The challenges and opportunities on our way to net zero

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Lord Redesdale

In December of 2020 the Climate Change Committee set out a route map to the UK becoming net zero in a landmark report. Lord Redesdale, CEO of the Carbon Management Association and the Energy Managers Association, shares his vision for a decarbonized world.

What does “net zero” mean?

Since its publication, the idea of net zero has started to filter into the public consciousness. ‘Net zero’ means we need to take out as much carbon from the atmosphere as we’re putting in, until we get to a zero position.

While we don’t have the technology yet to undertake massive carbon storage and capture, we need to look at the amount of carbon we are using and at ways to reduce it. The difficulty of course is the carbon economy enables us to do anything we want; we can go and fly to the other side of the world on a whim if we choose.

In concrete terms, how can we act to decarbonize our society?

The first steps are within our grasp: decarbonizing power generation by looking at renewables such as wind and solar, which are coming on at a pace. We are seeing that the grid mix has gone down in carbon intensity, mostly because there has been a reduction in coal. We haven’t built a coal power station in the UK since the 80s. There’s a huge amount of green money going into renewable energy. We have moved from 50% of our fuel being coal, to 50% being gas now, with the rest made up by renewables and nuclear.

Without as many gas power stations, we will end up with a much less stable grid. Where will we get power from if one of the big assets goes off? How will we back it up? Although the new generation mix will be heavily based on renewables, batteries will also be part of

the mix in order to tackle this issue. In the future any building in operation will probably have a battery in it which will be charged up at peak power times and then used off-peak.

Décarboner avec les énergies renouvelables

What is the role of data in decarbonization?

Data will be key. We need to look at where the power comes from and how we can reduce it so we can massively cut down the amount of energy we use. How much energy an office block uses is dependent on how it is used.

In many buildings if something breaks it is replaced without much consideration of the energy used to do this. Over the next few months and years there will be a transition towards understanding how those assets can be put on a net zero path through energy-focussed maintenance; how they are managed and maintained, retro-fitted and replaced.

How do you think companies should act?

We need to be aware that everything has a carbon cost. Many companies are starting to understand the emissions they are directly responsible for (scope one) and the emissions

they’re indirectly responsible for (scope two). The big one coming down the line is scope three; the carbon emissions of their supply chain. Up until now companies have handed this over to energy brokers or third-party intermediaries to deal with. Now they will need to record at a granular level what electricity, gas and other fuels they are using and categorize them to each and every site on a year-on-year basis.

Objectif net zero

What will be the trend in mobility?

There’s going to be a massive move to electric fleet and electric transport but the issues around this need to be addressed. A single electric vehicle uses the same amount of power as a domestic household. The grid is going to find it very difficult powering millions of vehicles. So how we charge electric fleet needs to change. In addition, there is no electrical solution for trucking and this is an area in need of innovation.

electrical vehicle

What advice would you give to citizens who want to act for the planet?

As individuals, we all need to start making assessments of how much carbon we are using on a more granular level. If you stream an album on a constant basis as we do now, it actually uses more energy than getting a physical CD, as we used to do.

If you have an online conference call with the video function switched on, it is 95% more carbon intensive than just using audio. Video conferencing has a far lower cost than if we all got on a train and sat in a room but it’s not small on the global standard. In a couple of years’ time around 25% of the emissions on the planet will be due to computing.

What is your vision for the future?

The focus will move away from the financial cost and towards how many kilogrammes of carbon are being used. Less households will own a car. The green brand will become a major selling point for a company’s image and society will frown upon those

businesses and individuals who are not doing the right thing. Importantly, as low and zero carbon solutions start to become readily available and easy to use, more people will take them up. We can see this in the amount of people choosing to become vegetarians and vegans, as the range as the range of options increases and the quality improves.

Is there still time to act?

It’s becoming very clear that the effects of climate change are going to be catastrophic and that we passed the tipping point some time ago. As society comes to terms with this and looks for ways to reduce the damage further, we will see a change in society and societal values.

Lord Redesdale is the founding Chairman and CEO of the Carbon Management Association and the Energy Managers Association. He was the Liberal Democrats Energy Spokesman for the House of Lords in 2000-2008 and has spoken on various issues on behalf of the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Party, such as the environment, international development, science and technology. In November 2013, he founded Heelec, which launched the Energy Management Exhibition (EMEX). The show attracts over 4500 professionals from the Energy Managers Association’s community.

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