Why it is time to rebuild the energy system

A broad spectrum of experts agree that if we are to meet the global climate challenge, then a paradigm shift must occur away from the use of fossil fuels and towards the widespread adoption of clean energy. The urgency of the task is underscored by an ever-increasing body of scientific evidence, and the continued struggle of millions of people around the globe who need access to energy in order to escape poverty.

Most of the solutions that are required to facilitate the great journey from the fossil fuel-driven industrialization era, with its roots in the 18th century, towards a post-industrial age based on clean energy are in fact already available. Indeed, we can already see how a cleaner, healthier and safer future might look like, through the rise of renewables, the electrification of transport, and zero emissions. Housing, sustainable agriculture, smart technology and the broader drivers of our circular economy can all now be interlinked with - and powered by - clean energy. Already, countless peoples from all walks of life, from companies, investors and everyday citizens, are working on this future. We truly now live in the age of Generation S.


And yet, the migration towards clean energy remains painfully slow. Whilst tangible progress is being made, time is not on unfortunately our side. Quite simply, action is not being taken swiftly enough. Efforts to price carbon based on the 'polluter pays' principle are only now just starting to find embryonic political support, and innovative energy solutions all too often cannot be scaled because existing systems and infrastructure pose enormous barriers.

To limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, as agreed by world governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December, the global capacity of clean power will have to reach over 34 terawatts - at a cumulative cost in excess of $100 trillion USD - by 2050. By that time, clean energy will need to account for 80% of the total energy consumption mix, replacing the fossil fuel equivalent of 24 billion tons of coal and cutting around 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually.

To meet this challenge, this opportunity, it is therefore clear that we need to start investing today in a new global energy infrastructure. One that is capable of transporting electricity over long distances, at minimal losses, from parts of the world where renewable energy is available in abundance to areas where it is needed. And which allows for both smart feeding and distribution.

The technology to accomplish this goal is already available in 2016, and is proven to work . We only need to look to the development of Ultra High Voltage (UHV) energy transmission in China over recent years to see the possibilities. State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) has successfully built UHV transmission lines across the country, transporting over 150 billion kwh in 2015. Various other projects are under development not only in China but elsewhere across the globe.

And to advance the development of UHV technology in combination with smart grids and clean energy, an important new global initiative has been created, called "Global Energy Interconnection (GEI)". GEI was first introduced at the UN Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals last September in New York, and at COP21 in Paris. It holds the promise to tackle three related changes: access to energy for the poor, reducing pollution and enabling clean energy to go to scale.

A range of activities including research projects and projects are already under way at GEI and in time, the initiative will I believe help to drive innovation and accelerate much needed transformation into a post-industrial society. It is crucial that we built political support for GEI in order to build a more prosperous, cleaner and safer tomorrow.

Let us understand that a clean energy future is available now, and is accessible to us today. Let us be emboldened that what is required is not beyond our reach. But above all, let us take action now.

Georg Kell is Vice Chairman of Arabesque Partners and is the founder and former Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact.