Economic growth and rising demand for energy in emerging economies has led the renewable energy sector to evolve faster than expected. Last year alone, renewable energy investment touched in excess of the $300 billion ceiling to supersede fossil fuels investment. Interest in renewables is surging, and investors are focusing on the cleantech sector. This highly regarded renewable is now leading the sector and currently accounts for one-third of global power generation capacity, with a global growth rate of 7.9%. Among them, photovoltaics is the top employer, creating one-third of total energy jobs globally and over 2 million in China alone.
The sun is always shining somewhere, while the wind is blowing over the hill. The task of innovative engineering is to harvest all nature’s sources and find a cost-competitive solution for storage and supplying energy on demand; this will change the narrative for renewables. Our societal mindset is such that we care how much we earn, not how much we burn, but this is going to change when individuals are ready to take more societal responsibility.
We are set to see a paradigm change in technology to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Government and business should work in tandem by aligning their strategy, which should be mounted on the pillars of innovation, entrepreneurship and flexible business model. Further machine learning and data analytics will allow convergence in scientific and engineering to make advances and predict the future. This will be critical to ensure organizational ability to innovate and deliver high returns.
The market of future energy needs will centered around “technological push and market pull”. Pushing a technology without market demand will not be sufficient; in the case of renewables, the market is gigantic and growing at an unprecedented pace, but we also need to win the confidence of current suppliers and allow them to adopt renewables. We need to define a business model that also supports existing coal or fossil fuels industry in order to smooth the transition and bring all stockholders on to the same page.
No single renewables technology is competitive enough for deployment at every region at global scale. In different parts of the world, different renewables are competitive, due to the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), which regulates the market. Careful planning and creating synergy is paramount for the success of energy transition. We have witnessed the transition of printed photography and the mobile-phone industry to new paradigms; both markets are huge, and some companies had the necessary technology, but failed to understand the rate of market change. Understanding of complex as well as dynamic engineering systems will allow the forming of a circular economy ecosystem, in doing so creating synergy; this should be the aim of future energy leaders.
Circular business models will allow manufacturing, a multitrillion dollar industry, to flourish and create jobs. For this, we need to leverage rational resources in order to harness competitive advantages. Artificial intelligence, which is envisioned to potentially make any organization around 40% more effective by 2035, will cut costs. Pyramid organization structure will be obsolete and a recipe for disaster, while a circular model with integration, interface and integrity of stakeholders (employee, employer, client) and putting purpose before profit is the way to go.
Currently, the cleantech sector is valued globally in excess of $3 trillion, and a shortage of skilled labor is a barrier for its wide-scale deployment in emerging economies. Future energy leaders need to fast-track this by providing skills upgrade from other similar sectors to their employees. The leadership needs to be responsive to the necessary changes and responsible enough to embrace them. The ability to take charge of this emerging market will be the difference between an organization’s success and failure.
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A new business model and inter-sector training on energy technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will pave the way to low-cost and sustainable energy. Optimizing prevailing energy systems with new and innovative solutions will allow us to achieve the fastest, and most profitable, path for high-growth sustainable economic development. Interdisciplinary exchanges of information are vital; a breeding ground for cross-fertilization. Having a dialogue across the technology, engineering and business sectors to be on the same page is what will allow us to solve larger societal challenges.