Climate change is a complex and often overwhelming issue. That’s why it’s crucial to have experts who can not only help us understand the latest scientific reports but also guide us in finding innovative solutions. In a recent episode of my Climate Confident podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Delevan (@rdelevan), a communications consultant who works with energy and climate tech companies. We discussed the latest IPCC synthesis report, the importance of climate tech solutions, and the power of effective communication in driving change.
Richard shared his insights on the IPCC report, emphasizing that while it paints a dire picture, there is still hope. He highlighted the significance of climate tech in mitigating the impacts of climate change, stating that “technology and innovation are essential, especially in the energy sector.” Richard also noted that while the IPCC report is grounded in science, it is still subject to a political process, and this can sometimes dilute the urgency of its message.
We also discussed the role of effective communication in the climate change conversation. Richard emphasized the importance of crafting a compelling narrative that moves beyond simply identifying villains and victims. Instead, he argued for a more inclusive approach that helps people understand their role in addressing climate change and encourages collective action.
One of the most inspiring aspects of our conversation was Richard’s perspective on the impact of young activists like Greta Thunberg. He believes that political leaders can learn valuable lessons from her ability to ask difficult questions and cut through the noise. The key, Richard explained, is to focus on creating a vision of a desirable future where everyone has a stake and can participate.
When asked what people should be paying more attention to, I pointed out the scarcity of climate news in mainstream media, especially when it comes to positive stories. That’s one of the reasons I started the Climate Confident podcast – to highlight the good news and inspire people to take action. As I mentioned in the episode, “hearing these good news stories every week, it stops me collapsing into a ball, sobbing on the floor, throwing my hands up in despair.”
I encourage you to listen to the full episode with Richard Delevan for a deeper understanding of the latest IPCC synthesis report, the power of climate tech, and the importance of effective communication in driving climate action. Let’s face the future with a bit of humor, humility, and the knowledge that together, we can make a difference.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released its 2023 Electricity Market Report and it provides an overview of the trends and developments in the global electricity sector in 2022 and the outlook for 2023-2025. It should be noted at this point that historically IEA reports have proven to significantly underestimate the growth of renewables.
The report covers the impacts of the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which led to record-high energy prices and a sharp decline in electricity demand in the European Union. It also examines the role of renewables and nuclear energy in meeting the growing electricity demand and reducing the CO2 emissions of power generation. Finally, it discusses the challenges and opportunities for electricity security in a world where both the demand and supply of electricity are becoming increasingly weather-dependent.
The report finds that world electricity demand remained resilient in 2022 amid the global energy crisis, rising by almost 2% compared with the 2.4% average growth rate seen over the period 2015-2019. However, the soaring prices for energy commodities, including natural gas and coal, sharply escalated power generation costs and contributed to a rapid rise in inflation. Economic slowdowns and high electricity prices stifled electricity demand growth in most regions around the world, especially in the European Union, which recorded a 3.5% decline year-on-year in 2022. The report also notes that China’s zero-Covid policy weighed heavily on its economic activity and electricity demand growth in 2022, while India and the United States saw strong increases in demand due to their robust post-pandemic recovery and extreme weather conditions.
The report projects that global electricity demand will grow at a much faster pace of 3% per year over the 2023-2025 period, driven by the electrification of the transport and heating sectors and the economic development of emerging and developing economies. The total increase in global electricity demand of about 2 500 terawatt-hours (TWh) out to 2025 is more than double Japan’s current annual electricity consumption. More than 70% of the growth in global electricity demand is set to come from China, India and Southeast Asia combined, with China’s share of global electricity consumption rising to one-third by 2025.
The report also analyses the trends and outlook for global electricity supply, highlighting the dominant role of renewables and nuclear energy in meeting the additional demand. Together, they are expected to account for more than 90% of the growth in global electricity supply over the next three years, with China leading the expansion of renewable generation and India, Japan and Korea contributing to the growth of nuclear generation. The report also notes that the share of renewables in the global power generation mix is forecast to rise from 29% in 2022 to 35% in 2025, while the shares of coal- and gas-fired generation are set to fall. As a result, global CO2 emissions from electricity generation are expected to plateau to 2025 and its CO2 intensity will further decline in the coming years.
The report concludes by discussing the challenges and opportunities for electricity security in a world where both the demand and supply of electricity are becoming increasingly weather-dependent. It points out that the energy crisis has renewed interest in the role of nuclear power in contributing to energy security and reducing the CO2 intensity of power generation, especially in Europe and the United States. It also stresses that the substantial growth of renewables will need to be accompanied by accelerated investments in grids and flexibility for their successful integration into the power systems. Finally, it warns that the world’s power systems will face more risks from extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, storms and floods, which can affect both the supply and demand of electricity.
So, given how conservative the IEA has traditionally been when it comes to its predictions of the future growth of renewables, I think their prediction of renewables growth to 35% by 2025 is very positive, seeing as that implies will reach 35% well before then!
The science is in. We need to significantly reduce our carbon emissions to limit the amount of warming our planet undergoes as a consequence of climate change.
The good news is, technology is rising up to meet this challenge. The bad news is it needs to do far more, and do it faster. How is technology helping? Well, if we check out some of the industries with the highest carbon footprint (energy, transportation, and agriculture), we can see some of the massive disruptions that are happening there, and how they are impacting emissions.
The energy sector is undergoing a massive transition globally from a system powered by centralised, thermal generation based often on fossil fuel combustion, to one increasingly powered by decentralised renewable sources. And while it would be great if this was happening for reasons of climate concern, it is, in fact, happening for reasons of economics, which is better because it means it is sustainable in the long term.
Why do I say it is because of economics? Because the cost of wind, solar, and lithium-ion battery storage are falling. Falling fast (due primarily to the experience curve). Since 2012 the cost of wind power has fallen 50%, solar power has fallen 80%, and battery storage has fallen 87%. It is now at the point where unsubsidised, combinations of wind and battery storage, or solar and battery storage are able to beat natural gas on price.
Don’t take my word for it. At the Wolfe Research 2019 Power & Gas Leader’s conference last month (October 2nd, 2019) Jim Robo, Chairman, and CEO of NextEra Energy the biggest and most successful utility in the US said
“We see renewables plus battery storage without incentives being cheaper than natural gas, and cheaper than existing coal and existing nuclear… And that is game-changing”
Then, when you consider the amount of time it takes to deploy a power plant, renewables win again.
And consequently, the share of new power generation being deployed globally that is renewable is rising rapidly, while the share of new fossil fuel generation is falling fast.
And it is not just the supply side of the equation that is changing. The demand side is changing rapidly as well.
More and more organisations are demanding that their energy provider only supply clean, renewably sourced electricity. In fact, RE100, “a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity” counts at time of writing (November 2019) 212 of the world’s largest companies (including my own employer SAP) as members. All 212 companies are either sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources or have committed to doing so in the near future. Companies do this because it is good for business. Consumers feel better about purchasing goods if they know they were produced using renewable energy, and employees feel better about working for organisations committed to renewable energy.
So the carbon intensity of electricity, one of the main carbon polluters is falling worldwide on a gCO2/kWh basis. What about one of the other big polluters I mentioned at the start, Transportation. Well, fortunately, electric grids the world over are embracing renewable energy, because transportation is now starting to use electricity as a fuel, instead of dino-juice!
Why is transportation going electric? Three main reasons:
Increasing environmental awareness among consumers
Regulations from regions, countries and local governments and
Economics – the costs to operate an electric vehicle (EV) are significantly less than a fossil fuel one
Greta Thunberg has done an amazing job of raising awareness in younger generations particularly about the dangers of climate change, but even before she burst on the scene, the 2019 regulations governing NEVs (New Energy Vehicles) in China and the 2020 emissions regulations for vehicle manufacturers in the EU (as well as local ordinances by cities restricting access to older, more polluting vehicles and countries on the phase-out date for the sale of Internal Combustion Engined vehicles) meant that vehicle manufacturers have had no option but to get on board with the electrification of cars and increasingly other modes of transport as well.
And it is not just cars, motorbikes are also going electric with announcements of electric bikes from all the major manufacturers including Vespa, Yamaha, Honda, all the way up to Harley Davidson.
Buses, trucks (from the large class 8 all the way down to delivery trucks), and refuse collection vehicles are also going electric. This is important not just for reducing their carbon emissions, but also because these vehicles often work primarily in urban centres so converting them from diesel to electric will improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and significantly reduce the cost of operation for these machines.
Also, when you take into account the fuel use by categories of vehicle, you can see from the chart above that class 8 trucks, buses, and refuse collection vehicles consume far more fuel than other vehicle categories. Fuel use is of course, not just a good proxy for their potential to pollute, but also for their running costs so the economic case to shift these to electric is very strong. In the case of buses, battery-electric buses cost 20c per mile to operate over their lifetime, whereas diesel buses cost 75c and so, battery-electric buses will dominate the market by the late 2020s.
easyJet is collaborating with US company Wright Electric to support their goal for short-haul flights to be operated by all-electric planes within 10 years
It is hard to think of a mode of transportation that is not moving towards electric drivetrains. And as we saw above in the section on energy, as our grids are getting cleaner daily, shifting transportation to electricity quickly drops transportation’s carbon footprint too (as well as reducing noise pollution, and cleaning up our air quality).
3 Food Production
Food production is the third industry where technology is about to play a huge part in reducing our carbon footprint. Agriculture globally accounts for about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector. And this doesn’t include emissions associated with deforestation to clear land for more agriculture.
However, shifting away from our current practices of food production to one where our plant food is grown in massive indoor vertical farms has the potential to significantly clean up agriculture’s environmental toll.
Indoor vertical farms use 95% less water and 99% less land than conventional farming practices. They use no soil, require no herbicides or pesticides and they can produce food in the middle of cities, thereby reducing drastically the crop’s food miles. When you are producing food so close to the point of consumption, you no longer need to optimise your produce for shelf-life, and you can instead choose to optimise for taste, and/or nutrition.
Then there is the clean meat movement. Clean meat is meat that is produced from either cultivating animal cells (without having to slaughter the animal), or by converting plant protein to take on the taste and consistency of animal protein as companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing so successfully.
Our current means of producing plant food and meats are vastly inefficient and have a huge carbon footprint. This won’t scale to feed the population of 9-10 billion inhabitants that we are projected to reach in the coming decades, especially as the middle classes grow in the developing world and their meat consumption expectations grow too.
Converting to a system where we produce plants in massive vertical farms, and then using that plant food to create clean meat solves a lot of the problems associated with agriculture today such as the unconscionable cruelty we visit on the animals we breed for slaughter, the vast amounts of antibiotics that are used in agriculture leading to the development of multi-drug resistant superbugs, and agriculture’s massive carbon footprint.
If we return the land we have stolen from nature for agriculture back to the wild we can restore the enormous losses we have seen in recent decades in biodiversity, create a huge new ecotourism industry, and through reforestation sequester from the atmosphere much of the carbon we have emitted in the last century, mitigating the or possibly turning back the worst effects of climate change.
Then there is the whole digitisation of the grid. Now all new equipment is being built with inbuilt ‘smarts’ and connectivity, and even older infrastructure can be retrofitted, so with the advent of the smart grid, we will finally have the possibility of the Electricity 2.0 vision I was talking up back in 2008/09. This is a smart grid where appliances in the commercial or residential worlds can ‘listen’ for pricing signals from the grid, and adjust their behaviour accordingly, taking in electricity when it is plentiful, and switching to alternative sources/lowering consumption when electricity is in high demand.
Everything is changing for the electric utility industry – and so, against that backdrop, and the fact that I will be presenting on IoT and Utilities at the upcoming International SAP for Utilities Conference in Lisbon, I decided to have a chat with IDC Research Director Marcus Torchia, about the implications for utilities of these huge changes.
We had a great discussion, and many of the themes we touched on, I will be talking about at the Utilities event in Lisbon.
You can check out our chat in the video above, play it in the audio below, or listen to it on the IoT Heroes podcast site.
The price of oil has cratered. In 2012 it was over $120 a barrel. Today, 2016, it is at $42 a barrel, and this is an improvement from January and February of this year when it went under $30 a barrel.
Previously, when the price of oil fell, OPEC would meet, they’d agree to cut the output, and the constrained supply would ensure the price would rise once more. Why isn’t that happening now?
Most commentators are putting it down to the fact that Iran, who were under sanctions until very recently, understandably don’t want to cut production, and with Iran not cutting back, Saudi Arabia won’t either.
However, there’s another thesis which I think is more likely, and if true, oil prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. That thesis states that Saudi Arabia has realised that we are at the end of the Oil Age, and that a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel resources will have to remain in the ground. With this in mind, it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to make sure they can extract, and monetise as much of their fossil fuel resources, as possible, while they still can.
What is the evidence for this?
First off, consider that last Friday 170+ countries signed the Paris Climate Accord whose aim to to limit global warming to 1.5-2C. Now that we have an upper limit on the temperature increase we are willing to accept, we also know how much CO2 we need to put into the atmosphere to achieve this amount of warming. It comes in at 1,100Gt CO2 [PDF] (1Gt = 1 gigaton = 1 billion tons).
On the other hand, the total proven reserves of the fossil fuel companies, and countries comes to 3,300Gt CO2. Notice the problem? 70-80% of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground if we are to keep global warming below 2C.
Now Saudi Arabia has known about this issue for quite some time. As far back as the year 2000, Sheikh Yamani famously predicted that
Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.
In fairness Sheikh Yamani’s reasoning didn’t have to do with climate change, but better drilling and exploration technologies, but still it has come to pass, and in this scenario Saudi Arabia has to race to produce as much oil as it can, no matter what the price, so as little Saudi oil as possible is left in the ground. Consequently Saudi Arabia is now producing somewhere between 10.3m-11m barrels per day – an historic high.
And then at last week’s OPEC meeting in Doha to try to stabilise oil production, Saudi Arabia scuppered the talks, ensuring no freezing of oil outputs. This has the added advantage of squeezing the other producers, few of whom can produce oil at the same low cost as Saudi Arabia.
Then yesterday comes the announcement that the Saudi cabinet approved a set of reforms aimed at moving the country away from its dependence on oil profits. They have seen the writing on the wall, and so while on the one hand they are going all out to maximise the amount of oil they can extract and sell, they are at the same time setting up a sovereign wealth fund of $2tn to ensure they, in the words of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
can live without oil by 2020
So, with Saudi Arabia diversifying away from oil revenues, and unlikely to reduce output any time soon, there is no obvious reason why oil prices will ever rise again. And Sheikh Yamani’s prediction about a huge amount of oil being left in the ground will come to pass.
After returning from IBM’s InterConnect conference recently we chided IBM for their aping of Amazon’s radical opaqueness concerning their cloud emissions, and their lack of innovation concerning renewables.
However, some better news emerged in the last few days.
The Whitehouse last week hosted a roundtable of some of the largest Federal suppliers to discuss their GHG reduction targets, or if they didn’t have any, to create and disclose them.
Coming out of that roundtable, IBM announced its committment to procure electricity from renewable sources for 20% of its annual electricity consumption by 2020. To do this, IBM will contract over 800 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year of renewable electricity.
And IBM further committed to:
Reduce CO2 emissions associated with IBM’s energy consumption 35% by year-end 2020 against base year 2005 adjusted for acquisitions and divestitures.
To put this in context, in the energy conservation section of IBM’s 2013 corporate report, IBM reports that it sourced 17% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2013.
It is now committing to increase that from the 2013 figure of 17% to 20% by 2020. Hmmm.
IBM committed to purchasing 800 GWh’s of renewable electricity per year by 2020. How does that compare to some of its peers?
In 2014, the EPA reported that Intel purchased 3,102 GWh’s, of renewable electricity, and Microsoft purchased 2,488 GWh’s which, in both cases amounted to 100% of their total US electricity use.
In light of this, 800 GWh’s amounting to 20% of total electricity use looks a little under-ambitious.
On the other hand, at least IBM are doing something.
Amazon, as noted earlier, have steadfastly refused to do any reporting of their energy consumption, and their emissions. This may well be, at least in part, because Amazon doesn’t sell enough to the government to appear on the US Federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard for significant suppliers.
Apple’s recent announcements around renewables and supply chain transparency, put the major cloud providers to shame.
Apple had a couple of interesting announcements last week. The first was that they were investing $848m in a 130MW solar farm being built by First Solar in California. With this investment, Apple enters into a 25 year power purchase agreement with the solar farm, guaranteeing income for the solar farm, and securing Apple’s energy bills for the next 25 years in California. According to First Solar this is the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user, and it will provide enough energy for Apple to fully power its headquarters, operations and retail stores in California, with renewable energy.
For it’s data centers, which hosts Apple’s iCloud, App Store, and iTunes content, Apple uses 100% locally generated, renewable energy. It’s Maiden, North Carolina data centre, for example, uses a combination of biogas fuel cells and two 20‑megawatt solar arrays — the largest privately owned renewable energy installation in the US, according to Apple. And it is now investing another $55 million in a third, 100-acre 17.5MW plant for the facility. You can find details of Apple’s other data centre facilities, and how they are powered by renewables, here.
The second announcement from Apple was the publication of its 2015 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report (highlights here, full PDF here). Apple has been criticised in the past for workers rights violations in its supply chain, so it is good to see Apple taking very real steps, positive, to address this. The amout of detail, the steps taken, and the levels of transparency in the report are impressive.
On underage labour, for instance, Apple’s policy requires that
any supplier found hiring underage workers fund the worker’s safe return home. Suppliers also have to fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, continue to pay the worker’s wages, and offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age. Of more than 1.6 million workers covered in 633 audits in 2014, 16 cases of underage labor were discovered at six facilities — and all were successfully remediated.
Comparing Apple’s cloud offerings to actual enterprise cloud players (or any cloud players, for that matter), you see there’s a yawning chasm in terms of transparency, reporting, and commitment to renewables.
Of the main enterprise cloud players:
Microsoft publish their Citizenship Report here [PDF]. And while it is a decent enough report, it doesn’t go into anything like the level of detail that Apple does. On page 53 of this report Microsoft mention that 47% of the energy it purchases is renewable. It does purchase renewable energy certificates for the other 53% so it can report that it is carbon neutral.
Google doesn’t produce a corporate sustainability report. Instead it has this page which outlines some of the work it does in the community. Information on Google’s energy breakdown is sparse. What is published is found on the Google Green site, where we find that although Google has many investments in renewable energy, and Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, Google’s actual percentage of renewables is only 35%.
IBM has a good history of producing corporate reports (though it still hasn’t published its report for 2014). However on the energy conservation section of IBM’s corporate report, IBM reports that sources 17% of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2013. However, they go on to note that this does not include the energy data of Softlayer – IBM’s cloud platform.
And finally, Amazon, who have arguably the largest cloud computing footprint of any of the providers, is the worst performer in terms of reporting, and likely in terms of emissions. The only page where Amazon mentions emissions, claims that it has three carbon neutral regions, but fails to say how they have achieved this status (or whether they are third party audited as such). The same page also claims that “AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint” but it fails to give any time frame for this commitment, or any other details on how it plans to get there.
I was asked to speak at the recent SAP TechEd && d-code (yes, two ampersands, that’s the branding, not a typo) on the topic of the Internet of Things and Energy.
This is a curious space, because, while the Internet of Things is all the rage now in the consumer space, the New Black, as it were; this is relatively old hat in the utilities sector. Because utilities have expensive, critical infrastructure in the field (think large wind turbines, for example), they need to be able to monitor them remotely. These devices use Internet of Things technologies to report back to base. this is quite common on the high voltage part of the electrical grid.
On the medium voltage section, Internet of Things technologies aren’t as commonly deployed currently (no pun), but mv equipment suppliers are more and more adding sensors to their equipment so that they too can report back. In a recent meeting at Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters, CTO Pascal Brosset announced that Schneider were able to produce a System on a Chip (SoC) for $2, and as a consequence, Schneider were going to add one to all their equipment.
And then on the low voltage network, there are lots of innovations happening behind the smart meter. Nest thermostats, Smappee energy meters, and SmartThings energy apps are just a few of the many new IoT things being released recently.
Now if only we could connect them all up, then we could have a really smart grid.
The slides for this talk are available on SlideShare.
GE’s Digital Energy business produced this infographic recently, based on the results of its Grid Resiliency Survey measuring the U.S. public’s current perception of the power grid. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of GE from May 02-06, 2014 among 2,049 adults ages 18 and older and from June 3-5, 2014 among 2,028 adults ages 18 and older.
Given the fact that hurricane Sandy was still reasonably fresh in people’s minds, and that polar vortices meant that early 2014 saw particularly harsh weather, it is perhaps not surprising that 41% of the respondents East of the Mississippi were more willing to pay $10 extra a month to ensure the grid is more reliable. A further 34% of those leaving West of the Mississippi would be willing to pay more for a more reliable grid.
What is most surprising is that the numbers are so low, to be honest. Especially the 41% figure, given that energy consumers East of the Mississippi had three times as many power outages as those living West of the Mississippi.
What’s the alternative to paying more? Home generation? Solar power is dropping in price, but it is still a very long term investment. And the cost of a decent generator can be $800 or more. And that’s just to buy it. Then there’s fuel and maintenance on top of that. As well as the inconvenience an outage brings.
Here in Europe, because most of the lines are underground, outages are very rare. The last electricity outage I remember was Dec 24th 1997, after a particularly severe storm in Ireland, for example.
The really heartening number to take away from this survey is that 81% of utility customers expect their energy company to use higher levels of renewables in the generation mix. If that expectation can be turned into reality, we’ll all be a lot better off.
Welcome to episode thirty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SAP‘s Sameer Patel as the guest on our show. Sameer and I are members of the Enterprise Irregulars group – a loose group of analysts and vendors with an interest in enterprise software. Previous Enterprise Irregulars who have guested on the show include David Terrar, Craig Cmehil, and Jon Reed.
There was a problem which wasn’t apparent to us during the show and that was that the video from my side never showed up in the recording. I suspect that’s because I was using a beta version of Chrome, but anyway, the audio, and Sameer’s video feed was recorded, so all’s well.
This week we didn’t get through all the stories we had lined up, ‘cos we had such a good discussion around the ones we did manage to fit in!