There is a double challenge, to change competely global energy production so that everybody get enough without adding greenhouse gases emissions.
The fourth entry point for Sustainable Development in the report The Future is Now is Energy decarbonization and universal access.
The hard part here is to manage a complete overturn from the situation that has been prevailing at least since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution: the world reliance on fossil fuels. On the current basis, we may be able to provide access to energy to the whole world’s population, but the price for the environment, especially for climate change, would be unbearable.
Also a health issue
Moreover, cleaner energy ressources (decarbonized as much as possible) are also necessary to improve health of the populations, even though they may use renewable biomass. Today, around 3 billion people cook by burning polluting fuels, and smoke from this cooking claims an estimated 3.8 million lives every year.
Strikingly, as the authors of the report remark, most of the solutions we need are already there:
… many technologies already exist for increasing energy access and moving to decarbonized pathways, and those technologies are increasingly affordable. Energy efficiency measures are simple and very effective ways to reduce fossil fuel demand and tackle air pollution, and energy saving technologies often lead to economic benefits in the long run.
All basic sciences can help to do better
Basic chemistry and physics have done quite a good job at providing the principles and materials that enable technologists to develop efficient renewable energy equipments. But of course, there is still work to be done: improvement of the efficiency, use of cheaper and less polluting materials (biology, and earth and atmospheric sciences may help too).
Maths are also required, especially to manage energy networks: dimensioning; daily and seasonal loads and production variations; and adjustment of very diverse sources. New economic models should also be developped so that nobody is left aside.
At the same time, new and improved technologies are also needed, especially in smart-grid management and development, interconnection with neighboring regions, flexible generation, demand response, longterm and cost-effective energy and electricity storage, and energy sources for some transport modes. Research and development should support the necessary infrastructure for key technologies, including for heating and cooling networks, charging stations for electric vehicles and micro-grids for distributed energy generation. Power systems need to be designed to allow for high renewable energy penetration rates, and digital technologies can be deployed to improve the efficiency of distribution and availability of energy.