3 urban energy innovations with global implications

Renewable energy and sustainable storage methods are arguably the most important transitions the world needs right now to mitigate both climate change and global conflicts. While a lot of progress has been made on both fronts, there is still a long way to go when it comes to creating a carbon-free energy ecosystem. Fortunately, some of the most innovative energy solutions are being tested locally for global scalability.

1. Heat pumps to decarbonize buildings in low-income communities

In some cases, it’s not the technology that’s innovative, it’s the creative approach to overcoming structural barriers to implementation. BlocPower — a World Economic Forum Global Innovator recently ranked fourth on Fast Company’s 2022 worldwide list of most innovative companies — has proven that off-the-shelf electric heat-pump technology, coupled with a holistic financing and installation model, can quickly decarbonize buildings in low-to-moderate income communities with no upfront cost to the property owner.

BlocPower has installed electric heat pumps in more than 1,200 buildings in New York City, where the company is based, and now has projects in more than 25 cities across the U.S. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has endorsed phasing in electrification by calling for 1.8 billion heat pumps in buildings by 2050. Currently, only 180 million heat pumps have been installed, or about 7 percent of systems worldwide, but adoption rates are growing, especially in China, Europe and North America. To reach underserved communities, however, locally tailored models for financing and installation are critical.

2. Record-breaking driving range for EV batteries

While electrification is key to decarbonizing buildings, sustainable energy storage is central to developing an electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem, as well as mass transit and grids. The race is on among major car manufacturers to develop and scale battery technology for EVs, but a two-year-old start-up, Our Next Energy (ONE), has drawn attention to its innovative EV battery design by installing it in a Tesla and breaking the world record for the distance traveled on a single charge.

The Michigan-based company designed its batteries to use Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP), materials that are less harmful and more abundant, and is committed to manufacturing its batteries in North America. The company is backed by numerous high-profile mobility investors, but is eager to tap into the $7 billion earmarked by the U.S. government to develop a U.S.-based EV ecosystem, including battery innovation and supply chain development. The U.S. Lithium-ion battery market is expected to grow by almost 20 percent by 2030.

3. Battery storage networks that power entire cities

Sustainable battery development is needed for a lot more than cars and buildings, however. Melbourne, for example, has embarked on an ambitious program to create a connected network of mid-sized batteries in neighborhoods around the city. The idea is to store energy during low demand and return it to the grid when demand is high. Called Power Melbourne, the vision is as much about reaching carbon-free goals as it is about economic development. Investment in the clean tech sector will create opportunities for research, training and jobs.

According to a recent World Energy Outlook report by the IEA, new jobs will be created across various clean energy sectors mostly in electrical efficiency, power generation, the automotive sector and grid modernization. These four areas are projected to account for 75 percent of the 13.3 million new job gains, which significantly offsets the estimated 3 million jobs that will be lost in the fossil fuel industry.

These and other urban transformation initiatives are the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Center for Urban Transformation, launched in August. The Center’s mission is to amplify and accelerate urban transformation projects such as the ones featured here and across the spectrum of city-based innovations. 

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