Industry

How can we shift the way we produce, transport, and use energy and materials in global products and infrastructure?

  • Digital
  • Design
  • Business Model
  • Regulatory
The co-evolution of new product and service designs, supply chains, and technology research, development, and demonstration will fundamentally reshape commodity, energy, and transport markets. The next industrial revolution will rely on three pathways—dematerialization, energy productivity, and zero carbon material and energy substitution—to mitigate 42% of global carbon emissions equivalent by 2050.

Financing a Swift and Fair Transition

How can we manage financial, institutional, and human aspects of the energy transition to transform both developed and developing economies?

The transition to a clean energy economy can mitigate the worst consequences of climate change while simultaneously delivering large net benefits to our economies and communities. Adopting new tools and methods to speed investment and capital stock turnover, ensure access to energy, reduce transition costs, and mitigate negative impacts on declining industries and communities is essential to maximizing net value creation from global clean energy transformation.

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