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How can rethinking energy transform lives?

What can we do to transform lives?  This was the topic common to all the talks at the TEDxPlaceDesNations event that took place in Geneva on February 11. Amongst others, UNECE’s Director of Sustainable Energy, Scott Foster, participated to the event and gave an insightful talk about the energy mix today and the future of sustainable energy. 

He argued that we need to think outside of the box in regard to energy. There are several issues that need to be addressed: sustainable and renewable energy are key to tackling climate change, but we also have to think about people and countries that rely on fossil energy for their livelihoods. Currently, 1.3 billion people around the world do not have access to modern energy, and another billion do not enjoy quality energy. Climate change is not their first priority.  

According to Foster, there is a way to address both climate change mitigation and sustainable energy in an integrated way, as well as to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that all depend on energy in some way. The solution lies in rethinking the energy system, to move beyond the engineering culture that brought us to today, where energy is a series of commodities, to an energy services culture that can carry us to the future.

Foster suggested that the energy industry should offer value instead of volume.  This is a process that the telecoms industry has gone through and that the health industry is exploring.  In the case of energy, service providers can offer improved quality of life at lower cost by investing in more efficient heating or cooling systems, smart appliances to manage energy consumption, and the like. 

Foster also proposed other solutions, for instance penalizing or rewarding companies based on the quality of service they offer.  In short, prices should be based on the quality of service provided and not on the costs incurred by the energy companies.

The final idea is to build an energy system that is highly flexible, to account both for the variable power production coming from renewables such as sun or wind power, and for the continued variability of electricity demand.   “To get there we need markets that are designed explicitly to value and encourage flexibility”, Foster explained on Thursday.

Foster’s conviction is that this shift will help achieve sustainable energy on a global basis. But he warned the public that it is necessary for policy and regulations to catch up if we want to tackle all of the challenges and meet the goals that have been set. Orienting policies to a services approach will improve efficiencies and accessibility, reduce costs and the carbon intensity of energy, and unleash innovation. The shift to a new energy paradigm has the potential to truly transform lives. 

The video recording of the talk will be made available in the coming weeks on the TEDxPlaceDesNations website.