Closing the energy gap
Smart solutions, training and partnerships are key to meeting the energy challenge head-on, says George Senzere, solutions engineering manager at Schneider Electric.
The world is becoming a better place. Levels of extreme poverty and disease are reducing. So are the impacts of wars and natural catastrophes. But, this did not come about on its own. Today's improved welfare is the result of a rise in technological excellence, from better crop yields and medical breakthroughs to instant communication and heightened levels of co-operation.
Yet, there is a price to pay for this. Energy consumption keeps rising, creating a new gap among societies. In sub-Saharan Africa, that gap has become evident. Twenty years ago, around 400 million people in the region didn't have access to electricity. Today, that figure surpasses 600 million.
Aside from growing demand, a major factor is also the way we generate power, explains George Senzere, Solutions Engineering Manager at Schneider Electric: "The concept of centralised power generation is not going away. You need that level of output to support large industrial and commercial interests. But, it is not equipped to meet the long tail of demand across society as we move into a new technology era. To meet that demand, we need to revisit how we generate and distribute power to households and businesses."
Data centre canary
Warnings of this rise in energy demand became evident in the early 2000s. For example, Japan, at that point, calculated that the growth rate of its data centres would consume its total power-generation capacity within a couple of decades. Fortunately, a huge leap forward in data centre efficiencies has delayed that outcome. But this was prior to the world developing a ravenous appetite for digital services and other technological advantages. Power demand is rising again, only this time it's not coming just from monolithic institutions. The need for more electricity is everywhere.
The losers in this dynamic are rural people, as well as the poor struggling against rising energy costs.
"It's a fact that we cannot meet development challenges if we cannot support the underlying energy requirements of a modern country," said Senzere. "One size fits all no longer works. Yes, we can build giant power stations, but they will not keep up with demand. We need smarter and more agile solutions that augment existing strategies. These solutions need to be sustainable and affordable. That can't happen if we keep trying the same thing."
Friends in energy
Senzere identifies three areas where the energy challenge can be met head-on. The first is in smart solutions that monitor energy performance to create better efficiencies. These solutions need to be affordable and turnkey, yet retain a flexible bespoke quality that can fit into the unique environments every community or business has created.
The second is to drive training, expanding the size and pedigree of professionals who can develop and match energy needs on the ground. Finally, partnerships are key: particularly with entrepreneurs that can bring solutions to where they are needed.
"We should look at the energy challenge as an opportunity," said Senzere. "There are many jobs and enterprises locked inside the energy revolution. It's not only about renewables, smart IOT solutions are making energy monitoring better, while data is helping create new intelligence and efficiency around how we consume power. All of those areas require new roles for people to make them a reality."
We can make the world a better place for everyone while opening doors to development and employment, all by closing the energy gap.