The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates humans have exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain our current levels of consumption, and are on track to consume more than twice what the planet can regenerate.
But, advances in technology are changing the way resources are produced and consumed. Energy consumption has become less intense and more efficient as people use less energy in their daily lives, and as energy-efficient technology becomes more integrated into our homes, businesses and transportation. Technological advances are helping to lower the cost of renewable energies, like solar and wind energy.
Resource producers also benefit from the intersection of technology with natural resources. According to McKinsey & Company, “resource producers are increasingly able to deploy a range of technologies in their operations, putting mines and wells that were once inaccessible within reach, raising the efficiency of extraction techniques, shifting to predictive maintenance, and using sophisticated data analysis to identify, extract, and manage resources.”
In terms of mining operations, technology will help to raise productivity and improve safety. Advanced in-situ leaching will open up difficult-to-reach ore bodies at low ore grades. Expanded data collection and analysis of rock fragmentation will help inform blast patterns. Autonomous continuous hard-rock mining could lead to faster development of underground mines, which eliminates the need for drilling and blasting.
Oil drilling is another industry that will be positively impacted by technology. On-site drones and robots can take over activities too dangerous for humans, which reduces cost and improves safety. Subsea processing units will help limit surface infrastructure, which reduces capital costs and makes it not necessary to lift water and sand to the surface. Also, increased use of enhanced oil recovery will extend the life of fields, raising the recovery rates with less capital investment.
These trends have the potential to unlock anywhere from $900 billion to $1.6 trillion in savings throughout the global economy in 2035. At least two-thirds of this figure comes from the reduced demand for energy, resulting from higher energy productivity. The rest of the number comes from productivity savings from resource producers.
Technology will enable a more resilient grid and more responsive and productive utilities. Cogeneration and combined heat and power systems will increase the value of thermal power generation and will raise resilience through micro-grid applications.