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The Future is Now, and it’s Electric

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Technology is advancing at a breakneck pace and while this is exciting for most, we do have a social responsibility to ensure that new developments do more good than harm. The automotive industry is one sector where change is happening rapidly, with future cars promising to be bigger, better and more beautiful than ever. And while in many cities owning a car is largely redundant as public transport is so reliable, there will still be times when you want the sense of freedom and control that owning your own vehicle brings. But, with global resources dwindling and many shoppers becoming more and more eco-conscious, will traditional automobiles as we know them, still have a place in society?

None of the carbon, all of the fun

Motor cars and powerplants have something in common in that they both rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity. But where many governments have taken a proactive approach to move towards more sustainable power generation methods for our homes, workplaces, and recreation, the automotive industry has been a little slow to make similar changes – until now. Naturally, nobody wants to drive a nuclear-powered car (at least we hope not), and solar or wind energy are not particularly reliable in smaller, mobile configurations.

We have had some success with storing kinetic energy through regenerative brakes, but generating electricity within our motor cars just doesn’t make sense. Thus, engineers have skipped over this step completely, instead relying on external electric power, which is stored in onboard batteries and directed towards the motors that move the axles. The success of this technology has been astounding, not just in improving fuel economy, and thereby reducing the environmental impact of our vehicles, but the same technique can also be used to improve performance on already athletic motors.

However, hybrid technology was just the beginning, and now, more and more automakers are laying out their business roadmaps and making promises that they are going to produce more fully electric cars. Tesla is an excellent example of this practice, showing that performance and efficiency don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Following suit, Lexus has announced that all of its future products will be electric vehicles (EVs). But it is not the only company to jump on the green bandwagon; BMW and Mercedes-Benz each have several models in the works set to challenge the market dominance of Tesla and Porsche.

Who’s driving you home tonight?

There is more to our daily drivers than just what goes under the hood. As engineers work to maximize mileage and minimize environmental impact, others are just as passionate about improving the safety and comfort of drivers and passengers alike.

Advanced driver-aids were seen as luxuries not too long ago, but now, every vehicle produced in the States needs to meet certain requirements, such as being equipped with a rearview camera. But most manufacturers go far beyond this, with features like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keep assist coming standard on even the base model of many affordable nameplates.

However, automakers are always pushing the envelope, which is why we are seeing more new vehicles equipped with even fancier gadgets, like large infotainment screens, color head-up displays, and even autonomous driving systems. In most places, this is still a very novel technology that requires much caution and testing. But as time passes and we put more and more of our trust in the computers than seem to manage every aspect of our daily lives, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that we will soon allow them to plan our routes and even drive us around town. Luckily, the advances in driver-assistance features are just as helpful to an artificial driver as a real one, so the two seemingly disparate systems actually work hand in hand to deliver a remarkably safe driving experience – at least in theory.

Commercial applications

It is not just commuter vehicles that have begun adopting this revolutionary technology en masse, though. We certainly couldn’t simply replace the entire public transport system, but it is only natural that larger people haulers like buses and vans start moving in the direction of alternative fuels, too. Gasoline-powered buses are veritable factories of greenhouse gasses, but we overlook this because they do less harm than if each passenger were to drive their own car. But that does not mean there isn’t room for improvement.

Electric buses are perhaps even more novel than personal cars, and only a few cities around the world have made any real effort to add them to their existing fleets. Most of these are in China, believe it or not, with only a few to be seen on the roads in the USA. However, some states like California are taking the matter more seriously. By 2029, every new bus purchased by the Golden State will need to produce zero carbon emissions.

A similar approach is likely to be adopted by those in the cargo-hauling sector. There are already several automakers getting in on the ground floor of what is bound to be a lucrative business. Daimler has a model set to go into production in 2021, the Freightliner eCascadia, while the Phoenix-based Nikola Motor Company is almost ready to launch the Nikola One and Nikola Two. Of course, Tesla doesn’t plan to sit idly by and let others encroach on its territory. The Tesla Semi was originally set to debut in 2017, but several delays have plagued the project. Still, it will likely be the first electric freighter on our roads, with a late 2020 release planned.

What to look forward to

New cars are being released every day, with even more planned for the coming years. Naturally, not all the information has been released for the latter, but here is a short list of some of the most exciting upcoming cars:

  • BMW X8
  • Mercedes-Benz EQS, EQE, and EQC
  • Mazda MX-30
  • Aston Martin Valhalla
  • GMC Hummer EV Pickup

Each of these vehicles will have at least a hybrid powertrain, like the Aston Martin’s twin-turbo V6 engine rumored to make around 1,000 horsepower, or a fully electric setup like the Merc EQC, which relies on a pair of motors to develop in excess of 400 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. This means that they will possess much better mileage than their predecessors, but you can also expect a much higher starting MSRP than a gas-fed variant. The Mercedes is planned to go on sale for around $67,900, while the Aston Martin will set you back in the region of $1,3 million.

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Korea shares experience of electric vehicles and renewable energy with Thailand

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is supporting South-East Asian countries in combatting climate change through policy consultation and capacity building in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

At an event organized in cooperation with the Korea Energy Agency (KEA) and Thailand’s Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE), Ministry of Energy, Stein Hansen, UNIDO Regional Director and Representative of UNIDO Regional Office Hub in Thailand, highlighted the UNIDO project’s study on electric vehicle promotion in Thailand and the impact on the biofuel industry throughout the supply chain, and a road map to achieve 100% renewable energy use by industrial sector. 

Prasert Sinsukprasert, the Director General of DEDE, spoke about Thailand’s 20-year National Strategy plan and said the DEDE is delighted to partner with the project to come up with the draft policy of electric vehicles and roadmap to 100% renewable energy in Thai industry.

In a presentation on the current status and policies of electric vehicle distribution in the Republic of Korea, Minkoo Park remarked that in Korea the authorities provide incentives in the form of discounts on highway and parking charges and financial support for people purchasing electric vehicles. Hyein Jin provided information about Korea’s 2050 Carbon Neutrality Strategy.

All speakers agreed that the eco-friendly energy is challenging both in electric vehicles and renewable energy but that it is worth it to achieve sustainable growth.

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It’s time to make clean energy investment in emerging economies a top global priority

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The world’s energy and climate future increasingly hinges on whether emerging and developing economies are able to successfully transition to cleaner energy systems, calling for a step change in global efforts to mobilise and channel the massive surge in investment that is required, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

The special report – carried out in collaboration with the World Bank and the World Economic Forum – sets out a series of actions to enable these countries to overcome the major hurdles they face in attracting the financing to build the clean, modern and resilient energy systems that can power their growing economies for decades to come.

Annual clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies needs to increase by more than seven times – from less than USD 150 billion last year to over $1 trillion by 2030 to put the world on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the report, Financing Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging and Developing Economies. Unless much stronger action is taken, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from these economies – which are mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America – are set to grow by 5 billion tonnes over the next two decades.

“In many emerging and developing economies, emissions are heading upwards while clean energy investments are faltering, creating a dangerous fault line in global efforts to reach climate and sustainable energy goals,’’ said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “Countries are not starting on this journey from the same place – many do not have access to the funds they need to rapidly transition to a healthier and more prosperous energy future – and the damaging effects of the Covid-19 crisis are lasting longer in many parts of the developing world.”

“There is no shortage of money worldwide, but it is not finding its way to the countries, sectors and projects where it is most needed,” Dr Birol said. “Governments need to give international public finance institutions a strong strategic mandate to finance clean energy transitions in the developing world.”

Recent trends in clean energy spending point to a widening gap between advanced economies and the developing world even though emissions reductions are far more cost-effective in the latter. Emerging and developing economies currently account for two-thirds of the world’s population, but only one-fifth of global investment in clean energy, and one-tenth of global financial wealth. Annual investments across all parts of the energy sector in emerging and developing markets have fallen by around 20% since 2016, and they face debt and equity costs that are up to seven times higher than in the United States or Europe.

Avoiding a tonne of CO2 emissions in emerging and developing economies costs about half as much on average as in advanced economies, according to the report. That is partly because developing economies can often jump straight to cleaner and more efficient technologies without having to phase out or refit polluting energy projects that are already underway.

But emerging market and developing economies seeking to increase clean energy investment face a range of difficulties, which can undermine risk-adjusted returns for investors and the availability of bankable projects. Challenges involve the availability of commercial arrangements that support predictable revenues for capital-intensive investments, the creditworthiness of counterparties and the availability of enabling infrastructure, among other project-level factors. Broader issues, including depleted public finances, currency instability and weaknesses in local banking and capital markets also raise challenges to attracting investment.

“A major catalyst is needed to make the 2020s the decade of transformative clean energy investment,” said Dr Birol. “The international system lacks a clear and unified focus on financing emissions reductions and clean energy – particularly in emerging and developing economies. Today’s strategies, capabilities and funding levels are well short of where they need to be. Our report is a global call to action – especially for those who have the wealth, resources and expertise to make a difference – and offers priority actions that can be taken now to move things forward fast.”

These priority actions – for governments, financial institutions, investors and companies – cover the period between now and 2030, drawing on detailed analysis of successful projects and initiatives across clean power, efficiency and electrification, as well as transitions for fuels and emissions-intensive sectors. These include almost 50 real-world case studies across different sectors in countries ranging from Brazil to Indonesia, and from Senegal to Bangladesh.

“As we expand energy access, we also need a global transition to low-carbon energy. It is critical to develop solutions that make energy systems more resilient to climate change and other crises. With the right policies and investments, countries can achieve lasting economic growth and poverty reduction without degrading the environment or aggravating inequality. The broader financial sector can and must play a key role in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement by mobilizing capital for green and low-carbon investments, while managing climate risks. The World Bank will continue to support countries that seek assistance to transition away from fossil fuels and scale up low-carbon, renewable energy, and energy efficiency investments,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, the World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractives.

“The need to scale clean energy in emerging economies offers a massive investment opportunity. This report shows that current challenges to get this capital to the right places can be overcome through a combination of smart policies, financial innovation, as well as bold collective action. The World Economic Forum is committed to enabling multistakeholder cooperation to accelerate progress in this important area, said Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum.

The report calls for a focus on channelling and facilitating investment into sectors where clean technologies are market-ready, especially in the areas of renewables and energy efficiency, but also laying the groundwork for scaling up low-carbon fuels and industrial infrastructure needed to decarbonise rapidly growing and urbanising economies. It also calls for strengthening sustainable finance frameworks, addressing barriers on foreign investment, easing procedures for licensing and land acquisition, and rolling back policies that distort local energy markets.

The report underscores that clean energy investments and activities can bring substantial economic opportunities and jobs in industries that are expected to flourish in the coming decades as energy transitions accelerate worldwide. It calls for clean energy transitions to be people‐centred and inclusive, including actions that build equitable and sustainable models for universal access to modern energy. Spending on more efficient appliances, electric vehicles, and energy‐efficient buildings can provide further employment opportunities, and can especially support the role of women and female entrepreneurs in driving change and improved gender equality.

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IEA welcomes G7 Leaders’ commitment to reach net zero by 2050

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IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol congratulated the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations for their landmark Summit at which they committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and made a series of other significant energy and climate pledges. 

G7 leaders concluded the closely watched Summit on Sunday, issuing a communiqué in which they set out their net zero commitments and called on all countries, in particular major emitting economies, “to join us in these goals as part of a global effort.” In this context, the leaders noted the IEA’s “clear roadmap” for achieving net zero globally by 2050. 

“I’m very proud to see recognition of the IEA’s comprehensive Roadmap for the global energy sector to reach this critical and formidable goal,” said Dr Birol. “The IEA looks forward to helping governments design and implement the strong policy actions that are needed to move the world onto a narrow yet achievable pathway to net zero by 2050. In the lead-up to COP26 in November, I look forward to seeing additional firm commitments to improve and increase clean energy financing for developing economies.”

The communiqué said that G7 leaders had committed to aligning official international financing with the global achievement of net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and for deep emissions reductions in the 2020s.

The IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 was released on 18 May. It is the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system globally by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth. In the pathway laid out in the IEA Roadmap, strong and credible policy actions by governments around the world drive a historic surge in clean energy investment and deployment, thereby reducing demand for fossil fuels, creating millions of new jobs and lifting global economic growth. 

The G7 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Leaders of the countries have gathered together annually since the 1970s, alongside the heads of the European Union. This year’s Summit was hosted by the United Kingdom.

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