Technology Innovation is a Vital Key to Recovery from COVID-19

By Michael Tobias

COVID-19 has hit us hard. Millions of people have lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of people have died, and global economies are collapsing. There has been some respite in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and a welcome relief, albeit temporary, from widespread air pollution. But as countries worldwide slowly get up and running again, there is a very real danger that emissions will bounce back and increase to levels that are even higher than those before the pandemic struck.

As a result, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has refocused its research and analytical work in an endeavor to meet the global challenges that will need to be faced as leaders of a shattered world implement recovery plans.

At the same time, professionals in fields that enable them to help minimize the ongoing impact of COVID-19 are doing whatever they can.

Since the disease is airborne, air quality is a major factor, and if the ventilation systems in buildings are inadequate and air purification and filtering measures aren’t totally effective, they could become a high-risk environment for coronavirus infection. Even a reasonably simple air quality check by a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineer could minimize risks.

A heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) engineer can upgrade HVAC systems so that they are safer and considerably more effective.

Those operating in various fields of renewable energy can encourage clients to upgrade to clean, effective, and innovative energy technologies that will help a sustainable recovery.

But it will take government intervention and substantial investment from multiple sources, including private investors, to achieve a sustainable recovery plan after the coronavirus pandemic.

A Sustainable Recovery Plan for Post COVID-19

Mid-2020, the IEA released a comprehensive 174-page sustainable recovery plan compiled in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their declared mission was to put greenhouse gas emissions into “structural decline” while creating millions of jobs and boosting global economic growth.

Published in the Special Report on Sustainable Recovery, the plan provides a roadmap for the energy sector that integrates energy policies into national and international plans that are currently being devised in response to the immeasurable economic shock that has been caused by the coronavirus crisis.

A vital key is the acceleration and deployment of innovative technologies that will result in clean, sustainable energy systems and reliable infrastructure.

Of course, many of these have not yet come to market and, in fact, may only be in the prototype phase. In the meantime, professionals working in the clean and renewable energy fields should be doing all they can to improve HVAC systems in buildings and to offer benchmarking engineering services that enable building owners and managers to monitor energy and water usage and ensure that they meet the benchmarking requirements of local councils and avoid penalties for non-compliance.

The report states that improving the efficiency of buildings as part of the post-COVID-19 recovery plan will help to create vital employment possibilities.

Technology Innovation Offers Strategic Opportunities

Technology innovation is an essential element of clean energy systems and without it, the transition to clean and modern energy systems will be severely jeopardized. But because there is time lag concerned with bringing new, innovative technologies to market, technology innovation in this field remains a near-term priority that will enable energy leaders and governments to achieve longer-term targets with goals that relate to sustainability and renewable energy.

Opportunities highlighted by the IEA include:

  • A broader technology for governments that will enable them to diversify the energy mix as well as supply chains for energy.
  • Diversification of portfolios for energy industry participants as well as the opportunity to anticipate future changes in energy markets.
  • The ability of those in the industry to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis in a stronger position whether they are supplying international or domestic markets going forward. This gives them the opportunity to be more competitive in the future.
  • Industries that currently have few scalable options for de-carbonization will have greater opportunities to reduce carbon emissions using new clean-energy technologies. These include long-distance transport and heavy industries that rely on fossil fuels. 

The four areas of technology innovation that are explored in the report are batteries, hydrogen technologies, small modular nuclear reactors, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), all of which are capable of playing a vitally important role in the long-term establishment of sustainable, resilient clean energy systems. 

While technology innovation is a critical factor to increase energy resilience and security in relation to power supply, other main goals of the IEA’s sustainable recovery plan are to boost economies and, as mentioned above, to create jobs. Many of these jobs will be in energy-related fields including the electricity sector and retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, air quality, and HVAC performance. 

So, while many of us may not be able to play a direct role in technology innovation, recognizing its importance, and developing clean energy strategies, will help communities and economies to recover from a health crisis that has resulted in the most widespread global economic disaster since the 1930s.

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, which is an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.