Contributed by: Amy Haddon, Director Global Content Marketing and Communications Services, Schneider Electric
For more than a decade, Amy has been championing climate change mitigation, sustainability, and renewable energy adoption in the corporate sector. She is a frequent contributor to conversations on corporate sustainability and is a certified climate change professional.
Technology for Net-Zero: 4 Solutions to Solve the Climate Crisis
Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and the climate crisis is, ultimately, an energy crisis. Roughly three-quarters of global emissions today come from fossil fuel combustion for energy purposes: to heat and cool our buildings, to manufacture and ship the goods we consume, and to transport people where we want to go.
As humans, we have built extraordinary buildings, systems, and technologies – almost all of which run on energy. And no one wants to go backward; we all appreciate what we get from energy every day. Which means that to solve climate change, we’ve got to solve energy. If we are to continue to thrive, we must embrace the fact that the age of fire has come to an end and our energy-dependent systems must evolve to be cleaner and more resilient.
The good news is that they can – today. Solutions already exist to address the emissions from our easiest-to-decarbonize sectors (utilities, buildings, industry, and transport), with more on the way to impact the hardest-to-abate areas of our society. Technology was what allowed the energy revolution to begin – and it is what will help us to transition the energy system now.
It all starts with data
Data is the lifeblood of the energy transformation. It helps us set a baseline to know what we need to change. It helps us measure those changes over time to ensure that our efforts are meaningful. It gives us information to enable us to make faster and more reliable decisions. And, ultimately, it tells us how we have made material impacts.
Any organization seeking to reach net-zero must have a complete and valid data set that includes all sources of emissions. This kind of data collection is accelerated with an enterprise system like Schneider’s EcoStruxure™ Resource Advisor, which is underpinned by global emissions factors and helps our clients collect more than 400 resource data streams ranging from carbon to energy to ESG. With this data in hand, our clients are able to easily and readily disclose to agencies like CDP while simultaneously using the data to improve and enhance their decarbonization efforts.
Data is only as valuable as it is valid
Though having data is the foundation for decision-making, the completeness and accuracy of that data is equally essential. Historically, organizations relied on spreadsheets and human data entry for this validity. However, advancements in digitization are allowing ever-increasing access to data that comes directly from devices themselves.
Connected devices not only increase access to real-time data, allowing for responsive decision making and adjustments - which can improve the efficiency of performance and the visibility and management of resources - they are also increasingly smart, meaning that they can learn and begin to make adjustments themselves, optimizing for efficiency.
By removing the potential for human error, centralizing connected data collection, and increasing the intelligence of connected devices, data validity increases while energy usage and emissions go down.
Less energy waste means less energy to evolve
Connectivity and intelligence are only two of the ways that organizations can increase their energy efficiency – and greater efficiency is a critical step in any net-zero pursuit. Inefficient operations, processes, and equipment are energy wasters. By limiting or eliminating energy waste, companies reduce the amount of energy they need to evolve and the amount of emissions they need to reduce.
Many companies have already embraced some form of energy efficiency. They may have taken smaller steps, like replacing inefficient lighting with LEDs, or undertaking improvements in the efficiency of their HVAC systems and other energy-intensive equipment.
But efficiency can, and should, be a consideration at every point and in every process at which an organization is consuming energy. The integration of energy and automation with software can help drive profitability and sustainability by combining power and process together.
Efficiency is the workhorse of the energy transition – and solutions are widely available today.
Ultimately, the energy transition is dependent on clean technologies
Regrettably, it’s impossible for energy efficiency to reduce all of our emissions. That’s where clean and green technologies and solutions have a role to play. These technologies allow us to meet our growing demands for energy while simultaneously reducing emissions.
Today, technologies are widely available for renewable electricity: utility-scale wind power and customer-cited solar have grown exponentially while costs have rapidly fallen.
But these technologies only address electricity emissions. The frontiers of green and clean technologies address emissions generated from industrial processes, transportation and logistics, waste, and more. Many of these solutions – like electric heat pumps and electric light-duty vehicles – exist today. But the infrastructure to support scaling these solutions may be lacking. Other solutions – like hydrogen, biofuels, fuel cells, energy storage, and more – are still in their relative infancy. But they will undoubtedly have a role to play, and are the reason that so much money has been committed to clean tech R&D on the back of COP26.
There’s another important market nuance when it comes to clean tech – specifically that the grid of the future is likely to look nothing like the grid of today. It can’t. Our current grid is aged, even failing in some cases, and over-reliant on stable climate systems and long-distance transmission. It also assumes that urban centers and transport networks will look the same in 10 years as they do today. That’s almost certainly not the case.
The emergent grid is one that is more flexible, more adaptable, and more agile to meet the needs of an evolving energy transition and an increasingly unpredictable climate. Energy flows in this grid – what we’ve termed the MeshGrid™ - are bilateral. In this new grid, buildings, cars, smart and connected devices, and small scale renewable energy installations all operate in concert as both producers and consumers (or prosumers) of energy. Demand signals are more local and systems smarter, allowing power to get where it needs to go quickly without reliance on huge networks of interconnections, further reducing energy waste.