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The Sustainable Energy for All initiative was launched by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mobilize action and partnerships focused on sustainably meeting the increasing energy requirements of businesses and society.
The initiative has set three primary objectives, to be met by 2030:
This report looks at the renewable energy industry and identifies five priority actions it can take to reduce its energy use, drive renewable energy generation and increase access to energy, while simultaneously driving high performance.
Like any manufacturer of large-scale and complex products, renewable energy firms use significant amounts of energy to produce parts and assemble them into products. Although the end use of its products may save energy and reduce carbon emissions, the fact is that it takes energy to save energy. That is, the renewable energy industry itself is no different than any other manufacturing company in terms of its potential to increase the energy efficiency of production and operations.
Some technologies such as wind also require electricity for operation. The ultimate goal is to increase the speed of “energy payback”— the time needed for a renewable energy technology to recover the energy that went into making it in the first place. Although the payback may be short, less than a year for wind or a few years for solar, there is still opportunity to increase the efficiency of manufacturing and use of the products.
Renewable energy technology costs are dropping and capacity is increasing across end-use sectors and new geographies, especially in emerging markets. In 2010, renewable energy sources grew to supply an estimated 20 percent of global final energy consumption, and total investment in renewable energy reached $211 billion in 2010, up from $160 billion in 2009.
This increase was driven mainly by wind installations in China and small-scale rooftop PV in Europe. China also led investments, with almost $50 billion in new financing (not including small-scale projects and research and development). New markets are also quickly expanding, with 2010 being the first year in which new financial investments (not including small-scale projects and research and development) in the developing world outweighed those in the developed world.
Companies will need to continue to innovate and increase conversion efficiency of their products, but they will also have to compete on costs.
Advancements and innovations in renewable energy can be seen in many different industries:
Traditional oil and gas companies, such as Statoil, are investing heavily in renewable energy technologies such as offshore wind.
Electronics companies, such as Siemens, are building wind and solar technologies.
Chemical and biotechnology companies, such as Novozymes, are creating enzymes and feedstocks as inputs for biofuels renewable energy technologies.
Automobile companies, such as BMW, are investing in clean transportation technologies such as electric vehicles.
Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact have identified five priority actions the renewable energy industry can take to become more energy efficient, promote alternative fuels and advance their business opportunities in the sustainable energy market:
Continue advancing next-generation renewable technologies.
Conduct reverse innovation of core products to provide greater energy access.
Increase the energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in manufacturing and operational processes.
Support policies that increase renewable energy generation in both developed and developing economies.
Improve understanding of barriers to expanding energy access and renewable energy in developing economies, develop innovative solutions and build capacity for technology operation and maintenance.
October 2, 2012
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