Jon Belfield examines and explores how the government's target to have a net-zero carbon economy can be achieved and the opportunities it presents.
With all the political, social and economic turbulence, 2019 will be remembered for many things and I have no plan to bore you with my list here. However, one event that inextricably connects us all was the announcement earlier in the year, that the UK will be a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 – ‘enshrined in law.’
Not without reason, you might well think that now it’s ‘enshrined in law’, how could it possibly not happen? Just tick off the years!
Whilst keen to stay apolitical and most definitely not wishing to be sceptical, I believe that in time, the political rhetoric of today will, eventually convert to deliverable policy and we will all play our part in the journey to net zero in 2050. On a personal level, I am in absolutely no doubt that it can be achieved but I see our immediate challenge as identifying what we each do to make the changes we need, be they through our professional relationships, our own behaviour or our ability to ‘nudge’ the way people relate to buildings and the energy those buildings consume?
Whilst I am positive about the political vision that has been taken in the UK and many other countries throughout the world, I also think that if this is left solely as a political ambition driven through central-policy, it is likely to fail. The success for achieving net-zero is therefore an opportunity.
I recently read an article arguing that business and markets are much more resilient and better at solving problems than economic theory gives credit for. Businesses approach problems using a distributed intelligence applied locally, so problems that seem intractable to a central policy-maker are often solved easily through hundreds of instances of local ingenuity.
I have no desire to undermine the climate change campaigners and activists but just for the moment, let us ‘park’ the proven scientific evidence for pursuing net-zero based purely on the global impact of climate change but instead, just look at the commercial perspective. In that sense, I do believe there should now be a shift in language towards the significant business opportunities that have and will continue to emerge from the ‘net-zero’ target. We are in many ways at the start of the Industrial Re-evolution with the technological advances continuing but within the fantastically challenging parameters of being sustainable and achieving the net-zero goal.
At the risk of repeating myself from previous articles, it remains a brilliant time to be an engineer in the building automation sector. Wherever you are in your career, there are almost limitless opportunities for innovation and when we do collectively succeed, we may look back on this as a pivotal era in history.
Following the ‘net-zero by 2050’ announcement, a huge opportunity has opened up for the BEMS and building automation sector that I represent as President of the BCIA. While the seismic changes in technology and infrastructure emerge in the coming years and decades, there are instant opportunities for getting everything that is already installed, working significantly more efficiently and effectively – these ‘quick wins’ can ramp up and reap benefits, immediately.
I believe the saying ‘a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with, one step’ comes from an ancient Chinese proverb – the point here being that even though the net-zero challenge can appear impossibly colossal, the first thing to do is start and start by taking small achievable steps. If we share the diversity of the steps we are taking and create a shared culture of taking these easy-win steps, we will be quickly on our journey!
There isn’t a building in the UK that couldn’t be improved in some way to further reduce energy and it is a accepted fact that there is a significant number of buildings where large savings can be made by ensuring the controls are correctly set and commissioned and by capturing the data that is already available to target areas for improvement.
It is a shared opportunity across the whole supply chain and to collectively achieve the change that we easily have the potential for, I will quote a recent tweet by Matthew Syed from his latest book; ‘We need diversity of THOUGHT. When people with different perspectives combine, there is a vast uplift in collective intelligence.’
So, 2019 might well be remembered for many reasons but in just over 30 years from now, we will be measured. It is the personal and professional actions and decisions that we take now, and share, that will impact on whether 2019 was held as the start of the Industrial Re-evolution or 1,000 mile journey that will deliver net-zero in 2050. It won’t be one person, or even a handful, but by using all of our collective intelligence to really take hold of the technology that is already within our grasp, it will happen.
Jon Belfield is president of the BCIA