When we hear the word sustainability, many of us intuitively connect it to energy.
After all, sustainability and green energy are among the most important MegaTrends in the world. But while many of us see images of wind turbines and solar panels when thinking about the term energy sustainability, there’s a lot more to the subject.
Is there a difference between renewable energy and sustainable energy? Yes.
According to John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:
“Renewable energy is defined by the time it takes to replenish the primary energy resource, compared to the rate at which energy is used. This is why traditional resources like coal and oil, which take millions of years to form, are not considered renewable.
Sustainable energy is derived from resources that can maintain current operations without jeopardizing the energy needs or climate of future generations. The most popular sources of sustainable energy, including wind, solar and hydropower, are also renewable.”
So sustainable energy is renewable energy, but it’s also something more.
What Is Energy Sustainability?
Sustainable energy meets the needs of the precent, while not compromising the future at the same time. This means sustainable energy seeks to avoid pollution, resource depletion, CO2 emissions that impact the climate, and so on.
While there are no industrial processes or products that are completely free of pollution, there are large differences – some technologies pollute a lot less than others.
The following chart shows the huge differences between different energy sources when it comes to CO2 emissions per each kWh of electricity that’s produced:
You can see, CO2 emissions are around three times higher when coal is used for electricity generation compared to natural gas; while coal’s CO2 emissions are around 30x higher and around 100x higher than those for solar and wind.
Getting rid of coal power generation is the most important task in making electrical energy more sustainable – a mix between renewables (solar & wind) and natural gas, for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, is promising.
Hydroelectric power is very sustainable from a CO2 perspective, but hydro power plants can’t be built everywhere – they only work in certain geographic areas, such as some mountainous regions where dams can be built easily. Over reliance on hydro can also be risky if droughts hit and there are no alternative power sources. Some Latin American countries and India have had this issue.
Sustainable Energy MegaTrend Leaders
Green energy and Energy Sustainability are incredibly important in terms of size and scope. This is reflected in the massive spending on renewable energy assets globally, as we can see in the following chart:
Investments have exploded upwards from a little more than $200 billion a decade ago to almost $500 billion last year, and this number will only continue to grow. Renewable energy is thus a massive growth market, and there are some obvious beneficiaries.
But while solar companies and manufacturers of wind turbines are, in many cases, far from hidden, there are also less obvious beneficiaries of an increased focus on energy sustainability.
Mining companies such as BHP Group (NYSE:BHP) will benefit from increased demand for copper (which is needed for electrical grid upgrades etc.) and iron ore (as steel is needed for wind turbines, electrical grids, and so on).
Rare earth metals producers similarly will benefit from increased demand for the commodities they produce and sell, as rare earths such as neodymium are needed to produce wind turbines and other green energy assets.
NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) and Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE:BEP) are two companies that will benefit from this MegaTrend by investing in green power generation assets to sell more green energy and generate more green energy credits.
Tech companies such as Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) use green electricity to power its operations, which not only can result in cost advantages, but is also a major plus when it comes to these companies’ ESG scores.
Data center users such as Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) also benefit from attractive prices for the electricity they purchase when they partner with sustainable energy producers and develop their own systems to tap into sustainable energy incentives.