Addressing climate change, one installation at a time

As world leaders gathered in Paris this week for the twenty-first global climate summit, world-leading companies also gathered to exhibit their wares in the Solutions COP21 pavilion at the Grand Palais. While not a news magnet like the difficult policy negotiations, the pavilion showcased the ground-level work that underpins the world’s growing awareness that a global temperature rise of over 2 degrees C must be averted. Supporting – and supported by – policy changes agreed at the highest level is the development and dissemination of energy technologies that can actually change the world, one installation at a time.

Much of this work is not particularly sexy. Most exhibition visitors merely glanced at the complicated-looking diagrams of solar inverters, ground source heat pumps and utility-scale batteries, bypassing them in favour of the artistically-designed ‘green buildings’, inspirational 3D movies and iPad climate change games. But these awareness-raising tools, attractive as they are, are largely preaching to the converted within the energy sector. Power technology companies, utilities and project developers have known for some time that the global energy mix is changing and that new strategies are needed to keep up. And, once we collectively accept that we have a choice between addressing climate change and learning to live underwater (or without water, depending on where we are), we don’t need more repetition of the numerous statistics which prove it. What we need is no longer the ‘why’, it’s the ‘how’: what can concretely be done to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector while not going broke in the process.

One company exhibiting in the Solutions pavilion was Delta Electronics, a Taiwan-based power electronics and energy solutions firm with a focus on energy efficiency. Although again not as sexy as towering futuristic wind turbines or miles of gleaming solar panels, “a 1 per cent energy efficiency improvement can save 160bn kWh per year,” says Yancey Hai, Delta’s chairman – or “four times the annual power output of the world’s largest coal-fired plant”. Delta itself is targeting a 30 per cent energy efficiency improvement across its facilities worldwide by 2020, based on both a green philosophy and strategic business decisions.

The firm says that, in the past five years, its high-efficiency products and solutions have contributed to a total savings of 14.8bn kWh of electricity and a reduction of carbon emissions by about 7.9 million tonnes of CO2e. The electricity intensity of Delta’s own plants has decreased by 50 per cent compared to 2009, and energy savings from its 12 green buildings stood at 13 million kWh in 2014.

Although Delta’s COP21 exhibit focused on green building solutions, the firm’s power technologies were also on display, including solar PV inverters with a claimed 98.7 per cent efficiency, CSP trackers, power automation solutions, telecom power systems, UPS units and a soon-to-be-launched commercial-scale li-ion battery (and its planned cousin, a utility-scale version). The green building solutions are technology-neutral, featuring PV, heat pumps, storage, and energy efficiency solutions such as heat recovery from elevators and a variable frequency drive for HVAC systems.

Hai thinks of climate change as, firstly, a global crisis which must be addressed for future generations, but also as a business opportunity. “COP21 is motivational,” he told PEi, “but we also need to talk about our business strategy for energy efficiency. So there are two motivations: climate change and cost reduction.” And there is synergy here. It seems obvious that addressing climate change in time to avert disaster won’t happen without further reducing the cost of low-carbon energy technologies to encourage widespread adoption – nor will these technologies succeed without being widely affordable (RIP, CCS).

Developing solutions for the climate change problem makes business sense. Not only is there much work to do within a rapidly closing window of opportunity, and a need for more companies to do it – but, as Jackie Chang, Delta’s EMEA manager, notes, “CSR is good business”. Companies that announce their green credentials are preferred by consumers. Shan-Shan Guo, Delta’s chief brand officer, says: “With the imminent challenge of climate change, Delta’s business development closely aligns with its CSR.”

And, as Hai puts it: “The bigger the problem, the bigger the profit”. While the climate change problem has proved challenging for policymakers in the glare of the media spotlight to solve, energy companies working behind the scenes are making great strides in developing the tools that will make it possible. It remains only for the policymakers to agree to support them. Getting these tools to market is a global ‘win’ for everyone.  

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