What the world needs now... Is more sustainable infrastructure

Words By
Katherine Zamsky
July 19, 2019

Currently, more than seven billion people live on planet Earth and by 2050 that figure will grow to nine billion. If we continue managing our resources as we do now, there are sure to be shortages of food, water, land, raw materials, and energy sources.  We must rethink the way we run our economy.

New infrastructure is needed to mitigate these stability risks to energy, transportation, agriculture, waste, and manufacturing.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy systems provide energy from sources that do not deplete, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro power. They produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, and account for 13.5% of the world’s total energy supply and 22% of the world's electricity. Renewable energy's costs are significantly decreasing.

Global generation from non-hydro renewables will increase by 11.7% in 2019, outpacing any other energy source driven mainly by growth in solar and wind power. Global renewable energy investment is estimated to reach over $5 trillion by 2030 (China represents $2 trillion of this).

The world’s renewable energy consumption has increased 400% in the last 10 years.

The EU has targeted renewables to supply 27% of total energy consumption by 2030. US and China are deploying solar and wind and reducing coal. Yet it’s not happening fast enough.

Sustainable infrastructure relies on renewable energy and enables us to transition to a lower carbon economy. In the next 15 years, the world is set to build more infrastructure than the value of all the infrastructure that exists today.

Every $200 billion up-front investment in sustainability makes $2.6 trillion of energy efficient infrastructure. Infrastructure demand by industry 2015-2030:

Worldwide demand for sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency is close to $86 trillion. It drives the adoption of new technologies and the increase of public and private investments in sustainable infrastructure.

2018 was a record year for VC investment in clean energy companies, a 4x increase since 2015.

Holistic Transportation

While autonomous vehicles may solve a set of problems, they are not the panacea for all transportation problems. First/last mile challenges continue to present themselves. While e-scooters/bikes have arisen as a potential solution, they too have many challenges from storage and charging to public nuisance and safety.

As vehicles reach full autonomy, a new energy, transportation/navigation, and routing infrastructure is required. Electric charging stations are only a small part of the overall solution required. Everything from roads and parking lots to schools and businesses will need to adapt to changes in transportation.

To date, VC focus on technologies for transportation has dominated the sector disproportionally to the demand for infrastructure. While we welcome investment in transportation, we recognize the need of a more holistic view of transportation, not simply investing in scooters and taxi services.

Responsible Waste/Water Management

The solutions to waste management require a more rounded approach than "shotgun" methods such as banning single use plastic bags or straws. While these are noble ideas, they simply aren't enough to stem the tide of plastics ending up in water systems.

As recently as six months ago, our solution to waste and recycling was to ship it to India and China. As these nations now are rejecting the majority of imported scrap, we must find more viable solutions. Everything from biodegradable packaging to easier to recycle materials should be part of the solution.

Advanced Manufacturing

As consumers push for faster and faster delivery of goods, supply chains as historically constituted are no longer viable. Tomorrow's shipments cannot be delivered by relying on "slow boats from China". Instead, advances in manufacturing will allow us to make what is needed, where it is needed, and when it is needed.

Efficient Agriculture

In line with the overall population expansion, the world is projected to increase protein consumption by 25% by 2030. All the while, arable farmland is being diminished due to real estate expansion, manufacturing, poor land management, and over-farming. Urban farming, drought resistant crops, better pest management systems, and advanced irrigation technologies should all be employed as part of the future.

As we look across the landscape of challenges, we see new advances in technology as able to unlock the doors of the challenges mentioned above.

Please join in our mission to invest in advanced technologies that reduce our carbon footprint and build the infrastructure of tomorrow.

References: The Economist, McKinsey, IEA, StudentEnergy