In the race towards a low-carbon future, global leaders cannot ignore the many benefits of energy-efficiency measures for the environment and the economy, writes Susanne Dyrboel of ROCKWOOL International.
Last week’s UN climate change summit attracted huge publicity and saw China announcing that it will pledge to address emissions –and work with the US to agree new binding targets.
The move has been hailed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon as ground-breaking and in his closing remarks he stated, “never before have so many leaders gathered to commit to action on climate change“. But we still need to see how this will materialise in real actions.
While the support shown in New York last week from the 120 heads of states for more stringent and binding climate change targets may seem a positive foundation for COP21 in 2015, it is of great concern to see how little appetite policymakers continue to have for using energy efficiency as the key tool for guiding climate policies.
It is well known that energy efficiency is the most effective means available for tackling climate change but it is also a highly effective way to stimulate economic growth. Energy efficiency must therefore be the obvious first choice – and still our political leaders continue to argue about the high upfront costs without focusing on the significant long term gains. It should be a “default condition” always to aim for utilising the full economic potential of energy efficiency.
In Europe we have no right to point fingers at other regions – we only need to look at what is happening right now in our own territory. In July, the European Commission proposed a new energy savings target of a meagre 30% by 2030. And this despite its own impact assessment showing that 40% savings is feasible and will deliver many more benefits (over a 30% savings target) in terms of GHG emissions reduction, jobs, energy security and competitiveness. While a 40% energy savings target in 2030 will deliver 4.5% growth in GDP a 30% energy savings will only deliver 1% GDP growth.
On energy security, recent European Commission analysis shows that for every 1% increase in energy savings, EU gas imports will be reduced by 2.6% – underlining the very significant energy security benefits a 40% energy savings target can deliver.
If the Heads of States in Europe in their final vote on October 23-24 fail to raise this bar it will be a huge missed opportunity to drive demand for energy savings in the coming decade. It leaves a massive energy savings potential untapped, and leaves unrealised many investments that would increase economic growth, provide new jobs, improve EU competitiveness, reduce import dependency and fight climate change. A target of 40% energy savings by 2030 must be set if we are to keep the lead position that Europe has had in the past on energy efficiency.
Last month the International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a report “Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency” describing energy efficiency as the world’s ‘first fuel’ and stated that ‘the uptake of economically viable energy efficiency investments has the potential to boost cumulative economic output through 2035 by USD 18 trillion’ a sum that is larger than the current size of the economies of the US, Canada and Mexico combined.
While some fear the up-front costs of improving energy efficiency across the globe will be high, the potential benefits are huge, and these up-front costs also pale in comparison with the investment needed in new energy infrastructure to meet growing energy demand. An economic and environmental cost that could be significantly reduced simply by using less energy.
The IEA concludes that over 80% of the global savings potential in buildings is ignored and will continue to be so unless our policy makers start to integrate the multitude of ancillary benefits from energy efficiency into their strategic planning. This is a ridiculously wasteful use of the world’s resources as well as of our public money!
World leaders attending the UN Summit in New York recognised that countries, businesses and individuals are unlikely to act on climate change without binding targets.
There are critical voices who say that setting high energy efficiency and emissions targets is bad for economic growth and business but the Commissions own assessment, the IEA report and numerous other expert viewpoints show this isn’t necessarily the case.
Binding targets provide industry with security for investment and stimulate innovation and development of the green economy.
The world’s sustainable business community is strong enough and innovative enough to adapt to a higher and more ambitious energy savings target and to develop and offer systems and technologies that radically cut the amount of energy used without compromising quality of life or business activity.
We also know that ambitions do make a difference. In the EU, the 2020 target for energy savings has helped create a market for more efficient buildings that has put the EU at the forefront of green building technology, and enabled businesses to viably invest in green technology. It has allowed many European businesses to become sector leaders at the point when other countries are now looking to follow the EU’s lead and improve energy efficiency.
Having an energy savings target in place for 2020 hasn’t been bad at all for the EU’s economy on the contrary it has been a positive driver for innovation and green growth.
Susanne Dyrboel (@SusanneDyrboel ) is group public affairs manager of ROCKWOOL International. ROCKWOOL is the world’s leading producer of stone wool and among global leaders within the insulation industry.
Photo: Chris RubberDragon via Flickr
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.