Energy Around the World: Renewable Revolution

Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been fighting the good fight on many fronts over the years, including poverty, women’s equality, and of course, energy.

In their 2016 annual letter, the private foundation looked at the issue of access to energy. According to Bill Gates, 1.3 billion people – or 18 percent of the world’s population – live without electricity to light their homes.

Energy crisis

Many energy trouble areas exist in sub-Saharan Africa, where 7 out of 10 people live in the dark. The same problems exist in parts of Asia and India where more than 300 million people lack access to electricity.

(MORE: Take a look at the work that ECS has done with the Gates Foundation to tackle critical issues in water and sanitation.)

There are still many parts of the world that have yet to reap the benefits of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb.

But it’s not just about light. Energy allows better medical care through functioning hospitals, greater educational efforts through functioning schools, and even more food through the powering of agricultural devices.

Renewable energy revolution

Not only is the provision of energy to all people essential, but the research into finding a clean, efficient way to do so is also crucial. ECS members and scientists across the globe are currently making effort to combat climate change, which is consequentially poised to hit the world’s poor the hardest.

Millions of the poorest families around the world are farmers, suffering from the devastating effects of harmful emissions affecting local climates. This will sink those families even deeper into poverty, yet they are typically the ones least at fault for the rising levels of emissions such as carbon dioxide.

Combating climate change

So how do we turn the tables on climate change? Scientists agree that we must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and eliminate them entirely by the end of the century. That’s quite the task when taking into consideration the 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted in 2015 to produce energy.

(MORE: Read Interface: PV, EV, and Your Home.)

However, Gates has a solution on how to solve this issues.

The future of energy

How can we eliminate carbon emitting fuels? Well, that’s what ECS scientists are working on every day. Clean sources of energy are getting cheaper and more efficient. Additionally, we’re putting resources into creating energy storage devices so we can have power when the sun goes down or when the wind stops blowing.

(MORE: Read Interface: Electrochemical Energy Conversion.)

Gates and others are also looking to some of the more innovative research coming out of electrochemical and solid state science, such as solar fuels and biofuels.

And of course, there’s the role of government. Funding is key for these sciences to accelerate at the needed pace in order to stop climate change.

Intersection of politics and science

“Politicians are the only ones with the power and the authority to really make changes in this enormous energy infrastructure and they need really good solutions and they need to be able to trust the people they’re talking to,” said John A. Turner, research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Currently, there isn’t good communication between scientists and politicians and the students can change that.”

And the students are exactly who the Gates Foundation is addressing in its 2016 annual letter. For these very reasons, ECS works as a Society to this future generation of innovators.

Open access to research

Our goal is to help create a world where anyone – from a student in Atlanta to the researcher in Port-au-Prince – can freely read the scientific papers they need to make a discovery, where scientific breakthroughs in energy conversion, sensors, or nanotechnology are unimpeded by fees to access or publish research.

“We have to look after the plant for our children and our grandchildren,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, key figure in the development of lithium-ion batteries. “We have to move the technology forward, but not by using more energy, but by using less energy and not by messing up the environment. As electrochemists, we can do that.”

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