Past President Rahman Leads IEEE Delegation at COP28

2024 IEEE Past President Saifur Rahman reflects on his participation at COP28 that underscores IEEE’s collaborative commitment to helping bring substantive solutions to the impacts of climate change around the world.

NOTE: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and/or interview subject and do not represent positions of IEEE. Some references may require subscription to access content.

Question: Can you provide examples of innovative projects or initiatives led by IEEE that demonstrate the potential of technology and engineering in mitigating climate change?

Saifur Rahman, 2024 IEEE Past President: The innovative IEEE Smart Village program has solar panel projects across Africa and Asia, delivering clean and sustainable electricity to rural areas for lighting, mobile phone charging, and powering health clinics. In contrast to costly and polluting diesel generators, solar panels offer an eco-friendly alternative, which also serves to foster employment and economic growth opportunities in remote villages. An important side benefit is how the program enables children to study at home in the evenings, thereby transforming education accessibility while empowering communities. The IEEE Smart Village program not only illuminates homes but also helps to build a brighter future for underserved communities. 

Question: Climate change mitigation often involves interdisciplinary collaboration. How does IEEE foster collaboration between technology and engineering professionals, policymakers, and other organizations to drive sustainable innovations that address the global climate crisis?

Rahman: IEEE actively collaborates on climate change mitigation, addressing education needs for energy transition as well as skillsets development for electrification and renewables integration. 

By engaging with influential entities like the European Union Commission for Energy and Environment, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Society of Mining Engineers, US National Academy of Engineering, the IET (UK), Royal Society of Engineering (UK), Institute of Electrical and Telecommunication Engineers – IETE (India), Chinese Society of Electrical Engineers – CSEE, Korean Society of Electrical Engineers, South African Institute of Electrical Engineers – SAIEE, UNESCO, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, and others, IEEE helps lead the global discussion on sustainable energy policies and practices. 

IEEE participated in numerous sessions at COP28, underscoring this collaborative commitment, including those organized by Rotary International, the UN Council of Engineers for Energy Transition, the Green Digital Action, the World Green Engineering Organization (WGEO) panel on sustainable energy, and an IEEE Young Professional event on Bolstering the Renewable Energy Futures of Countries in Economic Recovery. IEEE also co-organized a side event with the IET, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Student Energy on technological tipping points, those pivotal moments when innovative technologies reach a critical stage of adoption, and their intersection with skills development.

Each of these sessions attracted audiences of influential leaders, including government ministers of education, science, and technology; ambassadors; CEOs; university presidents; and technology policy leaders, further solidifying IEEE’s role in helping to shape the energy future.

2024 IEEE Past President Saifur Rahman participates in the IEEE Young Professional session during COP28

2024 IEEE Past President Saifur Rahman participates in the IEEE Young Professional session during COP28

Question: Could you share some insights into the role of emerging technologies, such as renewable energy systems, sustainable transportation, smart grids, and artificial intelligence, as part of a green tech future? 

Rahman: The foundation of the green tech future relies on rapidly reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, aiming for net zero by the mid-century through four components: using less energy, electrification, transition from fossil fuels in electricity generation, and carbon capture and storage. 

World-wide clean-energy investment needs per year, $trn*Of these, using less energy may be the most cost-effective, but that requires behavioral changes that are difficult to deploy, particularly in industrialized countries. For example, in major US cities, lights are left on in full capacity in many commercial buildings well into the evening after the workers have left. Electricity saved by turning off lights contributes to a reduction in CO2 emissions. Efficiency gains and reduction in CO2 emissions can also be made by controlling the thermostat temperatures during cooling/heating seasons and employing smart grids and smart buildings to effectively manage electricity and energy demands. Artificial intelligence (AI) tools can be used to provide the customer with a full range of options to control his/her electricity demand based on price and their own need for electricity. 

Electrification means transitioning from fossil fuels to electricity. Utilizing electric heat pumps for space heating and adopting electric vehicles powered by solar, wind, hydro, or even nuclear energy provide impactful steps towards a low-carbon future. 

These approaches, as noted in a recent issue of “The Economist, are just some of the examples of how green technology fosters a more sustainable future.

Question: As a global organization, how is IEEE working on engineering solutions that help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and what are some innovative projects or approaches in this domain?

Rahman: IEEE is actively engaged in collaborative efforts to provide engineering solutions that help to mitigate the impacts of climate change. IEEE advances clean-tech solutions as well as fostering climate sustainability education. As a founding partner of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Energy Transition Education Network, IEEE provides teaching and learning materials to school teachers in Africa through its TryEngineering program. This initiative equips teachers with free educational resources to effectively teach clean-energy topics.

IEEE also addresses the critical issue of global electricity scarcity through its Empower a Billion Lives (EBL) program presented by the IEEE Power Electronics Society. This global competition encourages innovative solutions to electricity access that are scalable, regionally relevant, holistic, and leverage 21st-century technologies with exponentially declining prices.

IEEE contributes to the development of standards for climate change technologies. These standards help vendors tailor technologies for deployment in countries with varying levels of electric power network penetration. A collection of standards and other content dedicated to climate change is actively curated in the IEEE Xplore® digital library

Through these programs, IEEE showcases its commitment to driving positive change in both education as well as engineering solutions.

Rahman participates at COP28 in the ISO Pavilion as part of the Green Digital Action initiative

Rahman participates at COP28 in the ISO Pavilion as part of the Green Digital Action initiative

Question: At COP28, what technology innovations have you seen that inspire you and IEEE? 

Rahman: At COP28 I saw different kinds of technology innovation addressing both supply and demand sides. From the supply side, I am excited by the small modular nuclear reactors [ 1 ] being developed in different parts of the world. These reactors are compact (in the range of 100 MWe), easy to deploy, and feature simplified spent-fuel management protocols. They are ideal for meeting local loads without extensive (and expensive) transmissions networks. From the small to the large, another significant innovation is a large (2.4 GW) solar power station that produces electricity using both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal technologies [ 2 ], resulting in cost-competitive electricity similar to that from gas-fired power stations. On the demand side, telecom companies presented technologies that reduce electricity consumption in mobile base station towers [ 3 ] bypassing diesel gensets in favor of solar power, thereby eliminating CO2 emissions at the point of service delivery.

I am inspired by the breadth of innovation that I saw presented at COP28, which gives me great hope for the future and the continuing good work of IEEE.

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[1] B. Poudel, K. Joshi and R. Gokaraju, “A Dynamic Model of Small Modular Reactor Based Nuclear Plant for Power System Studies,” in IEEE Transactions on Energy Conversion, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 977-985, June 2020, doi: 10.1109/TEC.2019.2956707.

[2] S. Kannaiyan, N. D. Bokde and Z. W. Geem, “Solar Collectors Modeling and Controller Design for Solar Thermal Power Plant,” in IEEE Access, vol. 8, pp. 81425-81446, 2020, doi: 10.1109/ACCESS.2020.2989003.

[3] G. Ye, “Research on reducing energy consumption cost of 5G Base Station based on photovoltaic energy storage system,” 2021 IEEE International Conference on Computer Science, Electronic Information Engineering and Intelligent Control Technology (CEI), Fuzhou, China, 2021, pp. 480-484, doi: 10.1109/CEI52496.2021.9574527.