The World Economic Forum has published a new study on how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to accelerate a more equitable energy transition and build trust for the technology throughout the industry.
As the impacts of climate change become more visible worldwide, governments and industry face the urgent challenge of transitioning to a low-carbon global energy system.
Digital technologies – particularly AI – are key enablers for this transition and have the potential to deliver the energy sector’s climate goals more rapidly and at lower cost.
Written in collaboration with BloombergNEF and Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena) – the German Energy Agency, Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate the Energy Transition reviews the state of play of AI adoption in the energy sector, identifies high-priority applications of AI in the energy transition, and offers a road map and practical recommendations for the energy and AI industries to maximize AI’s benefits.
The report finds that AI has the potential to create substantial value for the global energy transition. Based on BNEF’s net-zero scenario modelling, every 1% of additional efficiency in demand creates $1.3 trillion in value between 2020 and 2050 due to reduced investment needs. AI could achieve this by enabling greater energy efficiency and flexing demand.
“AI is already making its mark on many parts of society and the economy. In energy, we are only seeing the beginning of what AI can do to speed up the transition to the low-emissions, ultra-efficient and interconnected energy systems we need tomorrow. This report shows the potential and what it will take to unlock it – guided by principles that span how to govern, design and enable responsible use of AI in energy. Governments and companies can collectively create a real tipping point in using AI for a faster energy transition,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy, World Economic Forum.
“As dena, we have been focusing on digital technologies for years. Especially with our ‘Future Energy Lab’ we are boosting Artificial intelligence projects AI is an essential technology for the energy transition since it will provide the glue to connect the different sectors (power, heat, mobility and industry) and serve as digital technology to effectively monitor systems and processes. To efficiently control the energy system of the future, which will be very volatile due to renewable energies, such agent-based control will play an overarching role,” said Andreas Kuhlmann, Chief Executive Officer, dena.
High priority applications for how AI can accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy future include:
(1) Identifying patterns and insights in data to increase efficiency and savings: According to BNEF’s net-zero scenarios, fully decarbonising the global energy system will require between $92 trillion and $173 trillion of investments in energy infrastructure between 2020 and 2050. Even single-digit percentage gains in flexibility, efficiency, or capacity in clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure systems can therefore lead to trillions of dollars in value and savings.
(2) Coordinating power systems with growing shares of renewable energy: As electricity supplies more sectors and applications, the power sector is becoming the core pillar of the global energy supply. Ramping up renewable energy deployment to decarbonize the globally expanding power sector will mean more power is supplied by intermittent sources (such as solar and wind), creating a need for better forecasting, greater coordination, and more flexible consumption to ensure that power grids can be operated safely and reliably.
(3) Managing complex, decentralized energy systems at scale: The transition to low-carbon energy systems is driving the rapid growth of distributed power generation, distributed storage, and advanced demand response capabilities, which will need to be orchestrated and integrated into much more networked, transactional power grids.
Navigating these opportunities presents huge strategic and operational challenges for energy-intensive sectors and energy systems themselves, just as they are undergoing once-in-a-lifetime digital transformations. AI can act as an intelligent layer across many applications and has the ability to identify patterns and insights in data, “learn” lessons accurately and improve system performance over time, and predict and model possible outcomes for complex, multivariate situations.
Recent efforts to deploy AI in the energy sector have proven promising but innovation and adoption remain limited. AI holds far greater potential to accelerate the global energy transition but it will only be realized if there is greater AI innovation, adoption and collaboration across the industry. To address this, the white paper establishes a set of principles to help industry govern and scale AI technology in a rapid, safe and fair manner.
“One of the key findings from our workshops was that whilst we could identify many tangible opportunities for AI in the energy transition, there was a real need for a set of common guiding principles to make these opportunities scalable. These principles should ideally create a framework that enables multiple stakeholder groups to work together effectively, on a pre-defined set of activities from governance, to design, to enabling infrastructure. They will enable us to move past the many ‘proofs of concept’ projects towards successful large-scale implementation of solutions,” said Jon Moore, Chief Executive Officer, BloombergNEF.
The 9 principles cited in the report aim to build industry trust in AI technologies so that they can play a greater role in the energy transition. As AI tools are increasingly adopted across energy and energy-intensive sectors, companies and policy makers must play an active role in governing and shaping the use of AI in the energy sector, establishing best practices for designing AI systems in a responsible way, and creating an enabling environment to unlock the full potential of AI technologies.
Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years
The global economy is expected to bounce back this year with growth of 5.3 per cent, the fastest in nearly five decades, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.
During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line.
The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity.
Differences in growth
The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress.
Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending.
Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”.
“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD.
“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.”
Lessons of the pandemic
UNCTAD includes several proposals in the report that are drawn from the lessons of the pandemic.
They include concerted debt relief and even cancellation in some cases, a reassessment of fiscal policy, greater policy coordination and strong support for developing countries in vaccine deployment.
Even without significant setbacks, global output will only resume its 2016-19 trend by 2030. But even before COVID-19, the income growth trend was unsatisfactory, says UNCTAD. Average annual global growth in the decade after the global financial crisis was the slowest since 1945.
Despite a decade of massive monetary injections from leading central banks, since the 2008-9 crash, inflation targets have been missed. Even with the current strong recovery in advanced economies, there is no sign of a sustained rise in prices.
After decades of a declining wage share, real wages in advanced countries need to rise well above productivity for a long time before a better balance between wages and profits is achieved again, according to the trade and development body’s analysis.
Food prices and global trade
Despite current trends on inflation, UNCTAD believes the rise in food prices could pose a serious threat to vulnerable populations in the South, already financially weakened by the health crisis.
Globally, international trade in goods and services has recovered, after a drop of 5.6 per cent in 2020. The downturn proved less severe than had been anticipated, as trade flows in the latter part of 2020 rebounded almost as strongly as they had fallen earlier.
The report’s modelling projections point to real growth of global trade in goods and services of 9.5 per cent in 2021. Still, the consequences of the crisis will continue to weigh on the trade performance in the years ahead.
For director of UNCTAD’s globalization and development strategies division, Richard Kozul-Wright, “the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink the core principles of international economic governance, a chance that was missed after the global financial crisis.”
“In less than a year, wide-ranging US policy initiatives in the United States have begun to effect concrete change in the case of infrastructure spending and expanded social protection, financed through more progressive taxation. The next logical step is to take this approach to the multilateral level.”
The report highlights a “possibility of a renewal of multilateralism”, pointing to the United States support of a new special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, global minimum corporate taxation, and a waiver of vaccine-related intellectual property rights.
UNCTAD warns, though, that these proposals “will need much stronger backing from other advanced economies and the inclusion of developing country voices if the world is to tackle the excesses of hyperglobalization and the deepening environmental crisis in a timely manner.”
For the UN agency, the biggest risk for the global economy is that “a rebound in the North will divert attention from long-needed reforms without which developing countries will remain in a weak and vulnerable position.”
Italy: Pro-growth reforms and government support key to a greener and jobs-rich recovery
The post-COVID recovery offers an exceptional opportunity for Italy to tackle long-standing obstacles to job creation and the raising of living standards, according to a new OECD report.
The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy says government support for Italian households and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should continue until the recovery is firmly underway, but should become increasingly targeted as the economy continues to strengthen. It says that generous fiscal support has been effective in mitigating job losses and preserving productive capacity. This will help boost the short-term recovery as vaccination rates accelerate and restrictions ease. Higher public spending, including from Next Generation EU funds, will support higher investment alongside improved confidence and demand.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers a unique opportunity to create a greener, more digitised and productive economy, the report adds. The government, it says, has an ambitious agenda rightly prioritising reforms to competition, to boost the efficiency of civil justice processes and to reform the public sector in order to tackle uncertainty, delays and costs that currently hamper investment. Green infrastructure and broadband investments can improve the competitiveness of Italian firms.
The report suggests that the chances of implementing this reform plan successfully are greater than on previous occasions. Clear implementation milestones and targets linked to the disbursement of Next Generation EU funds have been publicised, while recently passed laws to simplify green investments and support decision-making will help facilitate successful implementation of the plan.
The OECD projects Italy’s economic growth to be 5.9% this year and 4.1% in 2022, following an 8.9% fall in GDP in 2020. A stronger-than-expected second quarter explains the upward revision from the 4.5% expansion forecast for 2021 in the OECD’s May Economic Outlook.
Presenting the report alongside Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco today, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan is activating stronger, greener, fairer and more digitised growth that will benefit all Italians with improved opportunities to get ahead. A more effective public sector is crucial for ensuring its success. The plan must be fully implemented and complemented with reforms to support further growth, including with more investment in green infrastructure and R&D and reforms to keep driving the effective digital transformation of the Italian economy.”
The report recommends that once the pandemic subsides, public spending and tax policy must be reformed to complement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Currently, pension-related expenses crowd out investment in infrastructure, education and training, penalising the young, many of whom are out of work and at risk of poverty.
Labour force participation remains particularly low for women, especially those with children. Access to quality childcare and adult skills training needs to be improved across all regions, the report says.
Compared with the OECD average, taxes on labour remain too high. The report recommends implementing comprehensive tax reform to reduce the complexity of the system and to lower labour taxes. This should be financed through improved compliance – driven by greater use of technology and card payments.
Raising the effectiveness of Italy’s public sector is more urgent than ever. The report says that fully implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will help fill skills gaps in the public sector, further its digitisation and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit civil servants’ ability to deliver.
The report welcomes the set up for the Plan’s implementation and says the administration would generally become stronger and more agile by reducing the number of existing rules, regulating the services sector and green economy with a stronger focus on outcomes, in line with the government’s priorities and that support sustained growth. The report also recommends encouraging better coordination across Italy’s multiple layers of government.
Lao PDR: Economic Fallout from COVID-19 Deepened
Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the efforts to contain it, deepened in Lao PDR over the second quarter of 2021 as work fell off abruptly and households and businesses reported declines in income and revenue, according to the latest round of the World Bank’s Rapid Monitoring Phone Survey.
The survey, conducted in April-May this year with 2,000 randomly selected households, shows that 51% of survey respondents reported being without work or having had to stop working in April–May 2021, up from 17% in February–March 2021. In the services sector, more than half of workers in wholesale and retail trade and other services had to stop working or switch jobs during the lockdown, according to the survey.
By May 2021, 5.5% of businesses had permanently closed, while 33% were temporarily shuttered. Among businesses that remained in operation, 65% experienced a fall in revenue from pre-lockdown levels. Also in May, around 43% of households experienced a decline in household income relative to before lockdown, leading respondents to express growing concern about food insecurity for people in their communities.
This was the third round of the COVID-19 Rapid Monitoring Phone Surveys of Households in Lao PDR. The surveys are aimed at monitoring the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The results help provide insights into the effects of the pandemic on household well-being, and feed into policy advice and analytical studies such as the latest edition of the Lao Economic Monitor. Similar surveys are being carried out in 64 countries across the world.
The first round of the Lao phone surveys was conducted in June to July 2020, when the country had just exited the initial nationwide lockdown, and the second round ran from February to March 2021, one year into the pandemic. More details are available on the World Bank’s Lao PDR website. The monitoring is part of a wider health response to the pandemic. The Bank is coordinating a $33 million COVID-19 response project in Laos, supported by various development partners under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
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