ASBC, Fast Company and FT on the Green New Deal

American Sustainable Business Council ask for all businesses –

A Green New Deal For Every Industry: In the midst of the opening presidential debates, Fast Company released a series on a Green New Deal Framework for 8 industries. Building, Transportation, Fashion, Banking, Philanthropy, Energy, Technology, Agriculture. We’re proud of this project edited by a New Economies Reporting Project

The Financial Times has published a special report on “rethinking energy”. In 16 separate articles, the FT tackles topics such as China’s “no waste” energy drive, energy producers’ quest for “cleaner barrels”, the mismatch between green intentions and consumer reality, how smart grids can work in extreme weather, and how the “internet of things sparks race to replace the battery”. FT energy commentator Nick Butler has a piece on how a “coalition of the willing” is needed on carbon as part of the report, while his weekly column looks at the weak position of the Opec+ coalition between the 10 members of the oil cartel and the 14 non-Opec oil-producing nations.

Internet of things sparks race to replace the battery

The internet of things promises companies a way to monitor valuable equipment and machinery. But when deployed in remote or hostile locations it poses a challenge. How can you continually power the sensors that communicate mission-critical data on the condition and performance of isolated assets that are beyond the reach of the electricity grid? Batteries often provide the answer, of course, but replacing them raises logistical problems, particularly at sites such as offshore wind farms or weather monitoring stations, where the task would be difficult, costly and potentially risky.

Jerry Luo at Cranfield University in the UK is among the scientists and engineers who believe the answer lies in energy harvesting — the harnessing of small amounts of local energy that would otherwise be lost. Using photovoltaic materials to generate power from light, piezoelectric energy from vibration and thermoelectric power from heat, the cost and risk of operating a growing number of power-dependent remote assets can be minimised. A particular problem for offshore wind turbines, says Mr Luo, is “scour” — the erosion of the seabed around their base. “Left untreated, scour problems can lead to serious damage and even collapse,” he says. With that in mind, he and his team have explored harvesting piezoelectric energy to convert into electricity the vibrations that occur routinely in a wind turbine’s structure. This supplies sufficient reliable power to the sensors that detect and monitor scour and other damage. “By using energy harvesting, the structural health monitoring system we envisage is economical, self-sustainable and requires minimal intervention,” he says.

It is not only remote locations where such technology has potential. Batteries are logistically inconvenient at any site that has a high concentration of sensors — for instance factory floors and smart office buildings, according to Rich Kapusta, chief marketing officer at Alta Devices. The Silicon Valley company has developed solar-harvesting technology based on a material called gallium arsenide that it claims is more efficient, lightweight and flexible than conventional photovoltaic technology. The company’s solar cells have been used recently to power small, low-cost satellites containing electromagnetic, radiation and inertial sensors for scientific analysis of the atmosphere by US high school and university students. But the technology, Mr Kapusta says, could just as easily power sensors back on earth. There’s an opportunity to remove batteries and the idea of “deploy and forget” is what’s driving that.

In the long term, battery technology will not be able to meet the demand being created by the expansion of internet of things (IoT) applications, says James Myers, director of devices and circuits at UK chipmaker Arm’s research and development division. The company calculates that powering 1tn wireless sensor nodes, each using a small lithium coin cell, would require approximately 109,000 tonnes of lithium — nearly three times worldwide annual production. “Energy harvesting is simply a necessity if a large population of IoT devices is to be powered,” he says. But existing energy harvesting technologies still face limitations that hamper their widespread adoption. Mr Luo suggests the power requirements of sensors need to be reduced if harvested energy is to meet demand.

“There’s a conflict of interest between energy harvesting and IoT applications,” he says. While significant progress has been made in developing ultra-low-power sensors in recent years, industrial IoT applications increasingly require data to be collected and transmitted by sensors in larger volumes, at more frequent intervals — or both. Keeping the internet of things fired up This is the kind of “big data” that will feed artificial intelligence systems capable of anticipating looming problems and costs by predicting, say, the progression of wear on wind turbine foundations or a mechanical fault with a lift in a smart building. Mr Luo cautions, however, that “the available sources of environmental energies are limited and the energy conversion efficiency cannot go beyond the laws of physics. There is a limit on the energy we can harvest, even if we improve the current energy harvesting technologies significantly to maximise the output”. A compromise is needed between the amount of energy harvested and the amount of data demanded by rapidly developing IoT applications, he says. Mr Myers at Arm is optimistic that more can be done to bridge that gap: “There’s certainly an opportunity here to remove batteries and the idea of ‘deploy and forget’ is what’s driving that. It’s not here yet, but it’s the direction in which we’re travelling.”


FT energy commentator Nick Butler has a piece on how a “coalition of the willing” is needed on carbon. Once the economics make sense, even the doubters will catch up with the new reality.

Once upon a time oil and gas companies were heroes — pioneers discovering vital, valuable resources in difficult places such as the deserts of the Middle East or the deep waters of the North Sea. The products they produced enabled people to travel, communicate with each other and to light and heat their homes. Oil and gas became essential elements in modern economic life. Maintaining energy supplies, particularly access to oil, has been a key element in every major conflict of the past century. As a result the companies, as indispensable extensions of national security, maintained close relationships with governments. Times change. Now, especially in Europe, oil and natural gas are seen as major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and so the cause of global warming — a complex and still imprecisely understood phenomenon that is increasingly believed to be the route to humanity’s extinction. Oil and gas groups, seen as active, knowing agents of the extinction, are targeted by everyone from street protesters to activist investors. The fact these are large, highly profitable businesses whose core skills lie in technology rather than public relations has not helped. Some have tried to hide from the problem, saying energy policy and regulation are matters for government. Others have sought to engage in the debate, to redefine themselves as energy companies and to develop alternative forms of low-carbon energy starting with wind and solar. Yet the words and the music are not yet in sync. As the Financial Times reported in December, investment by the oil and gas groups in low-carbon energy, including research and development, remains minimal as a proportion of total capital expenditure.

Business exists as a function of society. Companies are formed to bring together the skills and resources necessary to supply the products and services society needs, and are expected to deliver in a manner that society finds acceptable. In the energy business the social contract used to be secure but expectations have now changed. Of course, the active protesters blocking corporate offices and disrupting arts events sponsored by the oil majors are a tiny minority. Most investment funds still hold oil and gas shares. But wider public opinion is shifting. Green parties did well across the EU in the recent elections and many traditional parties both on the right and left are adopting strong environmental policies.

The UK, France, Japan and other countries are in the process of committing themselves to becoming zero-carbon economies over the next two or three decades. Even in the US, next year’s presidential election could produce a Democratic winner committed to similar policies. In the face of all this, the companies are in danger of being caught between the past and the future. Very few now deny the science of climate change, but equally few have shown how their companies will be transformed to meet the needs of a low-carbon economy.

Meanwhile, the climate lobby has run out of ideas. The Paris accord of late 2015 was a diplomatic success but implementation is proving slow and patchy. Hydrocarbons continue to provide 80 per cent of global energy demand and emissions continue to rise. Breaking out of this frozen position requires a new social contract between the industry, governments, consumers and civil society. There is no chance of a universal agreement — there will always be those who prefer protest to constructive change and there will always be those who cling to the past. But a coalition of the willing could achieve a great deal.

The key elements are an agreed timetable with defined targets, a gradual but substantial shift of investment in support of those targets, and a major programme of research and development to advance the technologies that will make low-cost, low-carbon energy available to all. Over time, once the economics make sense, even the doubters will catch up with the new reality. Over the past century and more, the oil and gas sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of dramatic changes — war, revolutions, expropriation, and dramatic shifts in technology and the pattern of demand across the world. Now the industry faces an even more fundamental shift — a change in what society expects of it. A new social contract is essential if the industry is to retain its reputation and its licence to operate. The winners will be those who embrace what is happening with conviction rather than reluctance.

The writer is an energy commentator for the FT and chair of The Policy Institute at King’s College London


Waste-to-energy: panacea for Asia’s pollution problem or a load of rubbish?

Technologies will stem trash tides but as a source of renewable energy their utility is limited

Burning ambition: Shenzhen’s waste-to-energy plant, planned to be the world’s biggest

Liu Xiao spends her weeks visiting sludge and organic waste treatment plants across China. The travel can be tiring but as a technical and policy adviser on waste management she must help implement President Xi Jinping’s vision of a “beautiful China”. Ms Liu’s job is to provide technical assistance to governments and companies trialling the next generation of waste-to-energy technology: methane capture. The equipment is sophisticated but the underlying principle simple. When organic waste decomposes in an oxygen-free environment such as landfill, it emits methane — a powerful greenhouse gas. The technology allows the gas to be collected and used as fuel to generate electricity, rather than escaping into the atmosphere. China’s 30-year economic boom and improvement in living standards has led to a surge in urban waste. It is now the world’s biggest producer of rubbish, after surpassing the US in 2004. It is also a leading processor of waste from overseas. In parts of China this has left a legacy of soil and air pollution.

As the country grows richer, there is growing pressure to clean up. China launched its “No-Waste City” programme in December, aimed at curbing solid-waste generation and encouraging recycling across 10 cities. The pilot project represents a shift away from landfill or incineration towards a less hazardous, integrated waste system for the future.

Methane capture is not new but widescale adoption in the world’s most populous country has the potential to reduce ground pollution as well as helping to satisfy the country’s growing hunger for energy. China produces more than 280m tonnes of municipal waste a year, according to official data. About 60 percent of this ends up in sanitised landfill, with the remainder burnt or biochemically treated. With the pace of urbanisation showing no signs of abating and living standards continuing to rise, the deluge threatens to overwhelm waste management infrastructure. 280m The number of tonnes of Chinese municipal waste produced a year The government is rethinking its approach to waste treatment. China’s five-year economic plan to 2021 extended its commitment to the “circular economy”, a model aimed at cutting waste while extracting as much value as possible from recycling.

For years a dumping ground for overseas rubbish, the country heavily restricted waste imports last year and a full ban is expected in 2020. The strategy also aligns with China’s climate goals. Beijing has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to increase non-fossil fuel energy sources to 20 per cent of total consumption. Mostly, however, waste-to-energy still means incineration — a practice that can produce heavy metals and toxins that leach into soil and water supplies. China is innovating on incinerator technology that will not need waste to be presorted and, while not yet proven, aims to generate electricity without emitting pollution, says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at US think-tank the Wilson Center. But she warns: “We should be suspicious of silver bullets.”

60% The proportion of waste that still ends up in landfill facilities

Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong, is building the world’s largest waste-to-energy plant, capable of burning 5,000 tonnes of refuse a day. But at the same time, the city is subsidising anaerobic digestion treatment plants for restaurant waste. Across China there are more than 50 such plants, which use microorganisms to break organic materials down into biofertiliser and biogas that is eventually burnt for energy or heating.

Local residents are concerned by the environmental impact of waste treatment facilities. In response, China’s incineration sector spent nearly 50 per cent of the total investment on pollutant control and public education, according to the China Association of Urban Environment Sanitation. “The concerns over coal and the concerns over the impact of waste-to-energy plants are similar in the eyes of local communities,” says Courtney Weatherby, an analyst with the Stimson Center, another US think-tank. Biogas trials are springing up across the region, for instance in Thailand, as urban planners generally still view incineration as the solution.

Since introducing its waste import curbs, neighbouring countries have picked up the slack. In the past six months plastic imports have risen 56 per cent in Indonesia, twofold in Vietnam and 1,370 per cent in Thailand. Meanwhile, energy consumption in Asia is soaring, with most of it coming from coal, peat and oil. Between 2018 and 2030, a further 21m people in Asean countries are expected to gain access to electricity, according to Euromonitor, a market research provider. Maria Coronado Robles, a consultant at Euromonitor, says waste-to-energy projects can help ease these pressures. “[These trends] are expected to have tremendous impact on air quality and municipal waste management, and pose a threat to human health and wellbeing. A significant investment in waste management and energy infrastructure [will be required],” she says.

Waste is unlikely ever to fuel a large proportion of the region’s energy. China’s 7GW of installed waste-to-energy capacity constitutes less than 1 per cent of the country’s total energy supply. However, the heat emitted as a byproduct could prove significant. “As the circular economy develops, you might find industrial communities will work with the waste-to-energy suppliers to make use of the heat,” Ms Weatherby says.

At the plants Ms Liu visits, she says energy has become a “key cash flow” for local businesses. Companies make money from waste treatment fees, with the government paying private treatment companies Rmb300 ($43) per tonne of waste, as well as from generating electricity from the captured biogas and selling it back to the grid. But despite the potential benefits, significant challenges remain. One is a lack of private investment. The International Energy Agency estimates that south-east Asian countries need an annual $100bn in energy investment until 2030 to meet demand — about twice the current level, says Ms Weatherby. A lack of widespread education around recycling and the need to sort waste into different categories as exists in Taiwan and Japan, is another challenge. “In many ways, I think China did the world a favour by turning back boats because it brought attention to the waste issue,” she says. “Now it is a problem of politics, not just energy.”


Smart grids show their power in adversity

Microgrids enable businesses to function normally during outages caused by extreme weather

Hopes clash with reality on curbing energy use There is a tension between rhetoric and consumer behaviour

From schoolchildren across the world walking out of classrooms to demand action on global warming to US Democrats unveiling plans for a “Green New Deal”, campaigns to tackle climate change have gained impetus this year. “We have seen this huge upswing in really vocal concern about climate change,” says Rachel Kennerley, a campaigner at environmental group Friends of the Earth. Behind the rise in political campaigning, however, data on energy use paints a different picture. Spencer Dale, group chief economist at oil group BP, says there is a “mismatch between hopes and reality” when it comes to controlling energy demand. Global energy consumption grew last year at its fastest rate since 2010, as countries including the US suffered a colder than average winter while the use of air conditioning in developed and developing countries continued to rise to cope with hot weather. Much of this increased demand was met by fossil fuels, particularly gas, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. That pushed global carbon dioxide emissions to a record high of 33bn tonnes.

When economists, campaigners and academics look back on the current period, they will probably “observe a world in which there was growing societal awareness and demands for urgent action on climate change, but where the actual energy data continued to move stubbornly in the wrong direction”, Mr Dale said in a speech last month discussing BP’s annual statistical review. Others point to a mismatch between political pledges and accelerated policies. “We have seen this rhetoric around climate change making its way into the political agenda . . . the words are there, the policies are not there,” says Ms Kennerley. Even some countries that have set ambitious climate change targets — including the UK, which last month became the first G20 economy to legislate for net zero-carbon emissions by 2050 — are struggling to meet near-term targets for cuts in emissions. Politicians know the problem, but they don’t feel they yet have popular backing Per Arno Certain governments also stand accused of pushing through policies that campaigners see as counter to climate change ambitions. The UK, for example, plans to expand its biggest airport, London’s Heathrow. The country is not yet on course to meet its nearer-term emissions targets for 2023-27, according to the Committee on Climate Change, an advisory group.

The mismatch could narrow as more countries speed up the implementation of policies to confront big challenges. These include reducing reliance on fossil fuels for heating buildings and transportation, says Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, a London-based research group. Chile, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, France and Uruguay are among the countries that have already adopted a net zero target, while it is under consideration in others such as Germany and New Zealand. “A natural way to do it is you have your law, you have your targets and then you need your policies in place to go and meet them,” says Mr Black. Some academics, however, question the approach governments have traditionally taken to achieve meaningful behavior change, particularly among consumers. “Society as a whole — and this includes research, policymaking, planning as well as the media — still obsesses a lot over technology,” says Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex in the UK. Debates over how to improve the energy efficiency of buildings or the output of heavily emitting industries tends to mean consumers “don’t take it personally”, he adds. “We have to tackle lifestyles,” says Prof Sovacool, although he admits this is tricky territory for any politician as consumers take it as “an insult” if they are told to stop using so much electricity or curb their air travel. However, examples from Norway show how positive incentives can achieve this kind of behavioural shift, according to Statnett, the operator of Norway’s power system. The oil-rich country, which is also blessed with plentiful supplies of hydroelectric power, had the biggest share of electric vehicles as a proportion of new car sales in 2018, at 46 percent, according to the IEA. Incentives such as not paying for toll roads and being able to drive in lanes normally restricted to buses have prompted changes in behaviour, says Auke Lont, president of Statnett. “If you see the queues in the morning into Oslo, you understand that the people who are living 40km west . . . would rather buy an electric car and then they can drive in the public lane,” he says. Campaigners, meanwhile, vow to keep pushing their message. “Politicians know the problem, [but] they don’t feel they yet have popular backing to go ahead and do something at a level that is required,” says Per Arno, who took part in an Edinburgh protest by activists Extinction Rebellion last month. “For me, one of the things is to try and raise awareness.”