Electrifying the World

Electrifying the World

This piece was originally published in the December 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Tomi Motoi, GE Representative to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Economics and Investment Office


The energy system drives today’s economic and social progress. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy investment in 2015 accounted for nearly 2.4 percent of global GDP. Electricity, including networks, accounted for 37 percent of this investment,[1] serving worldwide energy demand and providing critical energy access to millions.

Electricity also plays a key role in the transition to a low-carbon economy: it can partially replace fossil fuels in transport and heating, helping countries meet emissions targets.

However, more can be done to further electricity access and support decarbonization. For example, more than one billion people have no access to power.[2] In Africa alone, more than 600 million people lack access to electricity, and 70 percent of businesses cite unreliable power as a barrier to doing business on the continent.[3] Electrification can deliver power to those who need it.

On the side of sustainable energy, transport, heat, and power generation are major sources of worldwide sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions; the power sector accounted for nearly one-third of the global energy sector SO2 emissions in 2015.[4] Electrification can play a pivotal role in increasing sustainable energy use.

Renewables on the Rise

Investment is crucial to achieving the goals of limiting the global increase in temperature. Despite the fall in oil and gas prices, renewables investment in 2015 reached nearly $290 billion globally, which is almost double what was spent a decade ago, according to the IEA.

Furthermore, new low-carbon generation that came online in 2015 exceeded the entire growth of global power demand in that year, according to the IAE report, World Energy Investment 2016. This trend, driven by rapid technology progress, cost deflation, and long-term price signals, is expected to continue, with the renewables share of total power generation anticipated to make up 26 percent of the total global energy mix by 2020.

Decarbonization and Air Quality

Electrification can be a solution for air pollution and air quality, and it can support the decarbonization of electricity generation, helping the world meet its energy needs with less carbon.

High rates of use and overwhelming reliance on diesel fuel and heavy-duty vehicles account for a disproportionate share of emissions, according to the IEA’s Energy and Air Pollution report.[5] Access to electric vehicles can decrease emissions. In Paris, for example, between 2002 and 2012, a mobility plan that included shared bikes, electric vehicles, and improved vehicle efficiency decreased 30 percent of mono-nitrogen oxides and 35 percent of coarse dust particles emissions over the period.


Emerging Markets

As urbanization continues to increase and the world’s population expands, developing markets are planning ambitiously to support growth and secure their energy future.

This is evident in the numbers of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): in 2015, non-OECD countries accounted for $910 billion of investment in fossil fuel and electricity supply, while OECD countries accounted for only $670 billion of investment. China was the largest destination for investment, at over one-third of the non-OECD total; the ambitious targets of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan will drive continued investment.

As the world’s third largest economy, India accounts for six percent of global energy use, according to the IEA. Its government is taking steps to provide electricity to the 240 million people who lack access to it. The country’s modernization program, Make in India, has set formidable growth targets that are anticipated to encourage industry and energy sector investment; the government’s ambitious plan to build 100 smart cities across the country will encourage electrification.


The rise of variable energy renewables deployment points to a rebalancing of the energy system; as such, it requires the effective development of new technologies capable of properly managing power systems. Energy battery storage and microgrids can play a key role in balancing systems with large amounts of renewable generation and facilitating the integration of these variable energy resources. These technologies also have the potential to play a key role in countries with limited grid access.

Technology can improve the reliability and efficiency of electrical equipment in power plants, two factors in determining cost competitiveness that encourage its use in decarbonization and facilitate its deployment.

One of the latest innovations in the solar industry involves using silicon carbide in solar inverters and can help achieve 99 percent European Union–weighted efficiency. The efficiency gain can be translated into $2.5 million worth of extra energy produced for a 100-megawatt solar plant over its lifetime.

The Industrial Internet (also known as the Internet of Things), links energy production assets through a central platform to provide cost-saving and efficiency benefits. For example, a connected power plant or renewables wind farm can be monitored remotely, and software analytics can lead to anomalies being spotted before they occur. This can reduce downtime and deliver electricity where and when it’s needed.

Energy technology and innovation help us strive towards a world of sustainable energy for everyone.

[1] World Energy Investment 2016, International Energy Agency 2016, OCED/IEA, Paris, www.iea.org/investment

[2] World Energy Outlook 2016, International Energy Agency (2016), OCED/IEA, Paris, www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/energyaccessdatabase

[3] John G. Rice, “Opportunities for Global Electricity Access in 2016,” GE Reports, Jan. 21, 2016,

[4] International Energy Agency (IEA) (2016), World Energy Outlook Special Report: Energy and Air Pollution, OCED/IEA, Paris, https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WorldEnergyOutlookSpecialReport2016EnergyandAirPollution.pdf

[5] World Energy Outlook Special Report: Energy and Air Pollution, International Energy Agency 2016, OCED/IEA, Paris, https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WorldEnergyOutlookSpecialReport2016EnergyandAirPollution.pdf

Read the December 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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