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Designing a better World Cup: the world’s first net zero energy stadium



While most people’s eyes will be on the 22 players from Brazil and Croatia kicking off the 2014 World Cup on Thursday, Hyewon Kong looks at how one stadium is leading the way on sustainable design.

This year’s World Cup is special not just because the hosting country has won more World Cups than any other, but also because sustainability has been a critical point of contention in the build-up to the event.

This has been most evident in the protests that local people in Brazil have organised to highlight their concerns that the competition is having a negative impact on their communities. Clearly the world wants a new model that doesn’t involve riding roughshod over existing infrastructure and local community interests, but Brazil has nonetheless helped to push the sustainability agenda forward in other ways.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the world’s first net zero energy stadium, Estádio Nacional de Brasília (formerly known as Estádio Mané Garrincha) in Brasília, which is also the first sports arena in the world to receive the platinum level (maximum) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the US Green Building Council.

This remodeled stadium uses recycled materials from the old stadium and will generate 2.5 megawatt (MW) of solar energy – enough to power the entire stadium with the remainder going back into the grid. This is more solar power than 11 of the 32 countries participating in the competition are generating. It also actively reduces emissions through a pollution absorbing roof membrane, and collects rainwater to be reused in toilets and cleaning.

The world’s most sustainable stadium couldn’t exist without the computer-aided design (CAD) and simulation software, vital tools used by architects and engineers to transform their ideas into reality that are provided by companies such as Autodesk and Ansys. The key advantage of this technology is that it can calculate, measure and test different materials and components beyond human capability from the earliest design phase and work out how all the individual components can be put together accurately in the real world.

Projects at this scale involve huge amounts of financial, natural, and human resources and so avoiding errors and sharing accurate information is crucial for successful execution. The computer programmes help reduce waste, improve resource efficiency and significantly reduce the overall environmental and financial cost of the project.

According to EcoArenas, the Brasília stadium is expected to realise energy savings of up to 120% per year and will reduce potable water consumption by more than 80% compared with previous designs. The technology not only underpins the environmental performance of the building but also ensures safety by investigating physical strength using various simulations, as shown by the image below.

This kind of computer programme is used not only in large-scale projects, but it also touches many aspects of our daily lives from our homes, schools and transport to food and drinks (mainly packaging or logistics). Increasing raw material prices and volatility, as well as more stringent environmental and safety regulation, are driving the adoption of these tools, in turn enabling greater innovation and improving resource efficiency.

A critical driver has also been the escalating costs of non-compliance with a variety of environmental and safety requirements. The costs of ‘getting things wrong’ has never been so high, and the ability to test and simulate performance in a range of different conditions throughout the design process, has made CAD and simulation technologies essential.

The listed equity investment team at WHEB has recently reviewed a set of computer aid design and simulation technology businesses. The sector as a whole offers great investment opportunities driven by the megatrends addressed above. It also has high entry barriers as users of the technology tend not to switch easily to other vendors, due to the long time and knowledge embedded in the users’ own workflow. As a result, the industry has high recurring revenues and generates good margins and cash flows.

Currently, the FP WHEB Sustainability fund is invested in Trimble Navigation, a provider of products and services that are used to efficiently to plan, design and implement a range of commercial and agricultural processes and construction projects. We are also actively following other companies in the sector with a view to starting a position in due course.

Hyewon Kong is a senior analyst at London-based asset manager WHEB. This article originally appeared on its blog

Photo: Portal da Copa via flickr

Further reading:

World Cup host city Curitiba hit by floods

Brazil World Cup: Costa Rica wins on social justice

‘Hacktivists’ claim attacks on Brazil World Cup sites

Ed Davey: National Grid network could cope with England World Cup win

Why sustainability is unlikely to be a winner at the Brazil World Cup

Articles, features and comment from WHEB Group, an independent investment management firm specialising in opportunities created by the global transition to more sustainable, resource efficient economies. Posts are either original or previously featured on WHEB's blog or in its magazine, WHEB Quarterly.


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

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.

Driver Reduction?

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.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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.


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