Hi-tech for clean energy progress

During this global pandemic, energy access has proved more crucial to human well-being than ever before, as recovery from the virus requires access to telehealth services, safe temperatures, and powered medical devices. This new reality and lifestyle changes reduced fossil consumption during lockdowns, accounting for the decline in oil prices and technological availability. As a result, many governments implemented clean energy strategies.

A sustainable recovery

American economist Milton Friedman once said: “Only a crisis produces real change.” So, now that we are in the midst of complex turmoil, there is an opportunity to restructure the economy and prioritize environmental impact. In the aftermath of saving lives and protecting people’s livelihoods, governments and organizations should understand that the pandemic is inextricably intertwined with global ecological issues. Therefore, to ensure sustainable recovery in the years to come, it is critical to focus on efficient, sustainable recovery.

A sustainable recovery strategy means promoting policies and investments that positively impact the environment and bring health and socio-economic benefits. By adopting innovative policies, countries can pave the way for economic recovery and quality jobs based on new and environmentally sensitive business models.

Various studies have pointed out that the post-pandemic period will determine whether the world hits or misses the Paris Agreement targets. Prioritized recovery includes:

  • Direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure.

  • Reducing fossil fuel subsidies.

  • Clean water.

  • Promoting nature-based solutions.

Nevertheless, one major practical challenge to implementing a sustainable recovery lies in ensuring that countries are well equipped with the knowledge and skills.

A fight to fit in the future!

Evidence shows that countries that invest in sustainable stimulus during the financial crisis have successfully created jobs and boosted their economies (Jaeger, 2020). According to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, 2016), clean energy investment during the financial crisis provided a solid economic recovery of 900,000 jobs by the end of 2015. Nevertheless, studies have shown that while the stimulus was designed to have short-term effects, there were also longer-term effects.

Sustainable stimulus investments are risky because they are most effective in high-skill sectors. Instead of using stimulus packages to support ‘business as usual,’ locking in obsolete economic models, governments should invest in a new economy that is ‘fit for the future with access to all.' This implies helping everyone smoothly transition into this new paradigm: sustainable, inclusive, competitive, and prepared.

The critical challenge is a careful selection of the types of technological and infrastructure investments that can bring both job creation and environmental benefits in the medium to long-run (Popp et al., 2020). Consequently, the challenge is to quickly implement separate economic, social, and ecological recovery packages and integrated policies. We need to combine social protection with climate action and economic recovery to build back and transform economies and societies in an environment-efficient manner.

Unlocking clean energy

Governments and organizations should work together to deploy policies to improve socio-economic and environmental outcomes. Some deployment policies may drive unintended and premature technological lock-in. New technologies face economic and market barriers to competing with other technologies until their new manufacturing techniques are adopted and economies of scale take over.

*Technology lock-in means that a company’s early-stage technology choices strongly affect its latest technology development trends and decisions

Policymakers looking to advance clean energy should fill the R&D investment gap left by the private sector. A not well-oriented policy can often create a ring-fenced market, putting current-generation and next-generation clean energy technology against each other in an unfair fight. Thus, policymakers should enact intelligent deployment policies that dovetail with support for innovation, R&D, or different strategies such as private-public collaboration.

The Biden-Harris administration has been direct in pursuing a historic clean investment in clean energy innovation. In the first days of the new Administration, President Biden has taken executive actions towards managing the climate crisis and restoring scientific integrity. With the recent announcement of US$100 million funding for innovation and transformative energy R&D, the Department of Energy (DOE) could better coordinate and strengthen US leadership in climate change. Recently, the Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm commented about the tremendous opportunity to invest in technologies already developed in national labs, arguing that costs can come down once taken to scale.

A complex machine

The world is getting more innovative, and critical technological progress paves the way for a historic breakthrough in managing and controlling electricity. It is a matter of time before the current power grid infrastructures (old, inefficient, out of date, unreliable) are improved into a smarter grid.

Enabling a clean energy transformation

Energy transformation presents both an opportunity and a challenge for President Joe Biden. His intention to make the federal government sustainable-friendly and position the new Administration as a market leader in the low-carbon economic transition will take time and won’t happen at once. It will also require coordination with numerous stakeholders, technology companies, customers, and many other actors integrated into the vast and complex energy system.

From day one, President Biden has shown a strong willingness to achieve his climate justice plan. First steps in executive orders, announcements of investment, and appointments of decisive key policymakers such as Jennifer Granholm, provide the basis for cultivating a public-private partnership to scale clean energy solutions.

So far, the Administration seems to be on the right path to achieve a hi-tech, efficient, and clean energy program through American leadership. Nonetheless, it is also urgent to think about affordable accessibility and long-term efficiency while creating more job opportunities for many Americans.

“Having a reliable energy grid is the lifeblood of the nation’s economic and national security and vital to all Americans’ health and safety.”

-American Public Power Association

What do you think? Will it be possible to achieve such an ambitious clean energy agenda? As always, I like reading your comments.


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