The Crowd, formerly Green Mondays, has been putting on excellent events since 2008. Bringing together senior business leaders, thought leaders, academics and policymakers, this year’s Green Corporate Energy conference was no exception.
The Greek Revival-style block of Portland stone that is the home of the Royal College of GPs dominates the corner of Euston Road and Melton Street, facing the Wellcome Trust. Opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in March this year, the building made an ideal setting for the conference, with a cool auditorium and the hottest gents in the world (Editor: I’m compelled to point out here that it is the temperature of the toilets, and not the attractiveness of the male delegates, that Simon is referring to).
Jim Woods, CEO of the Crowd, was master of ceremonies and introduced acclaimed economist and author Prof Noreena Hertz. Hertz’s talk explored making decisions in an increasingly complex world. Mixing an eclectic range of real-life anecdotes, she explained the weakness in relying on ‘experts’ and the importance of divergent and different thinking in to avoid group-think when faced with uncertainty. Her book, Eyes Wide Open: How to make smart decisions in a confusing world, should be essential reading for all senior leaders and a business school core text.
She was then joined on stage by Sir David King, the foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change, and Peter Atherton of Liberum Capital. Chaired by Financial Times contributor Sarah Murray, the stark divide between a City view and the scientific one was explored as both King and Atherton clashed over subsidies, the ‘high cost’ of renewables and the merits of government intervention.
Energy and cleantech adviser Dr Steven Fawkes then launched the energy investment curve – a ground-breaking crowdsourced initiative to gather feedback on multiple energy investments, payback and additional benefits. Over 40 companies input multiple projects with an investment value of over £1 billion, creating a unique database of projects, their payback and rating – with additional comment. This system can now be used by participants to learn from others success and connect.
I chaired a lively discussion in one of the many breakout sessions concerning energy company Open Energi, which has created an exceptional technology allowing companies to earn money by selling or absorbing energy from the national grid through in their appliances its dynamic demand system.
This system operates with heaters, pumps, chillers, refrigerators and air conditioning units and turns them into smart devices which can react instantaneously, by turning them off, down, on or up, to deal with changes in electricity supply and demand across the UK network, within the operating parameters of the units. The National Grid then buys this capacity to balance the network.
Following lunch, Neil Carson, CEO of Johnson Matthey, and Estelle Brachlianoff, CEO of Veolia Environment, gave the executive perspective. For them, top-level leadership is critical, especially when new talent expects to work for companies with a genuine sustainable ethic. Core was embedding sustainability into the businesses values and seeing it as just good business.
We were then joined via Skype from the US by Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar and CEO of Buzzcar. After exploring the nexus of excess capacity (we only use cars 5% of the time), the power of people and platforms that underpinned her ventures, she explored the concept of peer incorporated. Using the diversity and creativity of individuals and their peers, with the leverage of corporate platforms. You can see her TED talk here.
Chase illustrated how Intercontinental Hotel Group had built up 645,000 hotel beds over 65 years, but by deploying the excess capacity of people’s rooms, airbnb.com had created 650,000 rooms in just four years, while couchsurfing.com had created 2.5m in just nine.
This powerful use of excess capacity – stuff that has already been paid for and built and is therefore underutilised, such as car sharing or bed sharing (in the non-intimate sense) – with peer groups and platforms is genuinely revolutionary.
The final session of the day consisted of short presentations by Tim Brooks of Lego (simply the best toy in the world), Kathy Loftus of Wholefoods and Jaz Rabadia of Debenhams. Through their own stories, they explored how they made the case for green energy and the value of applying energy data to drive down costs and emissions.
Green Corporate Energy was a genuinely inspiring and thought-provoking event. The Crowd has a reputation for throwing very impressive events and from the feedback of those I spoke to, they exceeded their own high standard this year.
Photo: @EnergyDeck via Twitter
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.
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