Reality of Living in a Post-COVID Net Zero City: Your Questions, Our Answers

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Mark Chadwick Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions ENGIE Impact EMEA
Dr. Niels Leemput Senior Manager, Sustainability Solutions – APAC
Sustainability Goals
Carbon Management
Climate Action
Corporate Sustainability

As a society, we know that it is vitally important to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions globally by 2050 to have a good chance of keeping warming in line with 1.5°C and avoid dangerous and irreversible climate change. This is clearly a major global challenge that requires significant coordination and international effort.

Today, some 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, a number forecasted to increase to 75% by 2050. In terms of emissions, cities account for between 60%-70% of emissions, which will clearly increase if the historical trend continues. It is clear, then, that tackling emissions from cities is critical to meeting our climate goals.

ENGIE Impact recently hosted a virtual event within the framework of London Climate Action Week dedicated to the “Reality of Living in a Post-COVID Net Zero City” and you can watch the full recording here. In this blog, we answer some of the many questions we received but didn’t have time to answer during the event.

Prefer to watch the webinar first, then read this blog?

Mark Chadwick

Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions - UK & Ireland, ENGIE Impact

Do we have time?

Mark: Yes, but only just. Emissions need to decrease very quickly to allow us to keep warming to 1.5°C and it is very important that projects like Greater Springfield and Rugeley take place to show what is possible.

Will carbon accounting and trading be widely adopted?

Mark: It is likely that some element of carbon trading will be needed to address tough decarbonisation challenges that still exist, e.g. green thermal energy and aircraft fuel. There are likely to be residual emissions that will mean offsetting/carbon trading will be required. But the good news is that international standards are increasing offset quality and transparency. Offsetting provides a potentially useful source of funding for decarbonisation efforts, for example, forestry carbon projects can provide an incentive to protect forests and plant new trees.

One of the speakers mentioned that airlines (such as EasyJet) are now Net Zero. Could you please clarify how this is possible?

Mark: Many of the organisations and governments mentioned are working towards Net Zero as defined in the Paris Agreement – this is a balance between anthropogenic sources and sinks. Ultimately, both reducing emissions sources and increasing sinks will be needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Offsetting is a mechanism that companies use to channel funding to projects that increase sinks, such as avoiding deforestation or engaging in afforestation – these are important activities. EasyJet is not a client of ENGIE Impact, so we don’t have a detailed understanding of their processes, but they do appear to be working hard to reduce their emissions, maintain an efficient fleet and keep load factors high. In addition, they’re offsetting the emission from flights. Taking action now is better than waiting for future technologies, so long as it doesn’t slow or halt programmes to emit less.

Gordon Sheret

Partnership Director, ENGIE

What are the biggest opportunities over the next three years for capital providers to partner with cities and private enterprises in this field?

Gordon: As local authorities begin to implement their Net Zero roadmaps and climate emergency strategies, they will be seeking a combination of public and private financing options to invest in greener mobility solutions, greener infrastructure, renewable solutions, and greener places. Investment initiatives, such as those adopted by Bristol City Leap, are evolving in a number of other cities and regions.

The Town Deal in North East Lincolnshire is another great example of how public and private collaboration is creating opportunities for growth and development in projects that create jobs, improve infrastructure and help reduce the region’s carbon footprint, while Wakefield Council funds create local renewables solutions alongside investments in energy efficiency and green mobility. Additional opportunities can be initiated by other stakeholders in a city and region, including health, education, transport providers and of course businesses who collaborate through bodies such as the LEPs combined authorities and the GLA, where public and private investment projects are listed and provide great exemplars.

If you wish to go further, the Central Government launched Innovate UK and the Energy Systems Catapult and Future Cities Catapult, unveiling a wide variety of opportunities that are definitely worth considering as organisations to connect with.

Could you share any UK exemplars on successful district heating systems?

Gordon: ENGIE operates over 180 District Energy schemes throughout Europe, many of which were also financed, designed and constructed in the UK. District Energy is widely recognised as a sustainable, cost-effective solution to the provision of heating, cooling and power. District Energy scores highly in environmental assessments such as Code for Sustainable Homes (CFSH), BREEAM and LEED.

At the heart of every District Energy scheme is an Energy Centre serving a range of buildings through a network of underground pipes and cables. In most District Energy schemes the Energy Centre includes a CHP plant, which may be combined with chilling (tri-generation) where there is a cooling requirement.

Schemes may also incorporate other low-and-zero-carbon (LZC) technologies such as fuel cells, biomass, solar thermal, heat pumps and high-efficiency gas-fired boilers.

Some good examples include Coventry District, Birmingham District, East London, Leicester District and Southampton District.

Is ENGIE currently working with Innovate UK and Energy Systems Catapult (ESC)? Could you give an idea of the project?

Gordon: Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, has teamed up with ENGIE to support projects working on the transition to clean energy.

The £4 million competition will fund innovative projects that decarbonise, digitalise and decentralise (find ways to generate power off the main grid) energy and help achieve a sustainable transition to cleaner energy. Successful projects will receive a combination of government grants from Innovate UK and private investment from ENGIE. For the first time in an Innovate UK programme, the private funding will be from overseas.

The competition aims to allow organisations to form investment partnerships at an early stage. To do this, ENGIE and Innovate UK are bringing together:

  • Innovate UK’s expertise in identifying promising innovations and using funding to materially change their risk profile
  • ENGIE’s expertise in identifying commercial- and customer-focused opportunities that are most likely to grow and make the best use of extra investment finance

Niels Leemput

Technical Manager, Techno Economic Assessment, ENGIE Impact

What role do you see green hydrogen playing in a net-zero future?

Niels: Green hydrogen is a decarbonized energy carrier that is complementary to green electricity. This is especially relevant for applications that are difficult to electrify, such as heavy-duty mobility (e.g., buses, trucks, commuter trains, etc.), long-term energy storage, and legacy high-temperature applications (e.g., legacy steam heating systems).

Do you think we should be moving to pedestrianise our cities? What are the most significant challenges of doing so?

Niels: A pedestrian-oriented city is definitely a valid sustainable pathway, which implies a substantial reduction in the energy needs for mobility. A certain density and compactness are required for realising a pedestrian-oriented city, which requires a well-planned urban planning strategy to create an inviting and pedestrian-oriented urban environment. However, this only functions well when an integrated approach is used, combining urban planning, mobility planning, building guidelines, and energy master planning. By creating the right circumstances, it becomes an appealing alternative to using a car or public transport.

Tell us a little more about the technologies that can underscore the move to Net Zero, for example, the use of EVs and localised e-mobility initiatives.

Niels: The technology choices required are very context-dependent, and the technologies are the means to obtain the goal of decarbonization. E-mobility is a good technology for decarbonizing the mobility demand, but it is not the first step. First, cities should assess how the overall need for mobility can be optimized. For example, can they first increase the share of walking and biking? This will improve sustainability more effectively than merely replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with electric ones.

Thank you again to everyone who joined our virtual event coinciding with London Climate Action Week. Our sustainability consultants are here to help. To discuss more about your challenges and our solutions, please contact us.

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