Why is connectivity and technology vital to achieve net zero?

Legal | Reports | Technology
Susan Hall, Partner and information and communications technology specialist at Clarke Willmott.
Susan Hall, Partner at Clarke Willmott.

Susan Hall, Partner and Head of Technology at law firm Clarke Willmott, comments on the impact connectivity and technology will have in the ambition to achieve net zero.

The way business is done today compared to even 20 years ago is quite different and change will continue to accelerate due to technology. This has been clearly demonstrated over the last 14 months with the impact of Covid-19.

On 23rd March 2020, our world was turned upside down when the first Covid-19 lockdown started, with a simple message that everybody had to stay at home, except for key workers. Overnight the way and where we worked was transformed. Fast forward to today millions of people still work from home and many have not even stepped back into their place of work.

The simple reasons why the UK and global economy did not grind to a complete halt during this period is that over the last decade broadband connectivity and advances in communication technology have improved considerably. Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Docs have been vital for business activity and personal mental health, particularly in times of isolation and restrictive movements.

People of all ages have been forced to engage with technology whether to do their grocery shopping or hold a virtual team meeting with colleagues, with many embracing the positive benefits of not having to travel to work and providing a greater work life balance.

The unintended consequence of the initial lockdown was the substantial reduction of carbon emissions with mileage predicted to have fallen by at least 30 per cent in 2020. Additionally, whether subconsciously or not it would appear that protecting and enjoying the environment has become more important to society.

As we continue to move towards restrictions being lifted it will be interesting to see how the impact of this change will be in the future. I believe there will be an increased hybrid method of working utilising the benefits of communication advances.

Technology is also playing a significant part in the development of new green energy activity. Without it, I strongly suspect that we would not be in the position to progress investigating the commercial and environmental case for small modular reactors, hydrogen, fusion, battery storage amongst green energy solutions that the Government has committed to invest in and support.

Existing renewable energy sources such solar panels which historically converted less than 14% of the sun’s energy that reaches them are being improved with manufacturers taking advantage of new technology. For example, it has been reported that SunPower that has enhanced the efficiency of their photovoltaic system from the market average of 14% to 22%. Further technological advances are expected in the future through combining semiconductor panels which could increase efficiency by 50%.

If we look at the history of wind power, the world’s first wind farm was 0.6 MW, consisting of 20 wind turbines rated at 30 kilowatts each, installed in New Hampshire, USA in 1980. Today the largest wind farm in the world is being built in China. The Gansu wind farm project is scheduled to have a capacity of 20GW, which is only possible through technological advances in turbine manufacture, design, grid connectivity and investment.

Now floating wind turbines are being developed where fixed foundation turbines are not feasible, an area in which the UK is aiming to become a global leader, having commissioned the worlds’ first commercial win farm in Scotland a few years ago. With climate change resulting in more extreme weather, it is important that we embrace technologies which improves resilience and longevity of wind turbines as well as efficiency.

However, there are environmental costs related to technology and connectivity which are not obvious such as cloud storage, with people often forgetting that cloud storage has a carbon footprint. Questions about the cloud storage centre need to be asked including its BREEAM status, is it OCP-Ready and does it meet ASHRAE TC environmental guidelines among others. Then there is crypto currency which is worthy of a separate article and its impact on the environment.

It will be interesting to see which of the planed green energy solutions will emerge first in terms of scalability, but it is encouraging to see such a variety of innovative ideas being considered. If we look back in ten years’ time, I am certain some things we thought were ‘space age’ today will become reality.

Overall, we should not underestimate the value that connectivity and technology will play to reduce energy costs but more importantly help achieve Net Zero. I look forward to what tomorrow and the future will bring.

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