Insights / Beyond Covid-19: a vision for net zero

By Marc Bradbrook, Commercial and Energy Services Director, Drax

Beyond Covid-19, we need a vision to reach net zero emissions

3rd July 2020

Amidst the widespread devastation brought about by Covid-19, we’ve seen a sharp drop in carbon emissions across some of the world’s largest economies. In April 2020, global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions fell by 17% compared to the daily average of 2019. This 2020 figure was roughly in line with 2006 levels, and a stark reminder of just how precarious a position our planet is in.

While this drop in emissions due to the pandemic has come at a great social and economic cost, it’s also given us a glimpse of what a more sustainable future could look like.

For many, the climate crisis existed only in abstract terms. However, Covid-19 has made clear how significant shifts in our behaviours can bring about change. City soundtracks were birdsong instead of traffic, and the air was cleaner for it too.

But, once organisations reopened and cars returned to the roads, experts started warning us that emissions will rebound, undoing any progress made during the lockdowns.

So, where do we go from here in the journey to a net zero future?

Looking ahead to a net zero future

It’s essential that renewable power plays a key role in the post-pandemic economic recovery process. Bosses of key organisations and critical infrastructure agree, including those leading the National Grid, HSBC and Heathrow Airport. Environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace, which recently published its Green Recovery manifesto, also share this belief. Investment in renewables can present an opportunity to move towards a more sustainable future, with benefits for industry and the economy too.

Things are going in the right direction, if recent figures are anything to go by. While the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted in June 2020 that global power demand would fall by 6% this year, renewable power grew by 1%. Underpinning that growth was a 5% rise in demand for renewable electricity.

Currently, 35-40% of the UK’s overall electricity consumption is renewable. Getting this up to 100% will be a difficult task. But, through both reduced energy demand (as seen during lockdown) and investment in new infrastructure, the UK could reach 100%. If Iceland can do it by generating all its electricity from renewable sources, so can we.

Compounding the supply issue though is the exponential growth in electricity demand that we expect to see over the next decade with the switch to electric vehicles (EVs). To meet this surge in demand and continue to work towards net zero carbon emission, we need to see two things. Firstly, more investment in renewable generation, and secondly, smarter ways of managing power consumption.

It’s hard to gain support for investment in renewables purely on an economic basis. A collective willingness to protect our planet will need to drive it instead. And in the wake of Covid-19, we find ourselves at an exciting tipping point. The potential, and the appetite for change, is there. And it’s no longer only organisation leaders who have a taste of transformation.

The widespread shift to remote working has given everyone a little extra momentum. Governments and leaders must now invest in renewable infrastructure and greener operations, paving the way for widespread and long-lasting change. Organisations with their own land and/or premises should also consider generating their own electricity on-site. This alleviates the pressure on the National Grid and can create a potentially lucrative revenue stream while cutting electricity costs.

Marc Bradbrook Commercial and Energy Services Director

Electricity suppliers will play a central role in supporting the journey to net zero by incentivising more sustainable behaviour from organisations and consumers

Marc Bradbrook - 1920px

Balancing renewable generation by changing demand patterns

Previously, when the country needed more power, we built more power stations. Now we’ve realised this isn’t sustainable in the long term, we need to limit wastage and make sure we’re being smart with the power that we have.

We also need to support renewable power generation with smarter management of our power consumption. This is where technologies like Demand Side Response (DSR) come to the fore, as they allow organisations to manage electricity consumption across their premises in a sustainable and cost-efficient way.

Currently, DSR is used to balance supply across the National Grid. However, it can also be a sophisticated mechanism that allows organisations to optimise their electricity use by shifting power to where it’s needed on-site. For example, an organisation may have multiple EV charging stations in use at one time. DSR could compensate for this by dimming the office lights or turning down the air conditioning, reducing overall demand and potentially leading to lower electricity costs.

Electricity suppliers will play a central role in supporting the journey to net zero by incentivising more sustainable behaviour from organisations and consumers. For example, through creating tariffs with lower rates at non-peak times.

As experts in energy management, we take the complex thinking and processes away, allowing you to focus on other priorities and become more sustainable.