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3 urban energy innovations with global implications

New York building

The IEA is calling for 1.8 billion heat pumps to be installed in buildings by 2050. Image: Unsplash.

Miguel Eiras Antunes
Global Smart Cities Leader, Deloitte
Lisa Chamberlain
Communication Lead, Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Climate change warnings and the current energy crisis have highlighted the urgent need for clean energy solutions.
  • From buildings to cars to neighbourhoods, energy solutions are emerging from urban innovation projects with the potential for global scalability.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Urban Transformation aims to amplify and accelerate urban transformation projects like the ones featured here.

Renewable energy and sustainable storage methods are arguably the most important transitions the world needs right now to mitigate both climate change and global conflicts. While a lot of progress has been made on both fronts, there is still a long way to go when it comes to creating a carbon-free energy ecosystem. Fortunately, some of the most innovative energy solutions are being tested locally for global scalability.

1. Heat pumps to decarbonize buildings in low-income communities

In some cases, it’s not the technology that’s innovative, it’s the creative approach to overcoming structural barriers to implementation. BlocPower – a World Economic Forum Global Innovator that was recently ranked fourth on Fast Company’s 2022 worldwide list of most innovative companies – has proven that off-the-shelf electric heat-pump technology, coupled with a holistic financing and installation model, can quickly decarbonize buildings in low-to-moderate income communities with no upfront cost to the property owner.

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BlocPower has installed electric heat pumps in more than 1,200 buildings in New York City, where the company is based, and now has projects in more than 25 cities across the US. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has endorsed phasing in electrification by calling for 1.8 billion heat pumps in buildings by 2050. Currently, only 180 million heat pumps have been installed, or about 7% of systems worldwide, but adoption rates are growing, especially in China, Europe and North America. To reach underserved communities, however, locally tailored models for financing and installation are critical.

2. Record-breaking driving range for EV batteries

While electrification is key to decarbonizing buildings, sustainable energy storage is central to developing an electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem, as well as mass transit and grids. The race is on among major car manufacturers to develop and scale battery technology for EVs, but a two-year-old start-up, Our Next Energy (ONE), has drawn attention to its innovative EV battery design by installing it in a Tesla and breaking the world record for the distance travelled on a single charge.

The Michigan-based company designed its batteries to use Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP), materials that are less harmful and more abundant, and is committed to manufacturing their batteries in North America. The company is backed by numerous high-profile mobility investors, but is eager to tap into the $7 billion earmarked by the US government to develop a US-based EV ecosystem, including battery innovation and supply chain development. The US Lithium-ion battery market is expected to grow by almost 20% by 2030.

3. Battery storage networks that power entire cities

Sustainable battery development is needed for a lot more than cars and buildings, however. The City of Melbourne, for example, has embarked on an ambitious programme to create a connected network of mid-sized batteries located in neighbourhoods around the city. The idea is to store energy during low demand and return it to the grid when demand is high. Called Power Melbourne, the vision is as much about reaching carbon-free goals as it is about economic development. Investment in the clean tech sector will create opportunities for research, training, and jobs.

According to a recent World Energy Outlook report by the IEA, new jobs will be created across various clean energy sectors mostly in electrical efficiency, power generation, the automotive sector and grid modernization. These four areas are projected to account for 75% of the 13.3 million new job gains, which significantly offsets the estimated 3 million jobs that will be lost in the fossil fuel industry.

These and other urban transformation initiatives are the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Urban Transformation, launched in August 2021. The Centre's mission is to amplify and accelerate urban transformation projects like the ones featured here and across the spectrum of city-based innovations. Find out more by visiting our website and tell us about your urban innovation projects by emailing the Centre for Urban Transformation.

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