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No Easy Answers: Lifestyle Choices, Not Renewables, Will Determine The Future of Our Planet

A Forbes Article by Mike Hughes

Much attention has been paid to how the energy we use is generated, and rightly so. The energy industry is one of the world’s largest producers of carbon emissions.

However, by focusing our attention so heavily on transitioning towards renewable energy production (something I wholeheartedly support), we risk ignoring the million-tonne elephant in the room.

In 2017 the UK produced 366.9 million tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gases. Only 29 per cent can be directly attributed to traditional utilities and power stations. By far the biggest culprits were ordinary businesses and consumers like you and I.

If we’re serious about tackling climate change, simply switching to renewable generation won’t be enough. We also need to reduce our energy consumption, something that can only be achieved by eliminating energy waste. It’s time for us to take a long, hard look in the mirror and re-evaluate our relationship with energy.

Our planet; our responsibility  

This Thursday, the much-anticipated BBC documentary on climate change, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, documenting the horrors of man-made climate change, will take an ‘unflinching’ look at our future.  After its release, it will sit on the BBC iPlayer platform for a limited time, to enable people to watch the documentary at their leisure.

On the 5th April, Our Planet was released on Netflix in 190 countries. Also narrated by Sir David Attenborough, it focuses on the man-made threat to natural habitats. The series aims to draw attention to the devastating impacts of climate change and calls for tangible changes to our lifestyles to help safeguard the planet. Netflix has suggested that its series could be watched be one billion people across the world.

However, the tragic irony is that if Our Planet achieves its intended aim to be watched by one billion people across the world, it will take a heavy toll on the atmosphere. Schneider Electric analysis shows that achieving this milestone will generate around half a million tonnes of CO2 emissions just from the devices people use to stream the series. This doesn’t even count the emissions produced by the Netflix platform or the internet.

Viewers watching the BBC documentary on the iPlayer platform will consume yet more energy, creating additional emissions.

Popular programmes like Our Planet are crucial for focusing minds on the impact of fossil fuels and highlighting how our lifestyles are an obstacle to a sustainable future. While we strive to reduce our plastic waste, recycle and reduce our reliance on diesel and petrol vehicles, the impact of the increasing digitisation of our lives is fuelling (pun intended) an exponential rise in energy demand. We must be more aware of the strain our increasingly electric, connected and data driven lives is placing on the planet.

According to ACEEE, the internet uses an average of about 5KWh to support the utilisation of every GB of data, with consumers responsible for 38 per cent of required energy. While Google itself is a carbon-neutral business, powering 100 Google searches takes the amount of energy required to power a 60W lightbulb for around 30 minutes. Around 40,000 Google searches happen around the world every second, amounting to 1.2 trillion Google searches each year. This produces 250,000 tonnes of CO2 - the equivalent of driving to the moon and back 1,200 times.

Conscientious consumption

Whilst I’m not suggesting people should stop watching Netflix or using Google, they must be aware of the amount of energy used to power our daily lives.

Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels and switching to greener energy sources is crucial to cutting carbon emissions. Yet it isn’t enough. Energy consumers need to reduce their own consumption by tackling energy waste.

This will no doubt be an uphill battle. Schneider Electric research shows that your average UK energy consumer (74 per cent) already believes they are already doing enough to reduce their energy consumption.  Just 10 per cent of British consumers are planning to try to save more energy in the future.

However, it’s possible to reduce our hunger for energy without causing a corresponding drop in living standards. The secret is being more energy efficient or wasting less energy. This means being aware of bad energy habits – such as leaving the lights on when no one is at home, leaving devices on standby or chargers plugged in and switched on when they aren’t in use.

Small changes like these may sound obvious, but the downside of having access to energy on demand is it’s easy to take for granted.  Whilst the search is on for a magic bullet that will purge the atmosphere of emissions, the technology exists today to help us dramatically reduce energy waste.

Ironically, digitisation holds the key.  By leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), people, companies and governments can collect valuable information that drives efficiency. For the average consumer, an IoT-connected smart meter can raise awareness of how much energy they are consuming and the amount they are spending on it, encouraging them to lessen both.

For organisations the scope is much larger: building and facility management infrastructures exist that inform managers where energy is being wasted – such as an empty room that’s being air-conditioned – and can make recommendations to help them intervene to stop it. Doing so not only reduces the amount of energy wasted but helps save money.

Our figures suggest that just 18 per cent of potential energy savings have been realised in buildings to date, meaning 82 per cent remains untapped. Domestic dwellings alone are responsible for 23 per cent of UK carbon emissions, and 65 per cent could benefit from energy efficiency improvements.

Infrastructure has the potential to realise energy savings of 79 per cent and industry 58 per cent.

Currently, there is little incentive for businesses or consumers to consider energy waste as part of the climate change issue or their responsibility.  Therefore, we need industry bodies and governments to work together to impose stronger standards, incentives and legislation.

Renewable energy generation is just one part of the solution to help combat climate change.  If we want to create a sustainable future we need to rethink energy and add energy waste to the growing list of waste – plastic, food, textiles etc. that needs to be tackled and reduced.

Ultimately, it will always be easier – for both ourselves and the planet – to save a unit of energy than it will be to create it.

Link to the original Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikehughes1/2019/04/17/no-easy-answers-llifestyle-choices-not-renewables-will-determine-the-future-of-our-planet/#1840a38558e4

Author: Mike Hughes is Zone President, UK & Ireland at Schneider Electric, and has worked in the industrial energy management and automation sector for over 25 years.