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Social Innovation

The energy dilemma

At a time when climate change is increasingly coming to the forefront of the media and political landscape, we are being reminded more than ever that we need to start living in a more sustainable way.

With global energy demand expected to increase by 2% a year up to 2020, and by 55% by 2040, tackling the environmental challenges cannot be limited to curbing emissions for existing energy systems.

This is where there is an opportunity for Social Innovation in energy – finding innovative ways to keep up with rising global energy demand whilst ensuring that growth is clean and sustainable.

The development of “smart” technology can transform how we generate and consume our energy. It will offer huge opportunities for innovation which we must embrace. Smart meters, electric vehicles and vehicle-to-home systems are all examples of innovative solutions that are driving sustainability in energy consumption and working to reduce emissions and air pollution.

Demand for renewable energy is increasing. In Germany, 30% of electricity is generated from renewables and this is set to rise to 60% within the next decade. China invested nearly $90 billion in clean energy in 2014, or 73% more than the US, building large solar parks in Qinghai and wind farms in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, just to name a few. However, growth in renewable energy exerts huge pressure on existing grid infrastructure. Energy solutions like smart grids and virtual power plants can help accommodate this challenge. Developing countries are in a better position to maximise on these solutions as they do not have to replace existing infrastructure but instead create a system that perfectly suits their needs while meeting emissions targets. India is on track to create 21 sustainable cities by 2020 while China will continue to be the fastest growing market for renewable energy to 2020 and beyond.

Having set a target of replacing 40% of its electric power generation capacity with renewable energy by 2030, the state of Hawaii in the USA is proceeding with the installation of wind and solar generation. As part of this, Hitachi is conducting a smart grid demonstration project using advanced technology to develop more localised and efficient energy grids. Energy is an enabler of economic growth, a driver of industrial output and business, and also a crucial ingredient to bringing change in sectors such as transportation and healthcare. However, we are at a turning point in terms of curbing our emissions and there has never been a better opportunity for governments and the private sector to collaborate and find innovative solutions to facilitate growth in a low-carbon way. Looking at the core elements of technology and new business models to bring about real positive change, Hitachi has worked again with Frost & Sullivan to develop a whitepaper on Social Innovation in Energy and found that the opportunity for businesses and societies is enormous when they apply innovative solutions to their energy systems.