Affordable and Clean Energy

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Amanda Lange Salvia, Tony Wall

Sustainable Energy Solutions: Innovations and Technological Advances

  • Trilok Kumar JainEmail author
  • Nirupa Jain
Living reference work entry


Energy is defined as the capacity to do a work. It is expressed in units of joules (J). The energy of an object in motion is termed as kinetic energy. It is defined as = mv2/2, where m stands for the object’s mass in kilograms. The v stands for the object’s speed. The faster something is moving, the more kinetic energy it has. The greater the mass of a moving object, the greater would be the kinetic energy. Energy is required for moving any object. Energy is required in all operations. With the rise in economic development, the requirements of energy are also increasing. Innovations at different stages of energy production, transmission, delivery, and utilization can enable reduction in energy requirements.

Need of Energy Innovations

Energy is today the most essential commodity for mankind. It is required today for every activity that we do. Some activities cannot be performed without energy. For example, modern transportation, travel, trade, commerce, etc. require energy to be undertaken. Therefore energy has become the essential commodity of our times.

Energy innovations are needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow. There is a need to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter the sector of energy in any form and create opportunities through the use of renewable sources of energy. The challenge is to popularize its use. With increasing uses, the sector will open new possibilities. As the size of the market would increase, there would be possibilities with regard to cost reduction. Costs and prices are dependent on the scale of use. If a technology is used less, it would naturally cost more and if a technology is used more, its costs would come down. Thus there is a need to create such opportunities through the use of greater use and increasing scale of operations. There is a need to induce investment in energy generation, transmission, storage, and end-use technologies. While the energy generation issues are related to the issues of large-scale technologies, we can achieve big savings if we can develop micro technologies for the energy end-use consumption.

Energy is needed by everyone from rich to the poor. Thus we should try to develop cost-efficient low-cost energy alternatives which can be popularized among the poor. These alternatives may be popularized using various approaches including social media.

Green energy policy enables countries to focus on development of renewable energy. Different countries are able to give different level of emphasis depending on the stage of development in that country. Policies help countries in promoting renewable energy (Carfora et al. 2018). It is now established that there is a need of energy innovations in order to face the climate crisis. Energy innovations can enable better production or better utilization of energy and also enable development and expansion of energy potential (Miremadi et al. 2018). Scholars are now debating about futures in the field of renewable energy. Futuristic discussions about future directions of energy innovations are giving indications about importance of inclusive innovations, broad-based socio-economic benefits, and minimizing the harm to environment through these innovations (Karjalainen and Heinonen 2018). Historically, oil crisis or other such shocks have enabled energy innovations. There is a need of similar shocks to foster energy innovations. Carbon tax can foster energy innovations and reduce emissions (Fried 2018). Oil crisis will again become an important issue and with the depletion of fossil fuel resources, there will again be a need to look for options to explore energy innovations (Holdren 2006). The world needs a mission-oriented framework in order to give a boost to energy innovations. Governments are facing complex environment and an impending crisis, and this requires a missionary approach toward energy innovation (Mendonça and Fonseca 2018). In 2017, international energy agency declared that solar, wind, and battery energy innovations are essential to meet climate change. The emphasis on these energy innovations have resulted in lower prices of solar and wind energy in comparison to fossil fuel-based sources. However, this is not the time for complacency. Governments must continue to give emphasis on energy innovations in these sectors so that these innovations can substantially benefit the civilization (Mendonça and Fonseca 2018). The sustainable development goals, particularly SDG 7 can be achieved through energy innovations.

Understanding Energy Scenario

The ability of an object to cause change due to its position, shape, or condition is called potential energy. It is a type of stored energy. The higher an object is above the earth, the greater its potential energy. Potential energy is greater for objects of greater mass. The potential energy an object has because of its position above ground is called gravitational potential energy, and it is based on weight and height of the object from the Earth. We can summarize that kinetic and potential energy are the two main forms of energy, and together these two are called mechanical energy. Other forms of energy include thermal, chemical, electrical, sound, light, and nuclear energy. Thermal energy is all of the kinetic energy due to random motion of the particles that make up an object.
  1. 1.

    Particles move faster at higher temperatures.

  2. 2.

    The faster the particles move, the greater their kinetic and thermal energies.


Chemical energy is the energy of a compound that changes as its atoms are rearranged. It is a form of potential energy. Electrical energy is the energy of moving electrons (negatively charged particles of atoms). Sound energy is caused by an object’s vibrations. Light energy is produced by the vibrations of electrically charged particles. Nuclear energy comes from changes in the nucleus of an atom. Energy conversion refers to change of energy from one form to another is called energy conversion. Plants undertake conservation of energy conversion and it is called as photosynthesis. According to the law of conservation of energy, energy cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy in a closed system is always the same. When one form of energy is converted into another form, some of the original energy always gets converted into thermal energy due to friction. This energy is not useful. Innovations can enable reduction in this wastage.

Traditionally, fossil fuel resources have dominated energy sector. Fossil fuel is a nonrenewable resource formed from the remains of organisms that lived long ago. They are concentrated forms of the sun’s energy. Crude oil, natural gas, and coal are the most common fossil fuels. These sources of energy are the most widely uses energy sources of the present times. However, these sources cause environmental damages when they are used. These sources are not renewable, and therefore they cannot be replenished or replaced. These sources are therefore called depleting sources of energy. The energy requirements will increase considerably in near future. Natural petroleum has limited supply.

Sectors for New Technologies

Before industrialization, the human population was just one billion, and the principal sources of energy were wood and domestic animals. We had limited requirements of energy at that time and there was no difficulty in meeting that demand. However, as the population increased, we required more and more energy. Industrialization also introduced new technologies which required energy, and therefore there was a new wave of innovations to meet the energy needs. We developed coal and oil and natural gas as principal sources of energy for meeting our energy needs. We have developed many new sources of energy also. However, most of the energy sources that we use today are nonrenewable. There are threats for us of the depletion of these energy sources. In the future the population will increase further. Rising purchasing power will enable people to use more and more energy. All the technological advances are taking people toward greater use of energy, and therefore energy is going to be a commodity of short supply in the future. We have to find new sources of energy. There are broadly following options for us to meet the challenges;
  1. (a)

    Creating innovations in energy generation

  2. (b)

    Creating innovation for end use of energy

  3. (c)

    Creating better energy storage technologies

  4. (d)

    Creating better energy trading platforms to ensure the surplus energy gets good price

  5. (e)

    Substitution of fuel-based energy sources by carbon-free sources of energy

  6. (f)

    Capture and storage of carbon dioxide


New technologies have immense potential. By scaling up new technologies, we can help mankind by enabling the benefits of these technologies to the common people. Using these technologies, we can enhance the access and availability of energy to the common people. However, most countries including developed countries have not yet fully understood the potential and scope of new technologies. Their potential and their capabilities have not yet been fully understood. A study of renewable energy policies of the USA revealed that technologies are yet to mature and therefore yet to be properly understood. The capabilities of new technologies are often underestimated or misunderstood (Stokes and Breetz 2018).

Review of Energy Crisis

Kaygusuz (2012) mentions that about 90% populations in developing countries is still without efficient source of energy. About two billion people in the world do not have access to clean and cheap source of energy. There are many problems that people are facing in the sphere of energy. About 15% of the world population is without any access to energy. People in African and Asian countries are worst affected. They are still using old biomass-based energy sources like cow dung, agriculture residues, etc., which are not very efficient sources of energy. These people are still without an efficient source of energy, and this is a matter of crisis. Developing countries find themselves short of financial and technological limitations. There is a need of major technological innovations to develop new technologies which may help the common people. There is a need to create innovations in the sphere of energy generation technologies to enable people to have access to low-cost sources of energy. There is a need to introduce major research initiatives for the purpose of meeting the energy requirements of common people; the energy issue is different in different regions and different countries. A few countries are very strong on energy issues due to their geographical advantages and their locations. A few countries find it difficult to create enough sources for energy generation, transportation, and energy trading. Sociotechnical reasons, geographical reasons, and financial issues affect innovations in energy generation and transmission.

Energy Sources and the Challenges of their Extinction

We have many sources of energy, which include renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy. We have relied mostly on nonrenewable sources of energy. Nonrenewable energy sources include fossil fuel-based energy, which will be exhausted in near future creating a major threat for our existence. Renewable sources are being used for meeting only 2% of our energy needs, which has to be expanded in line with our policies to promote clean energy sources. There is a need to foster renewable energy sources.

Fossil fuel has been an important source of energy for us. It constitutes a very high share (in some countries almost 4/5th) of the total energy source for us. Fossil fuel sources are limited and exhausting. They will deplete soon. When they will deplete, it would create a problem for us to find their alternatives. They are already shrinking and their costs are rising.

Firewood is another source of energy in developing countries. It is still used widely for various purposes including for the purpose of burning dead bodies in India. Firewood is dependent on forests, which are also reducing. There is a need to check the use of firewood at the earliest. There is a need to stop cutting of trees due to impending crisis in climate change and other factors. Forests have to be protected and preserved. Therefore there is a need to protect forests and associated ecosystem. There is a need to divert the use of firewood as a source of energy. There are many societal and cultural issues. People have developed cultural practices to use firewood for a particular purpose and therefore encouraging them to switch to alternative sources of energy is of prime importance now. We have to educate people and create an understanding among them about the challenges of the climate change crisis and the energy crisis. We have to create a better response system to meet with the challenges of the present time.

Energy Innovations and the Challenge of Creating Better Energy Sources

Energy innovation refers to development of societal, technological, political, and commercial initiatives to foster energy generation or transmission or utilization. The ultimate aim is to help the society in meeting the challenges of energy crisis. The current situation puts a pressure on scientists to innovate. The current state of crisis calls for innovation in the sectors relating to renewable energy. Renewable sources will be the sources of energy in the future as these sources would be able to replace the nonrenewable sources of energy. These sources are nondepleting; hence, these are also called nondepleting sources of energy. These sources of energy are easily replenished because their sources are not exhaustible, and therefore these sources are renewable sources-based energy. Renewable resources are replaced quickly and are considered practically limitless. These include solar energy, energy from the water, wind energy, and geothermal energy. The development of new sources of energy including solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, biomass energy, etc. is collectively referred as energy innovation in energy generation. Energy innovation refers to the development of new means of energy production, transmission, trading, consumption or creating alternative sources of energy. Energy is an essential commodity for mankind. Currently about 80% or more of energy is derived from fossil based sources. Fossil means those sources which are geologically of different period; therefore these sources cannot be regenerated or renewed. Fossil fuel-based sources include crude oil, natural gas, coal, bitumen, tar sands, and oil shales. These sources are depleting and will eventually get completely exhausted 1 day. The fossil fuel-base sources are also causing carbon while burning and cause damage to the environment. Thus there is a need of better sources of energy for the world, which is both environment friendly and renewable.

Holdren (2006) writes that energy issues are difficult due to many complicated reasons including diversity of economic, environmental, and security issues, the cost considerations and other considerations. The crisis is not due to exhaustion of fossil fuel resources, but the problem is in terms of strategic considerations that are involved in energy decisions.

Wüstenhagen et al. (2007) mention that now many governments have created their goal to promote renewable sources of energy; however, societal acceptance of energy innovations is not forthcoming. He mentions about three considerations in energy innovations: (1) sociopolitical (2), community, and (3) market considerations. He mentions that market considerations have not yet been studied thoroughly, and therefore there is a need to undertake detailed study of this consideration.

Sagar and Holdren (2002) mention that energy innovations can be best addressed if we have understanding about global energy innovations. The current researches and publications address the issues of developed countries only. Energy innovation can be addressed only if we know about recurrent state of energy innovations in underdeveloped and developing countries also. There is a need to foster greater energy-related interactions to understand energy issues. Energy is an important issue, and due to impending threats to environment, ecology, and associated reasons, we have to undertake energy innovations in the sphere of research, development, demonstration, and deployment in order to meet with the impending challenges and to create better options for low-cost mass use energy supplies. There is a need to understand and explore energy options in order to solve the present crisis.

Wilson et al. (2012) mention that there are two types of energy issues – one related to energy source and one related to end use of energy. There are many public institutions and public bodies, which are engaged in creating research-based approach toward the energy issues. The overall efforts need directed approach toward energy innovations. However, the overall emphasis is on energy source innovations. This is partly due to the over emphasis on energy production. However, there is greater scope for innovations in end use of energy, and these innovations can be very useful. However, we have not been able to give it due support due to our misdirected efforts, which have focused on the energy sources. There is a need of directed efforts toward energy innovations to create collective efforts that can help us in achieving our goals.

Solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy are energy innovations that are going to be of great help. There are challenges with regard to energy storage. Currently batteries are used for energy storage; however, it is an inefficient medium due to its tendency to generate lot of chemical or other wastes. There is a need to find better options for energy storage and energy utilization. Solar energy is a very important source of energy in tropical regions, where over 300 days of clear sunlight is available in a year. As of today, the solar energy is having a very negligible market share of less than 0.5% of the total energy market. However, the market of solar energy is rising at a very fast pace. Both solar energy and PV markets are rising, and they give an inclination of the future.

Challenges in Transport Sector

There is a need of proper urban transport policies. Short-term policies to support carpooling and to promote public transport can also help in reducing emissions. Policies and measures are needed to address specific issues, and thereby efforts should be made to achieve reduction in carbon emissions. There is a need to switch to electric vehicles keeping long term in perspective (Li et al. 2018.

Transportation sector uses vast energy. The energy requirements of this sector will continue to grow in the future also. This sector has been emitting substantial CO2 emissions. Replacing conventional energy by new technologies is a very challenging work. It would require huge investments in infrastructure and resources. Trucks will need huge batteries to provide required back up for running as electric vehicles. Batteries are based on metals and minerals, which are exploited from the earth without sustainable methods. Electricity which is generated from coal plants is actually causing greater losses to urban life in terms of air pollution. Thus there are many challenges in introduction of electric vehicles in transportation sector. The transition will be slow, because any effort of fast transition can cause major environmental damages (Kalghatgi 2018).

Road infrastructure has direct positive correlation with economic growth and development. However, road infrastructure and urbanization have direct negative impact on environment. Economic growth also has a diminishing negative impact on environment. Therefore, there is a need of green city planning in order to minimize the negative impact of economic growth on environment (Baloch 2018).

Energy from Waste

Energy generation from waste can give us a viable opportunity for the future. Human wastes are creating a problem for the urban population. Rising wastes require a prudent strategy to manage it. Bove and Lunghi (2006) discuss how energy can be generated from landfill gas (LFG) energy recovery systems, including traditional and innovative technologies. They also give a comparison between techno economic and environmental aspects with regard to energy generation from waste.

Energy from Biomass and Other Sources

Biomass, wood, and agriculture waste have always been sources of energy for mankind. There is a need to create more efficient systems for energy production and energy storage. Yusoff (2006) estimates that biomass power potentials from wood processing and palm oil were estimated at 280 TJ and 250 TJ, respectively, in Malaysia. Given the huge forests and agricultural resources, these sources of energy should also be exploited. Developing countries can benefit from such resources. We have to go for technological advancement in order to explore new sources of energy and to ensure that we are having lost cost sources of energy. Technological advances can help us in our objectives. Micro-algae are considered as a source of biofuels (Shuba and Kifle 2018). Biofuels have great potential. Greater use of biofuels can enable us to reduce CO2 emission by 50% in the next 30 years. Synthetic natural gas and hydrogen can be obtained from syngas, which is developed from gasification of biomasses. These technologies have developed considerably, and there is a need to renew experiments of these technologies so that effective viable solutions can be developed (Molino et al. 2018).

Brazil has been experimenting with ethanol-based oil as a substitute to crude oil. It has been able to save over $40 billion through these innovations. Brazil has been growing sugar cane for the purpose of creating fuel. Brazil has been able to use biofuel through these experiments and thus it is able to create an efficient alternative.

Englezos and Lee (2005) mention about gas hybrid as a source of energy. Technological advances may help us in finding better possibilities. Kalita (2008) writes about plant materials as source of energy and chemical feedstock and the possibilities of producing hydrocarbon and related chemical products, directly or indirectly. Kalita also discusses work carried out at Regional Research Laboratory, Jorhat, and suggests petro crops-based research. Geothermal energy is also a very important source of energy. It is already being used for the purpose of energy production. It has huge potential for the future.

Traditionally, energy industry has been based on the economic theory that energy production and delivery should be natural monopolies and that large centralized energy plants have always been considered the most efficient and inexpensive means for producing energy and delivering it to customers. Large energy generating plants, integrated with transmission and distribution systems, achieved economies of scale and consequently reduced the operating costs. However, it is now proved that common masses can transform any industry, so every industry should try to create such structure which permits mass participation. If we can develop such technologies, that energy production, sale, and distribution is possible in microscale, it would enable everyone to participate in this industry. In solar energy sector, it has already been experimented, and there are encouraging results. We have to enable everyone to become energy producer and trader. The national grid of electricity can be used to purchase excess electricity and to sell electricity to those who need it. Thus energy production and energy trading need reforms. The first reform should come at a technology level to enable people to become partners in the industry. The current vision of treating everyone as user of energy should be replaced by a new concept of treating everyone as energy producer and enabling everyone to generate and sell energy. Mass-scale participation will solve the current challenges of this industry and would enable everyone to benefit by participating in this sector. This will open opportunities for social entrepreneurs to join this transformation and enable social entrepreneurs to create new models of mass participation, which will solve major problems of the world.

Energy Efficiency

Efficiency refers to relation between input and output. An efficient system would ensure minimum wastages and minimum losses. Efficient systems would create efficiencies in the process, thereby creating very high conversion from input into output. Thus efficiencies would help the systems. Since these are mass-scale systems, the scale would create impact and a small improvement would generate massive rewards. Due to large-size and large-scale operations, efficiencies can themselves generate additional revenues and additional energy. Most of the institutions in government sector work at less than their capacity. Thus there are possibilities of reform if the issues of efficiency are properly addressed. Developing countries are marred by poor management of energy sector. It is generally managed by government run institutions, which are bureaucratic, slow, and inefficient institutions. Take India for example, most of the energy generation, transmission, and distribution is in the hands of the government sector companies called state electricity boards, which are inefficient bodies. Whereas the private sector has a PLF of 73%, against the overall average of 63%, the corresponding figure for SEBs is only a paltry 58%. Even the IPPs have a PLF of around 69%. It is mentioned in some reports that the average T&D loss across India is approximately 21%, which is very high. This can be easily minimized if the transmission and distribution is handed over to the private sector. It is a well-known fact that there are a large number of thefts of electricity at different stages in India, which causes huge energy shortages for other people. Such inefficiencies are very common in India, and accepting them itself would create many problems in circular manner. In order to meet the challenges of the future, the governments must rectify the current situation or else they should handover this sector to the private sector, with proper guidelines. The private sector can easily overcome these hurdles, which are now preventing proper distribution of energy. Bureaucracy prevents development of an innovative culture. Bureaucratic structure reduces the possibilities of any innovations. These are also very inefficient structures; therefore, these structures are putting additional cost burdens on the common people. There is a need to create major reforms in public institutions.

Electromagnetic energy radiation around transformers and pylons has been causing damage to public health. In order to control this, there is a need of proper harvesting and storage of electricity for recycling purpose. Another option is nonionic energy conversion, which can help in conversion, storage, and reuse of waste electromagnetic energy. This can help in controlling electromagnetic pollution (Cao et al. 2018).

Green city concept (GCC) is the latest concept toward urban planning. Green city concept framework (IHS-GCCF) and harmonized global green city performance over time (GGCCPI) are standard framework to implement green city. Increase in population has a negative impact on green city. Sanitation and air quality also have direct impact on green city. Green city is both environment friendly city and also a liveable city, which would enable responsible consumption on the part of the people. Green city conceptual framework is being implemented in many cities, and it is observed that this concept yields a good city for the people (Brilhante and Klaas 2018). The concept of green city gives emphasis on alternative energy and on green buildings. Freiburg is one such city, which is a model about how green cities can become the solutions for urban infrastructure challenges in the future (Fastenrath and Preller 2018). Many tools are being developed to help in planning for a green city. These tools help the planners in allocating green areas. Green factor tool is one such tool which can help the planners in designing green city (Juhola 2018).


Energy will become the major problem of tomorrow. Energy shortage will create many problems. Approximately 15% population of the world is already having lack of access to energy. There is a need to address these issues. However, the current environmental crisis, which is responsible for climate change and other issues, will create a problem for all of us and we will be forced to switch to renewable sources of energy. This will help us in solving the present day environmental concerns. We will be able to create better sources of energy only through innovations. We need innovations in both technologies and also in market structures. Technological innovations will enable us to use such technologies, which are cost-efficient and are useful at a microscale use. Thus we can expect common people’s participation in energy generation, distribution, etc. New technologies will enable us to involve common people in energy generation and related work. The next task is to enable people to engage in energy storage, transmission, and distribution. The success of common people depends on their participation in energy industry. It is disappointing to note that due to inefficiencies in public institutions and public bodies, there are huge T & D losses in this sector. The governments must take bold steps in privatization of the energy-related organizations so that there are efficient machines and efficient bodies.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Manipal UniversityJaipurIndia
  2. 2.Research Scholar in Manda Institute of TechnologyBikanerIndia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luciana Londero Brandli
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Passo FundoPasso FundoBrazil