Five Emerging Technologies Influencing Sustainability
April 22, 2021
April 22, 2021 marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Initially conceived in 1969 by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, Earth Day’s earliest iteration was centered on infusing the energy of student anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution.
More than half a century later, Earth Day 2021’s theme is “Restore Our Earth” and is focused on optimizing and leveraging natural processes, emerging clean technologies, and innovative thinking to effectively restore the world’s ecosystems.
As someone personally and professionally passionate about environmental sustainability and combatting climate change, I’m excited by several notable recent developments as we strive for a more sustainable future:
- Environmental sustainability is a priority for consumers, who have the desire to drive societal change. A 2020 Pew Research study found that 79% of Americans think the U.S. should prioritize developing alternative energy sources. The same study found that 71% of Americans favor tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars.
- It’s become understood that global cooperation will play a prominent role in effectively combatting climate change and securing a more sustainable future. The Paris Agreement, an accord within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change focused on climate change mitigation, adaption, and finance, was opened for signature five years ago. There are currently over 195 signatories, including the United States, which was readmitted to the agreement earlier this year after notoriously withdrawing in 2017.
- President Biden has made achieving a 100% clean economy and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 a priority for his administration and has proposed sweeping legislation focused on transitioning America to a greener, more sustainable future while simultaneously championing environmental justice.
What I’m most excited by is the pace of growth in renewable energy and cleantech.
Having gleaned insights from working with leading multinational corporations and global nonprofits focused on building a more sustainable future, below are the five emerging technologies that are and twill continue to make significant impact the next decade:
- Renewable Energy Solutions – The fastest-growing energy source in the United States is renewable energy, such as offshore wind, hydropower and hydrokinetic energy, and solar, are poised to fundamentally change how power is generated. Additionally, recent trends are promising, as, according to the S. Energy Information Administration, nuclear-powered electricity generation surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time on record last year.
- Electric Vehicles (EVs) – Leading global automobile manufacturers have committed to phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles in favor of hybrid and electric models. Global sales of EVs are expected to rise by about 70% throughout 2021.
- Improved Battery Storage – Batteries, critical to transitioning away from fossil fuels and establishing utility-scale storage, are set to play a prominent role in establishing renewable energy solutions as viable alternative sources of power over the next decade. UBS previously estimated that by 2030 the energy storage market in the U.S. could grow to as much as $426B – a number that could theoretically rise considering the current administration’s focus on EV development and implementation.
- Smart Grids – The energy grids of tomorrow will be more intelligent, efficient, and flexible. Enabled by advances in AI/ML, IoT, and other emerging technologies, smart grids have the potential to modernize energy-focused infrastructure like never before.
- Clean Hydrogen –There are plans in place to ensure that tomorrow’s trains will be powered by clean hydrogen, not diesel, reducing hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
On a professional level, this Earth Day, I’m optimistic about our global society’s ability to leverage emerging technologies to more effectively combat climate change and establish a more sustainable future.
On a personal level, I’m excited to see what the themes of Earth Day will be in 2030, 2040, 2050, and beyond.