Getting SDG 7 back on track

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Energy is key to achieving all SDGs, as an engine for social progress, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

The recently published Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2020 concluded that despite significant progress in recent years, the world is falling short of meeting the global energy targets set in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

The report by International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the urgent need to meet the targets set in SDG7: affordable and clean energy.

What new efforts can we undertake that not only help accelerate the shift to renewables, but also expand access to, and improve the resiliency of, green energy?

Hi @akb, @KeithDPatch, @Shepard, @oscarr - We would love to hear your thoughts on what needs to be done to accelerate and expand access to renewables and improve the resiliency of, green energy.

Hi Shashi, I hope you, your colleagues, family and friends are all keeping well. Thanks for asking for my input on this topic. As it happens a few years ago I submitted one of the winning solutions for the design of an XPRIZE challenge to encourage the development of abundant, clean, energy. This might be of interest to you, your colleagues, and fellow community members.

The introductory (and interactive) web pages for this are here:
And the detailed document (Abundant Clean Energy) is here:

Hi @akb,
I am fine and hope you are doing good. Great to hear from you after a long time. Thanks @akb for sharing these resources. I have shared these resources with my team and will revert back if required with more question.

Hi @AAM_AAU, @cananacar, @EEI, @nastben - We would love to hear your thoughts on what needs to be done to accelerate and expand access to renewables and improve the resiliency of, green energy.

Hi Shashi,
I’m very heartened by the early actions of the Biden administration in relation to climate (referencing the EOs today). I’m eager to see what Kerry and the new domestic climate council will come up with. I imagine there’ll be more good news coming up in the next few months.

Hello Adam @akb,
It’s wonderful to connect again, and welcome to this prize design community.
Thank you ever so much for sharing the details of your design and ideas. Many aspects that we’ve begun researching are covered there, and it’s very interesting to read.

I’ve only just started reading, but I already hope to ask you about the two key prizes you’ve highlighted: energy generation and energy storage and/or distribution solutions. Given your familiarity with the XPRIZE model, which direction needs an XPRIZE in 2021 on? Candidly, we are just starting, and we’ve been looking into novel clean energy generation methods as well as storage and storage for transfers. So, very curious to hear your thoughts! Thank you.

Hi @Shepard,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts; we are indeed at a point in time calling for bold action to address the unfolding climate crisis. I’m curious about your perspective regarding the role of policy/legislation vis-a-vis (clean) energy innovation. Do you view it as a key driver? to what extent? And if so, globally?

Hello @Eti and thanks for the welcome. It would be great to see XPRIZE challenges / prizes for each of the categories: energy generation; distribution; and energy storage.

(In the design there was also a prize for low cost / low scale energy solutions that could be adopted locally by a household or a village. There’s a particular demand for this as one billion people have no access to electricity. I seem to remember that an XPRIZE challenge was pending for this - do you know if that’s still the case?)

Currently we have increasing deployments for renewable energy generation in the form of solar and wind power. Both of these are heavily dependent on daily weather conditions for many (but not all) places across the planet. This means there is a growing need for effective and efficient energy storage solutions, so that daily, and seasonal, dips in renewable energy generation can be compensated for. Note that the seasonal aspect presents a real challenge for energy storage and so that’s particularly worthy of a challenge / prize.

Distribution of energy has a role to play too. We’ve probably all heard of smart networks and local energy generation and storage solutions. An even greater challenge would be to create smart networks able to distribute energy over long distances: international and inter-continental. This has benefits for lowering market prices for energy and addressing the seasonal challenges (above). For example, a vast solar farm in, say, sunny North Africa could deliver energy to Northern Europe when weather conditions are sub-optimal there (e.g. during cloud cover, winter, and/or in the absence of wind). Similarly, for sunny states in the US and winter in Canada; and many other latitudinal partnerships. Just like the Internet, it might be possible to establish a robust global energy network, with multiple routes to multiple energy providers (generators and storage).

Although it’s too early to anticipate winning technologies, [just for fun] we could anticipate a significant breakthrough in ambient temperature superconductors. Such a breakthrough would mean a global energy network could become a reality. Other fantastic (non-energy) benefits would arise too - so perhaps that’s a worthy XPRIZE in its own right!

PS: For some nations, their geography gives them a great opportunity for a guaranteed source of daily renewable energy: tidal power. This means they would be less dependent on the need for energy storage, and international distribution.

@Eti , Hello.
I think there is a lot of opportunity here–especially if we made it a national priority, I wager we could figure out excellent storage solutions in short order. At the same time, we have the successes of some programs like ARPA-e which do a great job of using the power of government to stoke innovation. Of course, I wouldn’t call it the only factor as we have had a lot of innovation happen outside of policy.
I wouldn’t expect a lot of energy innovation policies early on with all of the other priorities the WH seems to have at the moment, however. Ideally, Democrats and Republicans can work together on this issue.

@akb - Thank you for your detailed response, and apologies for my delayed response. Regarding distributed energy prize, this was in development but not launched. It is one of the directions we’ve been investigating for this prize, specifically SIDS and Sub-Saharan Africa, but not just as we explore various pathways. We’ve been getting powerful signals for a need for innovation in the two topics you’ve mentioned (long-duration storage and distribution).

We’ve just posted a new discussion asking to explore the needed distances, and you begin to mention some here (international and inter-continental) as well as a future global energy network.
I wondered if this is where you see the energy future heading, global connectivity, given geopolitical considerations, as well as technology. Also, often the energy independence potential of renewables is an aspect that appeals greatly to nation-states. Given the variable availability of renewables, do you think cross-border energy transfer/transmission will necessarily be part of energy space moving forward? could long-duration storage mitigate this need?

@Eti you make some good points and pose some interesting questions.
“Do you think cross-border energy transfer/transmission will necessarily be part of energy space moving forward?”

Given the intermittent nature of some key renewable energy sources (e.g. solar, wind, and wave), cross border energy transfer would provide good opportunities for a resilient approach to energy supply (and smooth out market prices). An extensive, robust, global power network [like the Internet] would amplify those opportunities.

International power networks already exist to a limited extent, e.g. Britain’s electricity market currently has 4GW of interconnector capacity (Electricity interconnectors)

“Could long-duration storage mitigate this need?”

Yes, long duration storage, within a nation, could mitigate the need for a global network.

However, some small nations (e.g. Singapore and Gibraltar) and small island nations might be unable to host sufficient storage infrastructure. (Having said that some technological innovations might be able to make use of the surrounding ocean.)

It is possible that a combination of international networks and energy storage are used together. Some nations might have advantageous environmental and geographic conditions that favour energy generation (e.g. a sunny climate, tidal power, or geothermal energy), whilst other nations might have conditions suitable for energy storage (e.g. pumped hydro-electric, or large areas of unused land suitable for hosting an innovative storage technology). An international power network would support such synergistic benefits.

Of course building such infrastructure traditionally takes a lot of time and money - hence the need for the XPRIZE for rapid low cost deployment [e.g. automation/robotics]. [And a quick breakthrough in low cost, ambient temperature, superconductors could be helpful here too.]

This leads to a third option, which might be complementary… If we look at existing infrastructure used for the oil industry, we can see that energy (oil) is shipped around the world in massive oil tankers. Using this analogy we could envisage mobile energy ships. These could ship energy from a renewable energy generator country in the form of chemical and/or electrical energy (e.g. hydrogen, ammonia, alcohol, methane, batteries, superconductor storage cells, etc.).

@akb Hello Adam, thank you ever so much for this detailed response; it was very interesting to read. Long-duration storage, Long distance transmission, and green fuels seem to keep rising as key gaps that could benefit a wide portfolio of strategies for a sustainable energy future while instantaneously accelerate decarbonization. I really appreciate you taking the time to dive into aspects such as geographical and socio-economic limitations/considerations.

Thank you also for pointing out ambient temperature superconductors before. I started looking into this interesting field following your recommendation and just wanted to share with you this exciting recent development.

Thanks @Eti - There’s lots of exciting options for us to consider.
Now we need an ambient temperature superconductor that works at normal atmospheric pressure… :slight_smile: