Citizens of Helsinki, Finland, can now enjoy a new shopping centre which opened in a prosperous metropolitan area in 2022. It forms part of the 117,000-square-metre Lippulaiva complex, which also houses a library, fitness centre, nursery, offices, apartments, a metro station and bus terminal.
A geothermal facility meets almost all the heating and cooling needs of the complex. By using a smart energy management system, demand for energy can be optimised, so Lippulaiva isn’t using more than it needs. For example, when electricity consumption is at its peak, air conditioning usage can be temporarily reduced.
This development illustrates how technology can be deployed to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and raise energy efficiency and resilience. As we navigate the double whammy of energy and climate crises, we need to deploy all the tools available to us to optimise both energy supply and demand.
Policymakers in Europe, the USA, Japan, China, India and elsewhere have significantly intensified climate commitments. To date, the focus has been overwhelmingly on the supply of energy, promoting and facilitating the generation of locally produced, clean energy from the sun, wind, sea and other natural sources. These efforts have accelerated the growth of renewables in recent years to the point where they are undercutting fossil fuels as the cheapest option for electricity generation in many parts of the world.
However, efforts to step-up clean energy and curb the use of fossil fuels take time. Coal and gas remain the predominant sources of power globally right now. Tackling how energy is generated is simply not enough. We need to increase our attention to the demand side of the energy equation too. This accounts for 55 per cent of the solution to deliver net-zero energy by 2050, according to our Back to 2050 report. In simple terms, this is about energy efficiency and electrification which together define the next energy revolution: Electricity 4.0.
Energy demand and efficiency has historically been less popular among policymakers than energy generation and supply. An independent survey of over 500 C-suite executives, which we commissioned in 2022, found that while sustainability considerations have risen to the top of the corporate agenda, only around half of them are fixing the basics, and most are not considering the full mix of decarbonisation tools available today.
That’s understandable. After all, digitally optimised air conditioning and electric heating simply aren’t as visually inspiring as landscape-hugging solar farms and towering wind turbines. The business and political worlds are yet to realise the multiple benefits of energy efficiency which can be achieved through relatively cheap and easily deployed tools.
These include digital building management systems with real-time data analytics that can detect and address energy waste, automation software that can optimise energy usage in factories and across supply chains, and electric heat pumps and vehicles, which are not only cleaner but also far more energy-efficient than their fossil-fuelled counterparts.
These are all technologies that exist. They’re the fastest way forward to the clean and affordable energy transition that the world urgently needs. They also come with a much quicker return on investment (ROI) than many realise. When we work with customers to install digital energy management solutions in existing buildings, we see an ROI of between two and five years.
It’s clear that businesses should pay more attention to the often under-appreciated, cost-effective and technically straightforward adaptations that can be deployed to optimise energy consumption.
Our advice to businesses, developers and households worldwide is to get acquainted with the range of digital technologies that allow you to reduce costs and carbon emissions. When combined with clean energy procurement, this can make net-zero goals a reality much more quickly and cheaply.
And our recommendation for policymakers: don’t limit your legislative initiatives to clean energy generation. Provide more of the regulatory incentives that will bolster consumers’ and other end-users’ demand for digital energy efficiency and electrification, with less cost to taxpayers.
Electrification and energy efficiency are quick wins. Let’s not risk our futures on the flip of the energy coin but embrace both sides.
Olivier Blum is executive vice president of energy management at Schneider Electric
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.