As increasingly evident in 2023, with record incidents of heat and extreme weather, climate change represents one of the clearest and most present dangers to America and the world. As stated by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as over 11,000 scientists who recently signed onto a letter demanding global action, it is clear that the need to address the effects of Climate Change is becoming greater by the day. The challenge we all face, however, is how to best do so?
While some in this divided political world may choose to continue to debate the causes and effects of climate change, there are already thousands of engineers across the energy sector who are leading the global effort to find smarter and more innovative solutions to build a cleaner, more reliable, and more resilient energy future. Make no mistake, engineers across the energy space are on the frontlines of this global battle against climate change, and they are undertaking historic science-based efforts to find real and workable solutions that can reduce the emissions critical to fighting climate change.
Effectively mitigating the impact of climate change, however, will require our national leaders, from those in the political and corporate world, to embrace a new era of investment in engineering, not just in terms of education, training and people, but embracing their unique tools and expertise that current and future generations of engineers will offer. In much of the world, especially in the United States, there is a critical need to attract new and brilliant minds to this critical profession. Doing so will requires a new national commitment to early training in STEM and other science-based professions to attract the tens of thousands of engineers who will literally help engineer the energy infrastructure that withstand the impacts of extreme weather and deliver the energy our nation, and world will need.
Aside from just critical investment in education, we must also embrace the reality that while some nations have made substantial investments to fight climate change, including the most recent Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by President Biden in 2022, money alone will not be enough. A literal army of engineers, across countless companies and agencies, are being tasked to lead the modernization of the energy system and grid to accommodate this battle against climate change. Put differently, not since the industrial revolution has such epochal level of transformation been embarked.
Engineers must design and implement new energy systems that are resilient to climate change and can withstand its effects, like increased hurricanes or wildfires. As climate change leads to more hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires, energy systems must be designed to withstand these events and ensure energy availability even in the face of extreme weather conditions. Perhaps nowhere is a better example of resiliency challenges in the face of more extreme weather than the Gulf Coast, Philippines, or Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, for example, critical energy infrastructure has been repeatedly critically damaged by hurricanes, most notably Irma, Maria and Fiona in recent years. No matter the country or state, it is in these local lessons that a new generation of engineers across the US and worldwide are learning to design solutions to better protect our communities from the effects of our changing climate – even as the effects of climate change continue to impact the very systems they seek to build.
The challenges for engineering solutions to climate change are numerous, significant, and increasingly apparent. How can we best harness the best and most useful expertise of engineers working in the field of climate change from both academia and industry? One model is offered by the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), which maintains a global network of leading power and electrical engineers. PES brings together power and electrical engineers at every phase of their career for conversation and collaboration to work on concrete solutions to the real challenges facing our world. Such gatherings, however, pale in comparison to the global action and support that is needed to educate, train, and empower the next generation of engineers. Now, more than ever, the time has come for our political leaders, at all levels and all backgrounds, to help build the next generation of engineers who over the coming decades will help engineer the solutions our world will need to save itself.
For all of us who are proud to be part of PES, and other professional organizations like it, it is long past the time of philosophical and political debates about climate change; we must move forward with rapid speed to a solutions-based and expertise-based mindset. Because the truth is that fighting climate change, achieving net zero by 2050, and building the critical clean energy infrastructure billions will depend on will not just happen by accident. Such an energy transformation will either be the result of science and engineering leading the way or, in its absence, we will be left with the effects of a global existential crisis that no engineer, no matter their training or expertise, will ever be able to solve.
Wayne Bishop Jr. is Vice President of Industry Outreach and Strategy at Quanta Technology and has worked in the electric power industry for over 30 years. Wayne is also IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) Vice President of Meetings and Conferences, a member of the IEEE PES Governing Board, a member of the IEEE PES Executive Committee and a Senior Member of IEEE. PES’s Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) LATAM Conference held in Puerto Rico is one forum of many offering the world’s foremost engineering minds and climate change experts the opportunity to convene and discuss paths forward.