Author: abrahamwien18

A Hydrogen-Powered Boat Is Sailing The World. If Not In Cars, Do Boats Make Sense?

Written By: Brad Templeton
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The Energy Observer, a French solar/hydrogen/wind boat, visits San Francisco
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

Recently the French originated demonstration boat the Energy Observer stopped for a visit to San Francisco, on its way around the world, having come from the Galapagos and on its way to Hawai`i. The boat uses solar power, hydrogen and battery energy storage and a small amount of high-tech wind.

On board are 200 square meters of solar panels, 1500kg of batteries, tanks for 63kg of hydrogen (good for 1MWH of electricity and another 1MWH of heat) along with electric motors, solid computer-controlled “ocean wing” sails and a desalinator and hydrogen generator to refuel the hydrogen tanks. It travels only 5mph without wind, though can do more — and even regenerate electricity — when the winds get strong enough.

Using renewable wind power to move ships is of course a very ancient technique, and it’s well understood and efficient. Sailing ships have issues when becalmed, and in sailing in narrow channels, but otherwise it’s not clear this ship is a better idea than a sailboat with a small motor system. It is more to demonstrate and play with technologies, and the operators are reluctant to give concrete numbers on costs. That’s unfortunate because any story about energy is vastly reduced in meaning without examination of the economics — even if it’s the future promised economics rather than today’s. Indeed, inattention to economics has led to some really stupid renewable energy projects and even some very stupid laws. Nonetheless, the ship is a cool project, even if it doesn’t deliver information as meaningful as it should.

Hydrogen is a controversial energy storage fuel. It’s not an energy source, but rather a competitor for things like lithium batteries. Many had high hopes for it in cars, but for now it has lost the battle to batteries. Toyota sells the Mirai hydrogen vehicle in very small numbers, but with only a few filling stations available, and the hydrogen coming from fossil fuels, it’s not clear why anybody buys one. Hydrogen’s advantages such as weight and refuel time (when there aren’t any stations) aren’t very powerful in a car compared to its disadvantages — higher cost for fuel and fuel cells, offering less than 50% efficiency, having no refueling infrastructure, non-green sourcing, bulky tanks and much more. Some of those can be fixed, but others are difficult.

This has left us to investigate hydrogen in other areas — large vehicles like trucks and buses, aircraft (where weight is hugely important) and now, ships. There is also research on grid storage, though the low efficiency of conversion is a sticking point. The greatest promise is in aircraft. Hydrogen is actually the best fuel around in terms of energy per kg, but at present storing a kg of hydrogen requires 5 to 12kg of tank, which eliminates a lot of that — but even at that poor ratio it still wins in aircraft.

Hydrogen tanks in hulls use 350 atmospheres of pressure.
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

In a ship, the Energy Observer crew believe that batteries would weigh more than 10 tons. While they don’t say the weight of their H2 system, it probably is more in the range of a ton. Weight is not quite as crucial for ships but that much extra weight comes at a cost. In addition, the EO reduces the waste of fuel cells by making use of the excess heat to provide heat on the ship. Normally the total cycle of hydrogen as storage is less than 50% efficient, which is not good when batteries can deliver 90% or more. Heat though, is certainly needed for a passenger vessel at sea. A cargo vessel might not need so much.

The ship uses up the H2 in operation when there is no wind. The H2 recharges the batteries and provides heat, then the batteries run all systems. With enough wind, the solar panels can instead recharge the batteries and make new H2 using desalinated water and electrolysis. Their goal is to not use any net H2 on a typical day, but if winds and sun are poor, they will use it up, but plan their missions to leave with enough H2 to handle such situations. While docked, the panels and shore power build up the H2, or in theory, they might some day find H2 refilling at a “hydrogen marina.” When they left for Hawai`i from San Francisco, they only filled the H2 tank partially because they did not need it all the way full.

Every surface is covered with solar panels. The wing/sails are down, a computer driven motor handles them
 
BRAD TEMPLETON
 

The ship used to be a racing catamaran, but instead of sails it has two “ocean wing” fixed-shape sails. These solid wings can generate as much thrust as cloth sails twice their size. They are small, to not block the sun, but they are also computer controlled, allowing them to be used without much crew effort or requiring any skill. When the wind is really strong, the propellers and motors can spin in reverse to generate electricity to build up more H2. Full sized sails would do better though, and could be put up at night with no risk of blocking the sun. They seem to have shied away from traditional sail and wind power in spite of their well established value. Before they had the ocean wings, they tried installing wind turbines, which failed for obvious reasons.

Life on board is spartan. The catamaran’s cabin is small for a crew of 8. Also on board is a small science sub-crew taking the opportunity to study the oceans and wildlife on such an unusual voyage.

A ship has the space for H2 tanks and the ability to generate it, so this can make sense. I don’t think a future vessel would look like the Energy Observer, but hybrids of electric drive and traditional sail, adding what solar power can be had make sense. Every inch of the deck is solar panels, and there are even panels to get the sunlight reflecting off the water. As panels get cheap this makes sense, though you don’t want to forgo useful sails because of the shade they will cast if the wind will give you more than the sun.

It’s possible to foresee solar/wind/electric recreational boats. Operating recreational boats is highly polluting and expensive. Sailboats are clean and cheap but a lot of work and under many limitations. A hybrid, using electric power, could be an answer there, as well as an answer for the big cargo ships.

What next for Hydrogen?

Hydrogen may not power cars, but it has some chance at other vehicles that want to avoid burning fossil fuel:

  • Aircraft care immensely about weight. Batteries today can give only modest range to electric aircraft. It’s either H2 or synthetic/biofuel hybrid power trains there.
  • One special type of aircraft is quite interesting, the airship. While people have been scared of H2 there since the Hindenberg, it’s important to realize that H2 can be more than a lift gas, it can be the power fuel. It’s the only fuel that has negative weight, and you don’t need to pressurize it with big heavy tanks in an airship.
  • Trucks are looking at H2 because the battery weight for a truck takes up a large part of their 40 ton limit, and trucks have a harder time stopping for long enough to charge it. The 50% energy loss is trouble, but the weight limit is a legal requirement.
  • Grid storage with over 50% loss is a serious problem. But with H2, if you want more capacity, you just need more tanks. Doubling the tanks doesn’t double the cost, but doubling batteries does double the cost.

Other types of energy storage are not standing still, though. There are experiments with newer batteries, flywheels, aluminum, synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and more underway. It’s a space ripe for change.

Why We Need Green Hydrogen

BY:  RENEE CHO
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Green hydrogen has been in the news often lately. President-elect Biden has promised to use renewable energy to produce green hydrogen that costs less than natural gas. The Department of Energy is putting up to $100 million into the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cells. The European Union will invest $430 billion in green hydrogen by 2030 to help achieve the goals of its Green Deal. And Chile, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Australia are all making major investments into green hydrogen.

Photo: Dave Pinter

So, what is green hydrogen? Simply put, it is hydrogen fuel that is created using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. It has the potential to provide clean power for manufacturing, transportation, and more — and its only byproduct is water.

Where does green hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen energy is very versatile, as it can be used in gas or liquid form, be converted into electricity or fuel, and there are many ways of producing it. Approximately 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are already produced globally every year for use in oil refining, ammonia production, steel manufacturing, chemical and fertilizer production, food processing, metallurgy, and more.

There is more hydrogen in the universe than any other element—it’s been estimated that approximately 90 percent of all atoms are hydrogen. But hydrogen atoms do not exist in nature by themselves. To produce hydrogen, its atoms need to be decoupled from other elements with which they occur— in water, plants or fossil fuels. How this decoupling is done determines hydrogen energy’s sustainability.

Most of the hydrogen currently in use is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, which uses a catalyst to react methane and high temperature steam, resulting in hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. In a subsequent process, the carbon monoxide, steam and a catalyst react to produce more hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Finally the carbon dioxide and impurities are removed, leaving pure hydrogen.  Other fossil fuels, such as propane, gasoline, and coal can also be used in steam reforming to produce hydrogen. This method of production—powered by fossil fuels—results in gray hydrogen as well as 830 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, equal to the emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

When the CO2 produced from the steam methane reforming process is captured and stored elsewhere, the hydrogen produced is called blue hydrogen.

Photo: parent55

Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water, leaving nothing but oxygen as a byproduct. Electrolysis employs an electric current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. If the electricity is produced by renewable power, such as solar or wind, the resulting pollutant-free hydrogen is called green hydrogen. The rapidly declining cost of renewable energy is one reason for the growing interest in green hydrogen.

Why green hydrogen is needed

Most experts agree that green hydrogen will be essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, since there are certain portions of the economy whose emissions are difficult to eliminate. In the U.S., the top three sources of climate-warming emissions come from transportation, electricity generation and industry.

Long haul trucking is difficult to decarbonize.
 Photo: raymondclarkimages

Energy efficiency, renewable power, and direct electrification can reduce emissions from electricity production and a portion of transportation; but the last 15 percent or so of the economy, comprising aviation, shipping, long-distance trucking and concrete and steel manufacturing, is difficult to decarbonize because these sectors require high energy density fuel or intense heat. Green hydrogen could meet these needs.

Advantages of green hydrogen

Hydrogen is abundant and its supply is virtually limitless. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere. Unlike batteries that are unable to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in large amounts for a long time. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to do any work. And a particular advantage of green hydrogen is that it can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more electricity or heat.

Hydrogen has many uses. Green hydrogen can be used in industry and can be stored in existing gas pipelines to power household appliances. It can transport renewable energy when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, a zero-carbon fuel for shipping, for example.

Hydrogen can also be used with fuel cells to power anything that uses electricity, such as electric vehicles and electronic devices. And unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells don’t need to be recharged and won’t run down, so long as they have hydrogen fuel.

Fuel cells work like batteries: hydrogen is fed to the anode, oxygen is fed to the cathode; they are separated by a catalyst and an electrolyte membrane that only allows positively charged protons through to the cathode. The catalyst splits off the hydrogen’s negatively charged electrons, allowing the positively charged protons to pass through the electrolyte to the cathode. The electrons, meanwhile, travel via an external circuit—creating electricity that can be put to work—to meet the protons at the cathode, where they react with the oxygen to form water.

Hydrogen Hyundai. Photo: Adam Gautsch

Hydrogen is used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Because of its energy efficiency, a hydrogen fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine fueled by gas. And a fuel cell electric vehicle’s refueling time averages less than four minutes.

Because they can function independently from the grid, fuel cells can be used in the military field or in disaster zones and work as independent generators of electricity or heat. When fixed in place they can be connected to the grid to generate consistent reliable power.

The challenges of green hydrogen

Its flammability and its lightness mean that hydrogen, like other fuels, needs to be properly handled. Many fuels are flammable. Compared to gasoline, natural gas, and propane, hydrogen is more flammable in the air. However, low concentrations of hydrogen have similar flammability potential as other fuels. Since hydrogen is so light—about 57 times lighter than gasoline fumes—it can quickly disperse into the atmosphere, which is a positive safety feature.

Storing liquid hydrogen. Photo: Jared

Because hydrogen is so much less dense than gasoline, it is difficult to transport. It either needs to be cooled to -253˚C to liquefy it, or it needs to be compressed to 700 times atmospheric pressure so it can be delivered as a compressed gas. Currently, hydrogen is transported through dedicated pipelines, in low-temperature liquid tanker trucks, in tube trailers that carry gaseous hydrogen, or by rail or barge.

Today 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines deliver gaseous hydrogen around the U.S., mainly in areas where hydrogen is used in chemical plants and refineries, but that is not enough infrastructure to accommodate widespread use of hydrogen.

Natural gas pipelines are sometimes used to transport only a limited amount of hydrogen because hydrogen can make steel pipes and welds brittle, causing cracks. When less than 5 to 10 percent of it is blended with the natural gas, hydrogen can be safely distributed via the natural gas infrastructure. To distribute pure hydrogen, natural gas pipelines would require major alterations to avoid potential embrittlement of the metal pipes, or completely separate hydrogen pipelines would need to be constructed.

Fuel cell technology has been constrained by the high cost of fuel cells because platinum, which is expensive, is used at the anode and cathode as a catalyst to split hydrogen. Research is ongoing to improve the performance of fuel cells and to find more efficient and less costly materials.

A challenge for fuel cell electric vehicles has been how to store enough hydrogen—five to 13 kilograms of compressed hydrogen gas—in the vehicle to achieve the conventional driving range of 300 miles.

The fuel cell electric vehicle market has also been hampered by the scarcity of refueling stations. As of August, there were only 46 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., 43 of them in California; and hydrogen costs about $8 per pound, compared to $3.18 for a gallon of gas in California.

Hydrogen gas pump.
Photo: Bob n Renee

It all comes down to cost

The various obstacles green hydrogen faces can actually be reduced to just one: cost. Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, believes the only real challenge of green hydrogen is its price. The fact that 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced every year and that it is shipped in pipelines around the U.S. shows that the technical issues of distributing and using hydrogen are “straightforward, and reasonably well understood,” he said.

The problem is that green hydrogen currently costs three times as much as natural gas in the U.S. And producing green hydrogen is much more expensive than producing gray or blue hydrogen because electrolysis is expensive, although prices of electrolyzers are coming down as manufacturing scales up. Currently, gray hydrogen costs about €1.50 euros ($1.84 USD) per kilogram, blue costs €2 to €3 per kilogram, and green costs €3.50 to €6 per kilogram, according to a recent study.

Friedmann detailed three strategies that are key to bringing down the price of green hydrogen so that more people will buy it:

  1. Support for innovation into novel hydrogen production and use. He noted that the stimulus bill Congress just passed providing this support will help cut the cost of fuel cells and green hydrogen production in years to come.
  2. Price supports for hydrogen, such as an investment tax credit or production tax credit similar to those established for wind and solar that helped drive their prices down.
  3. A regulatory standard to limit emissions. For example, half the ammonia used today goes into fertilizer production. “If we said, ‘we have an emission standard for low carbon ammonia,’ then people would start using low carbon hydrogen to make ammonia, which they’re not today, because it costs more,” said Friedmann. “But if you have a regulation that says you have to, then it makes it easier to do.” Another regulatory option is that the government could decide to procure green hydrogen and require all military fuels to be made with a certain percentage of green hydrogen.
The California National Guard designed hydrogen fuel cells that use solar energy for electrolysis to make green hydrogen. Photo: US Army Environmental Command

Green hydrogen’s future

A McKinsey study estimated that by 2030, the U.S. hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion and support 700,000 jobs.

Friedmann believes there will be substantial use of green hydrogen over the next five to ten years, especially in Europe and Japan. However, he thinks the limits of the existing infrastructure will be reached very quickly—both pipeline infrastructure as well as transmission lines, because making green hydrogen will require about 300 percent more electricity capacity than we now have. “We will hit limits of manufacturing of electrolyzers, of electricity infrastructure, of ports’ ability to make and ship the stuff, of the speed at which we could retrofit industries,” he said. “We don’t have the human capital, and we don’t have the infrastructure. It’ll take a while to do these things.”

Many experts predict it will be 10 years before we see widespread green hydrogen adoption; Friedmann, however, maintains that this 10-year projection is based on a number of assumptions. “It’s premised on mass manufacturing of electrolyzers, which has not happened anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s premised on a bunch of policy changes that have not been made that would support the markets. It’s premised on a set of infrastructure changes that are driven by those markets.”

Researchers on working on hydrogen storage, hydrogen safety, catalyst development, and fuel cells. Photo: Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

There are a number of green energy projects in the U.S. and around the world attempting to address these challenges and promote hydrogen adoption. Here are a few examples.

California will invest $230 million on hydrogen projects before 2023; and the world’s largest green hydrogen project is being built in Lancaster, CA by energy company SGH2. This innovative plant will use waste gasification, combusting 42,000 tons of recycled paper waste annually to produce green hydrogen. Because it does not use electrolysis and renewable energy, its hydrogen will be cost-competitive with gray hydrogen.

A new Western States Hydrogen Alliance, made up of leaders in the heavy-duty hydrogen and fuel cell industry, are pushing to develop and deploy fuel cell technology and infrastructure in 13 western states.

Hydrogen Europe Industry, a leading association promoting hydrogen, is developing a process to produce pure hydrogen from the gasification of biomass from crop and forest residue. Because biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, the association maintains that it produces relatively few net carbon emissions.

Breakthrough Energy, co-founded by Bill Gates, is investing in a new green hydrogen research and development venture called the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center. It aims to close the price gap between current fossil fuel technologies and green hydrogen. Breakthrough Energy has also invested in ZeroAvia, a company developing hydrogen-fueled aviation.

In December, the U.N. launched the Green Hydrogen Catapult Initiative, bringing together seven of the biggest global green hydrogen project developers with the goal of cutting the cost of green hydrogen to below $2 per kilogram and increasing the production of green hydrogen 50-fold by 2027.

Ultimately, whether or not green hydrogen fulfills its promise and potential depends on how much carmakers, fueling station developers, energy companies, and governments are willing to invest in it over the next number of years.

But because doing nothing about global warming is not an option, green hydrogen has a great deal of potential, and Friedmann is optimistic about its future. “Green hydrogen is exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting because we can use it in every sector. It’s exciting because it tackles the hardest parts of the problem—industry and heavy transportation. It’s interesting, because the costs are coming down. And there’s lots of ways to make zero-carbon hydrogen, blue and green. We can even make negative carbon hydrogen with biohydrogen. Twenty years ago, we didn’t really have the technology or the wherewithal to do it. And now we do.”

U.S. Electric Vehicle Market Poised for Record Sales in 2021, According to Edmunds

Experts say 2021 could be a pivotal year for EV adoption thanks to greater selection of EV offerings, rising consumer interest
NEWS PROVIDED BY EDMONDS
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SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Electric vehicle sales are poised to hit their highest level on record in 2021, according to the car shopping experts at Edmunds. Edmunds data shows that EV sales made up 1.9% of retail sales in the United States in 2020; Edmunds analysts expect this number to grow to 2.5% this year.

“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further.”

“2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector” – Jessica Caldwell, analyst, Edmunds

Edmunds analysts anticipate that 30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that these offerings represent all three major vehicle categories: Consumers will have the choice among 11 cars, 13 SUVs and six trucks in 2021, whereas only 10 cars and seven SUVs were available last year. For the full list of EVs expected to come to market in 2021, please see the table below.

This diverse spread of EV offerings should help encourage stronger loyalty among EV owners, which has dwindled over the years as shoppers have gravitated toward larger vehicles. According to Edmunds data, 71% of EV owners who didn’t buy another EV traded in their vehicle for a truck or SUV in 2020, compared to 60% in 2019 and 34% in 2015.

“Americans have a love affair with trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of EVs, which have until recently been mostly passenger cars,” said Caldwell. “Automakers should have a much better shot of recapturing some of the EV buyers who they’ve lost now that they can offer larger, more utilitarian electric vehicles.”

Edmunds analysts note that this infusion of fresh new products comes at a time where the market is also seeing a positive shift in consumer interest in EVs. According to Google Trends data, consumer searches for electric trucks and SUVs have recently hit a high point after trending upward for years.

“Besides affordability, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV sales has simply been tepid consumer reception — it’s been tough for companies that aren’t Tesla to crack the code of how to get shoppers hyped up for these vehicles,” said Caldwell. “But in the past year we’ve seen automakers throw huge advertising dollars behind their EV launches in an attempt to drum up some buzz, and it’s promising that consumers seem to at least be more aware of the options out there.”

As more consumers look to EVs as a possibility for their next car purchase, Edmunds experts emphasize that shoppers should take extra time to consider their alternatives and do their research.

“Buying an EV is an entirely different beast than a traditional car purchase, so extra research and diligence are key,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights. “Range and weather conditions play a huge factor in determining whether certain EVs make sense for your everyday needs, and whether you own a home with a garage or rent an apartment could affect your charging situation. Federal and state tax incentives are at play with these purchases. And with a number of manufacturers following Tesla’s direct sale model, there might not be opportunities to take a test drive, or even to trade in your current vehicle, like you would at a traditional dealership.”

To help consumers, the Edmunds experts have put together a comprehensive analysis of the true cost of powering an EV, and they also maintain an authoritative EV rankings page that highlights the best electric vehicles currently in production.

Electric Vehicles Expected to be Available for Sale in 2021

Model YearMakeModelVehicle Category
2021AtlisXTlarge truck
2021Audie-tronluxury midsize SUV
2021Audie-tron Sportbackluxury midsize SUV
2021BMWi3luxury subcompact car
2021ChevroletBolt EVsubcompact car
2021FordMustang Mach-Emidsize SUV
2021HerculesAlphalarge truck
2021HondaClaritymidsize car
2021HyundaiIoniq Electriccompact car
2021HyundaiKona Electricsubcompact SUV
2021KiaNiro EVsubcompact SUV
2021Lordstown MotorsEndurancelarge truck
2021LucidAirluxury large car
2021Mercedes-BenzEQCluxury compact SUV
2021MiniHardtop 2 Doorsports car
2021NissanLeafcompact car
2021Polestar2luxury midsize car
2021PorscheTaycanluxury large car
2021RivianR1Sluxury large SUV
2021RivianR1Tmidsize truck
2021TeslaCybertrucklarge truck
2021TeslaModel 3luxury compact car
2021TeslaModel Sluxury large car
2021TeslaModel Xluxury large SUV
2021TeslaModel Yluxury compact SUV
2021VolvoXC40 Rechargeluxury subcompact SUV
2021VWID.4compact SUV
2022ChevroletBolt EUVcompact SUV
2022GMCHummer EV SUVlarge truck
2022NissanAriyacompact SUV


Are Electric Cars Truly Better for the Environment?

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.
Written By: David M. Kuchta
View the original article here.

Are electric vehicles truly better than gas cars for the environment? Not in all facets or in all regions of the world, but overall, unquestionably, yes—and as time goes on, only more so.

While much clickbait has been written questioning the environmental superiority of EVs, the cumulative science confirms that in almost every part of the world, driving an EV produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than a gas-powered car. The internal combustion engine is a mature technology that has seen only incremental changes for the past half-century. By contrast, electric vehicles are still an emerging technology witnessing continual improvements in efficiency and sustainability, while dramatic changes in how the world produces electricity will only make electric vehicles cleaner.

“We still have a long way to go, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said David Reichmuth of the Union of Concern Scientists in a recent interview with Treehugger.1

The transportation sector generates 24% around the world and 29% of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in the United States—the largest single contributor in the U.S.2 According to the EPA, the typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year at an average of 404 grams per mile.3 Beyond carbon emissions, road traffic from gas-powered vehicles generates fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, the adverse health effects of which—from asthma and heart disease to cancer and pregnancy disorders—have been well demonstrated and disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.4 EVs can’t solve all those problems, but they can make our world a more livable place.

Life-Cycle Analysis

The key to comparing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones is life-cycle analysis, which accounts for the entire environmental impact of vehicles from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing of vehicles, the actual driving, the consumption of fuel, and their end-of-life disposal.

The most significant areas of difference are in the upstream processes (raw materials and manufacturing), during driving, and in fuel sources. Gas-powered vehicles are currently superior when it comes to resources and manufacturing. EVs are superior when it comes to driving, while the issue of fuel consumption depends on the source of the electricity that fuels EVs. Where the electricity supply is relatively clean, EVs provide a major benefit over gas-powered cars. Where the electricity is predominantly coal—the dirtiest of the fossil fuels—gas-powered cars are less polluting than electric vehicles.

But coal is less of a major source of electricity around the world, and the future favors EVs fueled by clean energy. In two comprehensive life-cycle studies published in 2020, the environmental superiority of gas-powered vehicles applied to no more than 5% of the world’s transport.5 In all other cases, the negative impacts of upstream processes and energy production were outweighed by the benefits of a lifetime of emissions-free driving.

In the United States, given the decreasing reliance on coal in the electricity grid, “driving the average EV is responsible for fewer global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car everywhere in the US,” according to Reichmuth’s recent life-cycle analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As Nikolas Hill, co-author of a major 2020 study for the European Commission, told the podcast How to Save a Planet: “It’s very clear from our findings, and actually a range of other studies in this area, electric vehicles, be they fully electric vehicles, petrol-electric, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, are unquestionably better for our climate than conventional cars. There should be absolutely no doubt about that, looking from a full life-cycle analysis.”

Raw Materials and Manufacturing

Currently, creating an EV has a more negative environmental impact than producing a gas-powered vehicle. This is, in large part, a result of battery manufacturing, which requires the mining, transportation, and processing of raw materials, often extracted in unsustainable and polluting ways.6 Battery manufacturing also requires high energy intensity, which can lead to increased GHG emissions.7

In China, for example, the raw materials and manufacturing process of a single gasoline car produces 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while it takes 13 tonnes of CO2 to produce an electric vehicle.8 Equally, a recent Vancouver study of comparable electric and gas-powered cars found that the manufacture of an electric vehicle uses nearly twice as much energy as manufacturing a gas-powered vehicle.9

But the differences in manufacturing, including raw materials extraction, need to be placed in the context of the entire life cycle of the vehicles. The majority of a gas vehicle’s emissions come not in the manufacturing process but in the cumulative time the vehicle is on the road. By comparison, raw materials and manufacturing play a larger role in the total life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles.10

On average, roughly one-third of total emissions for EVs come from the production process, three times that of a gas vehicle.11 However, in countries like France, which rely on low-carbon energy sources for their electricity production, the manufacturing process can constitute 75% to nearly 100% of a vehicle’s life-cycle GHG emissions.12 Once the vehicle is produced, in many countries emissions drop precipitously.

So while EV manufacturing produces higher emissions than the production of a gas-powered car does, a lifetime of low- to zero-emissions driving leads EVs to have greater environmental benefits. While, as we saw, manufacturing emissions are higher in China for EVs than for gas-powered cars, over the lifetime of the vehicles, EV emissions in China are 18% lower than fossil-fueled cars.13 Likewise, the Vancouver study cited above found that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles emit roughly half the greenhouse gases of comparable gasoline cars.14 And the benefits of EV driving come quickly after manufacturing: according to one study, “an electric vehicle’s higher emissions during the manufacturing stage are paid off after only two years.”15

Driving

The longer an EV is on the road, the less its manufacturing impact makes a difference. Driving conditions and driving behavior, however, do play a role in vehicle emissions. Auxiliary energy consumption (that is, energy not used to propel the car forward or backward, such as heating and cooling) contributes roughly one-third of vehicle emissions in any type of vehicle.16 Heating in a gas-powered car is provided by waste engine heat, while cabin heat in an EV needs to be generated using energy from the battery, increasing its environmental impact.17

Driving behavior and patterns, though less quantifiable, also matter. For example, EVs are far more efficient than gas-powered vehicles in city traffic, where an internal combustion engine continues to burn fuel while idling, while in the same situation the electric motor truly is idle. This is why EPA mileage estimates are higher for EVs in city driving than on highways, while the reverse is true for gasoline cars. More research needs to be done beyond specific case studies on the different driving behavior and patterns between drivers of EVs compared to gas-powered vehicles.18

Traffic Pollution

While most studies of the benefits of electric vehicles are understandably related to greenhouse gas emissions, the wider environmental impacts of non-exhaust emissions due to traffic are also a consideration in the life-cycle analysis.

The negative health consequences of particulate matter (PM) from road traffic are well-documented.19 Road traffic generates PM from resuspension of road dust back into the air, and from the wear-and-tear of tires and brake pads, with resuspension representing some 60% of all non-exhaust emissions.20 Due to the weight of the battery, electric vehicles are on average 17% to 24% heavier than comparable gas-powered ones, leading to higher particulate matter emissions from re-suspension and tire wear.21

Braking comparisons, however, favor EVs. Fine particles from braking are the source of approximately 20% of traffic-related PM 2.5 pollution.22 Gas-powered vehicles rely on the friction from disc brakes for deceleration and stopping, while regenerative braking allows EV drivers to use the kinetic force of the motor to slow the vehicle down. By reducing the use of disc brakes, particularly in stop-and-go traffic, regenerative braking can reduce brake wear by 50% and 95% (depending on the study) compared to gas-powered vehicles.23 Overall, studies show that the comparatively greater non-exhaust emissions from EVs due to weight are roughly equal to the comparatively lower particulate emissions from regenerative braking.24

Fueling

Beyond manufacturing, differences in fuel and its consumption are “one of the main drivers for life-cycle environmental impacts of EVs.”25 Some of that impact is determined by the fuel efficiency of the vehicle itself. An electric vehicle on average converts 77% of the electricity stored in its battery toward moving the car forward, while a gas-powered car converts from 12% to 30% of the energy stored in gasoline; much of the rest is wasted as heat.26

The efficiency of a battery in storing and discharging energy is also a factor. Both gas-powered cars and EVs lose fuel efficiency as they age. For gasoline cars, this means they burn more gasoline and emit more pollutants the longer they are on the road. An EV loses fuel efficiency when its battery becomes less efficient in the charging and discharging of energy, and thus uses more electricity. While a battery’s charge-discharge efficiency is 98% when new, it can drop to 80% efficiency in five to ten years, depending on environmental and driving conditions.27

Overall, however, the fuel efficiency of a gas-powered engine decreases more quickly than the efficiency of an electric motor, so the gap in fuel efficiency between EVs and gas-powered cars increases over time. A Consumer Reports study found that an owner of a five- to seven-year-old EV saves two to three times more in fuel costs than the owner of a new EV saves compared to similar gas-powered vehicles.28

Cleaning the Electricity Grid

Yet the extent of the benefits of an electric vehicle depends on factors beyond the vehicle’s control: the energy source of the electricity that fuels it. Because EVs run on standard grid electricity, their emissions level depends on how clean the electricity is going into their batteries. As the electricity grid gets cleaner, the cleanliness gap between EVs and ICE vehicles will grow only wider.

In China, for example, due to a large reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, electric vehicles were projected to improve from 18% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars in 2015 to 36% fewer in 2020.13 In the United States, annual greenhouse gas emissions from an electric vehicle can range from 8.5 kg in Vermont and 2570.9 kg in Indiana, depending on the sources of electricity on the grid.29 The cleaner the grid, the cleaner the car.

On grids supplied exclusively by coal, electric vehicles can produce more GHG than gas-powered vehicles.30 A 2017 comparison of EVs and ICE vehicles in Denmark found BEVs “were not found to be effective in reducing environmental impacts,” in part because the Danish electricity grid consumes a large share of coal.31 By contrast, in Belgium, where a large share of the electricity mix comes from nuclear energy, EVs have lower life-cycle emissions than gas or diesel cars.32 In Europe as a whole, while the average EV “produces 50% less life-cycle greenhouse gases over the first 150,000 kilometers of driving,” that number can vary from 28% to 72%, depending on local electricity production.15

There can also be a trade-off between addressing climate change and addressing local air pollution. In parts of Pennsylvania where the electricity is supplied by a high share of coal-fired plants, electric vehicles may increase local air pollution even while they lower greenhouse gas emissions.33 While electric vehicles provide the highest co-benefits for combating both air pollution and climate change across the United States, in specific regions plug-in hybrid vehicles provide greater benefits than both gas-powered and electric vehicles.34

How Clean Is Your Grid?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator allows users to calculate the greenhouse emissions of an electric or hybrid vehicle based on the energy mix of the electricity grid in their area.

Charging Behavior

If EV drivers currently have little control over the energy mix of their electricity grid, their charging behavior does influence the environmental impact of their vehicles, especially in places where the fuel mix of electricity generation changes throughout the course of the day.35

Portugal, for example, has a high share (55%) of renewable power during peak hours, but increases its reliance on coal (up to 84%) during off-peak hours, when most EV owners charge their vehicles, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.”36 In countries with a higher reliance on solar energy, such as Germany, midday charging has the greatest environmental benefit, whereas charging during hours of peak electricity demand (usually in the early evening) draws energy from a grid that relies more heavily on fossil fuels.30

Modifying EV charging behavior means “we can use EVs to benefit the grid,” as David Reichmuth told Treehugger. “EVs can be part of a smarter grid,” where EV owners can work with utilities so that their vehicles are charged when demand on the grid is low and the sources of electricity are clean. With pilot programs already underway, he said, “we’ll soon see the flexibility inherent in EV charging being used to enable a cleaner grid.”

In the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations, the success of efforts to increase the environmental benefit of EVs will also rely on charging stations that use clean or low-carbon energy sources. High-speed DC charging can put demands on the electricity grid, especially during hours of peak electricity demand. This can require utilities to rely more heavily on natural gas “peaker” plants.

Reichmuth noted that many charging stations with DC Fast Charging are installing battery storage to cut their utility costs and also reduce reliance on high-carbon power plants. Charging their batteries with solar-generated electricity and discharging them during peak demand hours allows charging stations to support EV adoption at the same time that they promote solar energy even when the sun isn’t shining.37

End of Life

What happens to electric vehicles when they’ve reached their end of life? As with gas-powered vehicles, scrap yards can recycle or re-sell the metals, electronic waste, tires, and other elements of an electric vehicle. The main difference, of course, is the battery. In gas-powered vehicles, over 98% of the materials by mass in lead-acid batteries are successfully recycled.38 EV battery recycling is still in its infancy since most electric vehicles have only been on the road for fewer than five years. When those vehicles do reach their end of life, there could be some 200,00 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries that need to be disposed. A successful battery recycling program needs to be developed to avoid decreasing the relative benefits of EVs.39

It Only Gets Better

Periods in the life cycle of an electric vehicle can be more environmentally harmful than in similar periods of a gas-powered car, and in areas where the electricity supply is dominated by coal, EVs produce more air pollution and greenhouse gases than gas-powered cars. But those areas are far outweighed by the overall benefits of EV—and the benefits can only improve as EV manufacturing evolves and as electricity grids get cleaner.

Were half of the cars on the road electric, global carbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 1.5 gigatons—equivalent to the current admissions of Russia.40 By 2050, electrification of the transport sector can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 93%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 96%, and sulfur oxide emissions by 99%, compared to 2020 levels, and lead to the prevention of 90,000 premature deaths.41

The electric vehicle industry is young, yet it is already producing cars that are environmentally more beneficial than their gas-powered equivalents. As the industry matures, those benefits can only increase.

8 trends that will shape sustainability in 2021

By Hannah Alcoseba Fernandez and Tim Ha
View the original article here

From banks weaning off dirty energy to green jobs, Eco-Business spotlights the trends that could reshape society and business as the world moves into the post-Covid era.

Solar panels are installed on a rooftop in Shanghai, China. Image: The Climate Group, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

As Covid-19 raged across the globe this year, policymakers and businesses ripped up more and more of their initial projections and expectations for the year. Memes on social media reflected the new reality of transformed workplaces and confinement to one’s homes. 

But not all projections were inaccurate. Covid-19 has accelerated certain trends such as the growth of plant-based protein and the shift to low-carbon energy. 

As more countries gear up for mass vaccination exercises, what will 2021 bring? Which impacts of Covid-19 will be enduring, and which will be fleeting?

Here are the trends that we believe will shape sustainability in the year ahead.

1. More lenders will walk away from fossil fuels—and not just coal

The capital flight from dirty energy will not only accelerate in 2021—it will go beyond coal to hit oil and natural gas.

Data by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows more than 150 major global financial institutions now have coal exit policies in place, with 65 banks committing to tighter lending guidelines this year alone. The future looks gloomy for the world’s filthiest fossil fuel. The outlook for oil and gas isn’t hunky-dory either.

Covid-19 has raised fears that oil demand could soon be in terminal decline, leading to cuts in long-term price forecasts. Meanwhile, mounting evidence of the tremendous amounts of climate-wrecking methane emitted by the gas industry has been a wake-up call for financial markets.

All major North American banks have ruled out support for Arctic drilling and 53 lenders worldwide have pledged to align their operations with the Paris climate deal. This month, New York State, with a US$226 billion financial portfolio, became the biggest pension fund anywhere to divest from fossil fuels. It should not come as a surprise that oil majors like BP and ExxonMobil have lost nearly half their market value this year.

Tim Buckley, IEEFA director of energy finance studies, said: “At the start of 2020, everyone talked about thermal coal becoming unbankable. At the end of the year, that is almost a given now. Financial markets are acknowledging that the capital flight from fossil fuels is accelerating, and its broadening into oil and gas will be the next big thing.”

2. Will Big Tech become the new Big Oil?

Not that long ago, oil powers ruled the economy and influenced world events.

But waning demand for fossil fuels in recent years and the crushing blow of the pandemic are some of the sweeping changes that have been ushering out the age of Big Oil, and heralding the Big Tech era. 

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American documentary from Netflix that portrays the rise of social media and how it can inflict damage to society. Image: The Social Dilemma Facebook page

“With the dominance of big tech players like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and rise of China-based tech companies, the privacy side of security will be put into focus in the coming year,” said Thomas Milburn, director of United Kingdom-based sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship. 

Deep tech’s ability to automatically create fake news, the impact of social media on young people, and the overuse of tech devices are particularly worrying, said Milburn.

Just this week, Facebook declared it is shifting its privacy policy for UK users from stricter European Union protections to US regulations, stoking fears that British users will be subject to less stringent data privacy and be more easily subjected to surveillance by US intelligence agencies or data requests from law enforcement.

There has been rising concern about ethics and how tech should be used for the good and well-being of humanity, and more regulation is needed in the coming year, Milburn said. 

3. More ‘green-collar’ workers for the post-Covid economy

Although many governments fell short of using stimulus dollars for a green recovery from Covid-19, there have been signs of a transition to green jobs. 

As part of its Green New Deal unveiled in May, South Korea will establish a Regional Energy Transition Centre to support workers as they switch to more sustainable sectors. An initial parliamentary proposal calls for an investment of US$10.5 billion over the next two years, with the focus on the creation of 133,000 jobs. The plan includes remodelling public buildings, creating urban forests, recycling, establishing a foundation for new and renewable energy, and creating low-carbon industrial complexes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Singapore is also trying to develop jobs in the field of sustainability. Its sustainability and environment minister Grace Fu said in August that climate scientists, engineers, technicians and food scientists will be needed as the city-state increases its capabilities in climate mitigation and adaptation. 

Elsewhere in the world, the United Kingdom pledged to invest over US$5 billion in creating 250,000 new green jobs as part of its net-zero plan.

4. A more climate-conscious Belt and Road Initiative 

This year, China pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, bringing the world closer to its goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world’s biggest emitter keeps driving up emissions through its activities overseas even as it shrinks its carbon footprint at home, the nation wouldn’t exactly present itself as a shining model at next year’s climate negotiations in Glasgow.

Once the pandemic is under control, China is expected to revive its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure project spreading across nearly 70 countries from Asia to Europe. Following recent warnings that the initiative could lead to 3 degrees Celsius of warming, the greening of projects launched under the scheme will be a key theme in 2021.

As energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?

Tim Buckley, director, energy finance studies, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

There are signs that China’s activities beyond its borders are already changing. In Myanmar, for instance, Chinese companies dominated the nation’s first solar auction. In Egypt, a Chinese-backed coal power plant—the second-largest on the planet—was shelved indefinitely last April, three months after a Chinese corporation clinched a contract to build a 500-megawatt solar facility in the country. In November, a Chinese bank pulled out of a proposed coal project in Kenya, casting doubts on the venture’s viability.

“China’s ambitions to go global will resume after the pandemic,” said IEEFA’s Buckley. “But the BRI has been tarnished, so Beijing will need to make it friendlier towards recipient countries. And as energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?” 

5. Work from home is here to stay

The coronavirus pandemic forced many firms to adopt flexible and remote working arrangements earlier this year. Having invested in remote work tools, many companies in insurance, financial services, technology, and media may not return to the old way of working anytime soon, even when a vaccine makes sending employees back to offices less risky.

Memes on social media reflected the new reality of transformed workplaces and confinement to one’s homes.

More corporate leaders have realised that working from home works, and employees won’t be itching to leave the comfort of their homes and spend hours on crowded trains and buses each day. What will this mean for the transport and buildings sectors?

Many offices could be converted to other uses in the coming years as governments seek to address housing shortages, while shared spaces and meeting rooms will replace the traditional workplace. Fewer long commutes also mean a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability.

Paeng Lopez, sustainable health in procurement project coordinator, Health Care Without Harm

6. Has sustainable healthcare’s time finally arrived?

The healthcare sector is showing signs of greater eco-consciousness.

“From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability. This is the kind of meaningful participation to address global problems that will go viral in 2021 and beyond,” said Paeng Lopez of Health Care Without Harm, a group which works to reduce the environmental footprint of healthcare worldwide.  

Lopez said there has been a rise in healthcare facilities with solar rooftops. Healthcare facilities are some of the largest energy consumers, yet more than one billion people worldwide do not have access to health facilities with a reliable power supply, putting basic care at risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Lopez noted that hospitals will also introduce more solutions to manage and limit medical waste, which is estimated to have added 1,000 tonnes of litter per day in Southeast Asia. 

Even small health facilities in the region are adopting scalable waste reduction solutions, he said.

St Paul’s Hospital in Ilo-Ilo, Philippines is manufacturing its own reusable personal protective equipment to minimise waste, while Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan has designed a sealed barrier that features a pair of rubber gloves, allowing health care workers to safely perform countless nasal swab tests with less single-use equipment, as recommended by the WHO.

 A clinician in Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan conducts a nasal swab using a low cost medical device that hospital officials say has reduced waste by 45 to 59 per cent per testing. Image: Health Care Without Harm

7. The great tourism reset

Covid-19 has upended travel and tourism this year, costing the industry more than 120 million jobs, according to some estimates. The silver lining is that it has given popular destinations a much-needed breather.

As countries seek to restart travel in 2021, tourism operators must heed lessons from the crisis and promote environmental and business resilience, as well as biodiversity conservation. The concept of regenerative tourism is growing.

Communities traditionally overrun by visitors can embrace local food sources, renewables, clean transport, green buildings, and better waste management, while travellers must be more mindful of their impact on local culture and the environment. This could mean paying a premium for a more responsible experience.

With the pandemic still raging across the globe, businesses will need to reopen responsibly. This could mean sticking to “travel bubbles” where visitors follow pre-determined itineraries and follow strict health protocols to prevent another wave of infections.

China and Korea have put in place the first travel bubble in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore, whose travel bubble with Hong Kong is postponed, has unilaterally opened up to Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan. Australia and New Zealand have announced a quarantine-free travel bubble agreement to start in the first quarter of 2021.  

8. Will deep-sea miners wreck the planet’s last frontier?

Needed for solar panels and batteries, precious metals such as cobalt, nickel, and copper are essential for a low-carbon future. Some mining firms are arguing that this justifies the environmental damage caused by extractive activities.

One place they have been eyeing is the ocean floor, and there are negotiations underway that could pave the way for just that. As early as 2021, the International Seabed Authority could greenlight ocean mining in international waters.

But environmentalists have warned that mining of the deep sea could destroy entire habitats. They maintain that there are sufficient resources on land, especially as companies explore ways to recover metals from clean energy waste streams, reducing the need for raw materials.

The coming year will tell whether miners will get their way, or whether green groups can dissuade nations from exploiting one of nature’s last frontiers.

Why a sustainable blue recovery is needed

By Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, Dona Bertarelli, UNCTAD Special Adviser for the Blue Economy
View the original article here

A woman repairs fishing nets in Thailand / ©tong2530

The world’s seventh largest economy based on GDP doesn’t belong to a single country, and isn’t even on land, yet it’s valued at around $3 trillion annually, and supports the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people.

It’s the ocean.

Worryingly, the ocean and the blue economy it supports are not only in severe decline, the current mode of operating is no longer sustainable.

We all rely on the ocean, which covers two-thirds of our planet, to regulate our climate, provide us with food, medicine, energy and even the very air we breathe. Put simply, without a healthy ocean, there is no life on Earth.

But the natural assets that the blue economy depends on are fast eroding under the pressure of human activities.

For example, 34% of all fish stocks are exploited at unsustainable biological levels or overexploited, while 60% are maximally sustainably fished or managed.

This means that we have reached a celling, as 94% of all wild stocks are already being fully utilized, with about one-third exploited in an unsustainable manner.

Further, the ocean is becoming acidic due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by it. Rising water temperatures have killed up to half of the world’s coral reefs, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Most of the more than 3 billion people who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods live in developing countries. About 90% of all fishers live in these countries too.

Also, 80% of the world’s goods are transported via maritime routes. And between 30% and 50% of the GDP of most small island developing states (SIDS) depends on ocean-based tourism.

Ocean health equals human health and wealth

We are at a crossroads in history. We can’t afford to continue mismanaging this important global resource whose health is intimately tied to ours. Investing in biodiversity, conservation and sustainable practices is key for a peaceful and prosperous future.

A regenerative and equitable blue economy that is sustainable must be a vital part of the world’s social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will help cushion us against future global crises by enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and thus livelihoods.

Thankfully, implementing a blue economic approach is possible under the guidance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNCTAD has identified the pillars of such an approach: economic growth, conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, inclusive social development, science and innovation, as well as sound ocean governance.

Towards a deep blue vision

We envision a blue economy that derives value from the ocean, seas and coastal areas, while protecting the health of the ocean ecosystem and enabling its sustainable use.

We need to diversify towards economic activities that will have a lower impact on ecosystems, while sustaining livelihoods and stimulating job creation.

New areas of opportunity include marine bioprospecting, ocean science, sustainable aquaculture, renewable energy, low-carbon shipping, blue finance as well as ecotourism and blue carbon.

The total “asset” base of the ocean is estimated at $24 trillion, excluding intangible assets such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation, the production of oxygen, temperature stabilization of our planet, or the spiritual and cultural services the ocean provides.

Instead of focusing only on the returns from harvesting and extracting the ocean’s resources, we need to realize the monetary value of conserving marine life.

For example, economists from the International Monetary Fund estimate that a great whale is worth $2 million alive, but just $80,000 once dead, as it absorbs the equivalent in carbon dioxide of 30,000 trees each year.

All hands on deck

Governments around the world can set a new course. We know the overwhelming cost benefit of nature-based solutions. It’s possible to combine production from the ocean while protecting its economic, social and environmental value for the future.

Coastal countries must prioritize ocean, marine and coastal resources and ecosystems in their strategies for trade, the environment and climate change as well as in their actions to promote sustainable development.

Countries such as the Seychelles are walking the talk. It has declared 30% of its waters protected areas, well beyond the 10% target set by SDG14, restricting activities in the protected area to balance economic needs with environmental protection.

Other nations rising to the challenge are Vanuatu, which is producing and consuming renewable energy from wind turbines and coconut oil, as well as Fiji, which banned single-use plastic this year to stem the pollution of its waters.

Science needs to drive these efforts and inform policymaking and regulations. The UN Decade of Ocean Science, which starts next year, will be an opportunity to maximise the benefits of effective science-based management of our ocean space and resources.

Regulation is key

Regulation is of prime importance for food security and to ensure harvesting and trade in marine resources is transparent, traceable, certified, sustainable and safe, to meet consumers’ growing need for sustainably sourced products and services.

Sustainable biodiversity-based value chains, products and services in ocean-based sectors should adhere to internationally agreed criteria of sustainability, such as the blue BioTrade principles.

As part of this effort, UNCTAD and the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea are launching the first-ever oceans economy and trade strategy in Costa Rica.

In addition, a pilot blue BioTrade project to make the queen conch value chain more sustainable in the eastern Caribbean region is on the cards.

Ending harmful fisheries subsidies

Harmful fisheries subsidies must end, and governments need to shift the allocation of public funds to fish stock management and ecosystem restoration, instead of fuelling overcapacity, overexploitation, inequalities, human and wildlife trafficking.

UNCTAD has been supporting negotiations on fish subsidies at the World Trade Organisation by providing a safe platform for dialogue and targeted research on key options and alternatives for a multilateral outcome.

Binding measures to be taken by governments include finalizing negotiations of the High Seas Treaty to enable the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Decarbonizing shipping

International shipping and coastal transport can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by investing in low-carbon technologies and operations, reducing pollution and promoting greater digitalization for better monitoring, energy efficiency and lower emissions.

New technologies and satellite data can combine data sources that are enabling unprecedented insights into the ocean, in terms of mapping, surveillance and enforcement.

Such transparency is uncovering more than illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. We now have insights into the economics of fishing on the high seas, the relationship between IUU fishing and bonded labour and where to best establish marine reserves, and the capacity to provide data for enforcement.

Deploying blue finance and marine-based research

Innovative financial instruments such as blue bonds and blended financing are needed to fund the shift towards more sustainable ocean sectors. For instance, in 2019, Morgan Stanley, working with the World Bank, sold $10 million worth of blue bonds with of the aim solving the challenge of plastic waste pollution in oceans.

Investment in applied marine-based research, development and knowledge sharing should also be increased. To this end, UNCTAD has established regional centers of excellence with partner institutions in Vietnam and Mauritius, enabling the sharing of experiences, technical knowledge and fisheries’ inputs. 

SIDS and coastal communities are vital to preserving the ocean and will need global support to conserve and develop a blue economy that benefits not only local populations but humanity as a whole.

Longer-term, countries around the world need to expand ocean and sustainable blue economy literacy, especially among vulnerable populations, and increase understanding of gender considerations.

We need more individual and collective action if we are to build a sustainable blue economy that leads to prosperity for all.

Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19

By Brodie Boland, Aaron De Smet, Rob Palter, and Aditya Sanghvi
View the original article here

The pandemic has forced the adoption of new ways of working. Organizations must reimagine their work and the role of offices in creating safe, productive, and enjoyable jobs and lives for employees.

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented human and humanitarian challenges. Many companies around the world have risen to the occasion, acting swiftly to safeguard employees and migrate to a new way of working that even the most extreme business-continuity plans hadn’t envisioned. Across industries, leaders will use the lessons from this large-scale work-from-home experiment to reimagine how work is done—and what role offices should play—in creative and bold ways.

Changing attitudes on the role of the office

Before the pandemic, the conventional wisdom had been that offices were critical to productivity, culture, and winning the war for talent. Companies competed intensely for prime office space in major urban centers around the world, and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries.

But estimates suggest that early this April, 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis,1 compared with about 25 percent a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, many people have been surprised by how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For many, the results have been better than imagined.

According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive. Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than the office. Many organizations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs.

Before the pandemic, the conventional wisdom had been that offices were critical to productivity, culture, and winning the war for talent. Companies competed intensely for prime office space in major urban centers around the world, and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries.

But estimates suggest that early this April, 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis,1 compared with about 25 percent a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, many people have been surprised by how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For many, the results have been better than imagined.

According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive. Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than the office. Many organizations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs.

The reality is that both sides of the argument are probably right. Every organization and culture is different, and so are the circumstances of every individual employee. Many have enjoyed this new experience; others are fatigued by it. Sometimes, the same people have experienced different emotions and levels of happiness or unhappiness at different times. The productivity of the employees who do many kinds of jobs has increased; for others it has declined. Many forms of virtual collaboration are working well; others are not. Some people are getting mentorship and participating in casual, unplanned, and important conversations with colleagues; others are missing out.

Four steps to reimagine work and workplaces

Leading organizations will boldly question long-held assumptions about how work should be done and the role of the office. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, different for every organization, will be based on what talent is needed, which roles are most important, how much collaboration is necessary for excellence, and where offices are located today, among other factors. Even within an organization, the answer could look different across geographies, businesses, and functions, so the exercise of determining what will be needed in the future must be a team sport across real estate, human resources, technology, and the business. Tough choices will come up and a leader must be empowered to drive the effort across individual functions and businesses. Permanent change will also require exceptional change-management skills and constant pivots based on how well the effort is working over time.

We recommend that organizations take the following steps to reimagine how work is done and what the future role of the office will be.

1. Reconstruct how work is done

During the lockdowns, organizations have necessarily adapted to go on collaborating and to ensure that the most important processes could be carried on remotely. Most have simply transplanted existing processes to remote work contexts, imitating what had been done before the pandemic. This has worked well for some organizations and processes, but not for others.

Organizations should identify the most important processes for each major business, geography, and function, and reenvision them completely, often with involvement by employees. This effort should examine their professional-development journeys (for instance, being physically present in the office at the start and working remotely later) and the different stages of projects (such as being physically co-located for initial planning and working remotely for execution).

Previously, for example, organizations may have generated ideas by convening a meeting, brainstorming on a physical or digital whiteboard, and assigning someone to refine the resulting ideas. A new process may include a period of asynchronous brainstorming on a digital channel and incorporating ideas from across the organization, followed by a multihour period of debate and refinement on an open videoconference.

Organizations should also reflect on their values and culture and on the interactions, practices, and rituals that promote that culture. A company that focuses on developing talent, for example, should ask whether the small moments of mentorship that happen in an office can continue spontaneously in a digital world. Other practices could be reconstructed and strengthened so that the organization creates and sustains the community and culture it seeks.

For both processes and cultural practices, it is all too tempting to revert to what was in place before the pandemic. To resist this temptation, organizations could start by assuming that processes will be reconstructed digitally and put the burden of proof on those who argue for a return to purely physical pre–COVID-19 legacy processes. Reimagining and reconstructing processes and practices will serve as a foundation of an improved operating model that leverages the best of both in-person and remote work.

2. Decide ‘people to work’ or ‘work to people’

In the past couple of years, the competition for talent has been fiercer than ever. At the same time, some groups of talent are less willing to relocate to their employers’ locations than they had been in the past. As organizations reconstruct how they work and identify what can be done remotely, they can make decisions about which roles must be carried out in person, and to what degree. Roles can be reclassified into employee segments by considering the value that remote working could deliver:

  • fully remote (net positive value-creating outcome)
  • hybrid remote (net neutral outcome)
  • hybrid remote by exception (net negative outcome but can be done remotely if needed)
  • on site (not eligible for remote work)

For the roles in the first two categories, upskilling is critical but talent sourcing may become easier, since the pool of available talent could have fewer geographical constraints. In fact, talented people could live in the cities of their choice, which may have a lower cost of living and proximity to people and places they love, while they still work for leading organizations. A monthly trip to headquarters or a meeting with colleagues at a shared destination may suffice. This approach could be a winning proposition for both employers and employees, with profound effects on the quality of talent an organization can access and the cost of that talent.

3. Redesign the workplace to support organizational priorities

We all have ideas about what a typical office looks and feels like: a mixture of private offices and cubicles, with meeting rooms, pantries, and shared amenities. Few offices have been intentionally designed to support specific organizational priorities. Although offices have changed in some ways during the past decade, they may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–COVID-19 world.

Organizations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organizations ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from homes? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?

In the office of the future, technology will play a central role in enabling employees to return to office buildings and to work safely before a vaccine becomes widely available. Organizations will need to manage which employees can come to the office, when they can enter and take their places, how often the office is cleaned, whether the airflow is sufficient, and if they are remaining sufficiently far apart as they move through the space.

To maintain productivity, collaboration, and learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. In-office videoconferencing can no longer involve a group of people staring at one another around a table while others watch from a screen on the side, without being able to participate effectively. Always-on videoconferencing, seamless in-person and remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards), and asynchronous collaboration and working models will quickly shift from futuristic ideas to standard practice.

4. Resize the footprint creatively

A transformational approach to reinventing offices will be necessary. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, companies should take a fresh look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience. That kind of approach will also involve questioning where offices should be located. Some companies will continue to have them in big cities, which many regard as essential to attract young talent and create a sense of connection and energy. Others may abandon big-city headquarters for suburban campuses.

In any case, the coming transformation will use a portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work. Before the crisis, flexible space solutions held about 3 percent of the US office market. Their share had been growing at 25 percent annually for the past five years, so flexibility was already in the works. McKinsey research indicates that office-space decision makers expect the percentage of time worked in main and satellite offices to decline by 12 and 9 percent, respectively, while flex office space will hold approximately constant and work from home will increase to 27 percent of work time, from 20 percent.2

These changes may not only improve how work is done but also lead to savings. Rent, capital costs, facilities operations, maintenance, and management make real estate the largest cost category outside of compensation for many organizations. In our experience, it often amounts to 10 to 20 percent of total personnel-driven expenditures. While some organizations have reduced these costs by thinking through footprints—taking advantage of alternative workplace strategies and reviewing approaches to managing space—many corporate leaders have treated them largely as a given. In a post–COVID-19 world, the potential to reduce real-estate costs could be significant. Simply getting market-comparable lease rates and negotiating competitive facilities-management contracts will not be enough. Real-estate groups should collaborate with the business and HR to redo the footprint entirely and develop fit-for-purpose space designs quickly—in some cases, by creating win–win approaches with landlords.

The value at stake is significant. Over time, some organizations could reduce their real-estate costs by 30 percent. Those that shift to a fully virtual model could almost eliminate them. Both could also increase their organizational resilience and reduce their level of risk by having employees work in many different locations.

Now is the time

As employers around the world experiment with bringing their employees back to offices, the leadership must act now to ensure that when they return, workplaces are both productive and safe.

Organizations must also use this moment to break from the inertia of the past by dispensing with suboptimal old habits and systems. A well-planned return to offices can use this moment to reinvent their role and create a better experience for talent, improve collaboration and productivity, and reduce costs. That kind of change will require transformational thinking grounded in facts. Ultimately, the aim of this reinvention will be what good companies have always wanted: a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve the objectives of their organizations.

How Will Covid-19 Change Demand For Office Space?

Organizations have had to do without the office during lockdown. Will they ever go back?
View the original article here

COVID-19 has focused minds on exactly what the office is for and how central a role it should play in corporate strategies and budgets, as well as making the strengths and limitations of home set-ups all too apparent.

Over the last few weeks, WSP has been considering what the future holds for the buildings where so many of us used to spend so much of our waking hours. From a human point of view, we’ve already explored how we’ll feel about going back to the office and how we might behave differently when we get there. From an engineering point of view, we’ve looked at whether we can virus-proof the office and improve resilience in this and future pandemics. Both of these have implications for how much space organizations might need or want in future, how much that space costs to fit out and operate, and ultimately how much occupiers can, or choose to, afford.

This article is about those decisions: how is demand for office space likely to change as a result of COVID-19?

Why do we need offices? Hasn’t lockdown proved that we can work just as well remotely?

To the surprise of many, COVID-19 has indeed demonstrated that a considerable amount of the work that usually takes place in offices can carry on when they are closed. Some have discovered that they can be more productive at home, and enjoy the freedom of a more relaxed schedule. Few openly mourn their morning commute.

But if COVID-19 has accelerated the trend for home working, it has also revealed its limitations – in a knowledge economy, an organization’s success will still depend on face-to-face interaction, collaboration and serendipity. With universal flexible working, the office could become a vital anchor. “When you’re trying to attract, retain and nurture top talent, the workplace plays a really significant part in how people perceive a business,” says Michael Holloway, general manager of property investment at Kiwi Property, one of New Zealand’s largest real estate firms. “Rather than doing a job interview on a videoconference, you want to go into their space and see how they value other members of staff.”

The office has an arguably even more important role in providing learning opportunities for younger employees, says Jim Coleman, head of economics at WSP in London. “A lot of developing people is not formal training, it’s all the other interactions. There’s still a lot to be gained from being together as a team.” This will apply differently across demographics – with a tension between younger employees’ need for training and senior employees’ greater motivation to work from home. “For people at the start of their careers, there’s probably more desire to be with other people because you’re still learning and you want the experience and the social life that goes with it. Whereas as you get older and you may have settled down and have children, it’s much easier to work from home.”

A greater amount of home working will persist: for the sake of resilience as much as anything else. “The next time a coronavirus comes along, we know we need to move quickly to this model, which means that it has to be in play – at least in part – most of the time,” says Coleman. “I don’t think any business will want to go back to the way things were done, so that has an immediate implication for space.”

 “I don’t think any business will want to go back to the way things were done, so that has an immediate implication for space”. Jim Coleman Head of Economics, WSP UK

How much office space will companies want?

Changing working practices are not the only determining factor. The International Monetary Fund has described the “Great Lockdown” as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and foresees a recession at least as bad or worse than the 2007-08 global financial crisis.

Inevitably there will be a reduction in occupier demand, though it will vary from sector to sector. The worst-affected tourism and leisure industries will need less corporate space, while some professional services firms may be able to continue as normal with altered working practices. Booming sectors like technology and e-commerce are already more likely to embrace virtual working – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said that employees can work from home permanently if they want to. “Companies could see this as an opportunity to downsize, to reduce operating costs and invest more in technology,” says Paul Stapley, vice president in the project management team at WSP in Canada. “Occupiers have already been moving to shorter lease terms. If they’ve only got, say, six months left, they may decide to walk away.”

Organizations had already started to shrink footprints so that they had less than one desk per person, and the recession is likely to accelerate that trend. “In a crisis, there is always a focus on trying to reduce fixed costs like offices,” says Magnus Meyer, Managing Director WSP Nordics & Continental Europe. “The typical tenant will start thinking that maybe they don’t need space for 100% of their employees, maybe only 75% or 60%. Or they might not expand because of the crisis, but just work with the space they have.”

What makes COVID-19 such a strange phenomenon is that its immediate impact will be to push organizations in the opposite direction – they will need more space per employee. Companies have been squeezing more and more people onto floorplates for a long time, with just 8m2 per employee becoming a typical density. For offices to reopen safely and maintain physical distancing, ratios will have to shoot up again, with shifts, staggered start times and continued remote working essential.

It’s too early to say whether we will ever again feel comfortable occupying space in such close proximity to others, which makes the longer-term impact on office requirements very hard to gauge. Perhaps the better question is whether organizations will want the same kind of space that they’ve occupied in the past.

 “Companies could see this as an opportunity to downsize, to reduce operating costs and invest more in technology” 

Paul Stapley Vice president in the project management team , WSP Canada

What kind of office space will organizations want?

Companies will now be well aware that they could make do with less office space. But they may also have realized that they also need better, more resilient office space. “This crisis is probably going to accelerate the need for modern, flexible office space with lots of services,” says Meyer. “The buildings that suffer will be the older ones that tenants just don’t want any more. They’re just the wrong product.” 

Landlords will have to differentiate themselves with added services: “You might call it ‘high-end’, not from a luxury perspective but from a content perspective – you won’t just lease a ‘stupid’ space, you need to fill it with services to help the tenant be more productive, whether that is sustainability or wellness solutions or digital technology.” 

To justify its existence, the office will have to become a destination with a purpose, says David Gooderham, global account director with WSP in London. “If people continue to be the driver for change, as the most important component of an organization’s profitability, businesses will have to provide safe working environments that increase the feelgood factor and ultimately raise productivity and creativity. There’s much that we can learn from this lockdown period to make the workplace better and our interactions with it more effective.”

Holloway thinks the “hotelization” of office space will continue, with workplaces importing some of the home comforts that we’ve become used to. This might mean more relaxed dress codes, but also real planting and soft furnishings, to make spaces more cosy while helping to subtly create distance between people. “We need to think about furniture and other design solutions to create separation without losing the benefits of collaboration. If offices have a future, people need to feel safe in them.” 

Coworking spaces have been leaders in the field of hotelization, and are perhaps the ultimate destination offices. But COVID-19 has left tumbleweed blowing through these buzzy, high-density communities. We’ve considered whether this will be the death of the coworking space in a separate article.

“To justify its existence, the office will have to become a destination with a purpose” 

David Gooderham Global account director, WSP UK

This is another area where the short-term impact of COVID-19 may look very different to how things will eventually pan out. As workplaces start to reopen with physical distancing measures in place, offices in the centre of major cities are the most problematic, often necessitating commutes on crowded public transit. Suburban or out-of-town locations where workers typically drive will be able to resume something approaching normal operations much more quickly.

But if offices become destinations to meet coworkers, get inspiration and exchange ideas, rather than just to sit at a desk, those in buzzy locations make more sense. If organizations don’t need as much space because people work remotely more often, they may choose not to cut their rent bill but to spend the same amount on a smaller, more characterful building in an amenity-rich central location – a much more attractive destination for employees than a featureless office park.

A shift to working fewer days in the office will benefit expensive central locations most, believes Tommy Craig, senior managing director at Hines in New York. “New York is a very challenging place to achieve good work-life balance because it’s extraordinarily expensive to live and raise a family. If you alter that paradigm and allow employees to work from home one or two days a week, the whole work-life balance shifts in the direction of something much more favourable. Commuting 40% less is a big deal, given how large New York is and the length of our commutes.”

Economic activity has strongly clustered in the US’ larger cities over the last 50 years, as employment has shifted from manufacturing to services. Professor Bill Kerr at Harvard Business School has studied the progress of its world-beating talent clusters such as Silicon Valley, which exert a powerful, self-perpetuating global pull for skills and capital. Will they continue to thrive in the post-pandemic world? “What made talent clusters so powerful is that ideas can jump from person to person – of course if germs and viruses are also jumping from person to person, that’s going to make them a lot less attractive,” he says. “This has always been a big challenge for places that were built around interaction and being in close proximity.” If we can get back to work within the next few months, he thinks talent clusters will be secure for some time to come. “But if the pandemic continues for several years, these cities are going to struggle and we may see a more systematic pullback from the clusters. It’s a question of how it plays out over the next year.”

Another impact of COVID-19 could be that companies split operations between several locations, potentially benefiting smaller centres. “A lot ofcompanies are going to be thinking about how they could make their workforce if not pandemic-proof, at least pandemic-resistant,” says Kerr. “Opening a second office might not have made sense historically, but may be something that younger companies should do at an earlier stage. We have celebrated density and packing people together, but that’s putting a lot of eggs in one basket.”

” A lot companies are going to be thinking about how they could make their workforce if not pandemic-proof, at least pandemic-resistant”

 Bill Kerr Professor, Harvard Business School

What about new office developments? Do we really need to build extra space?

This will be down to the dynamics of supply and demand in local markets. In some places, there was already a structural undersupply of modern, high-quality office space, and COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate this, even if the overall demand remains the same. Changes may also take a while to feed through. As CBRE Canada has pointed out, commercial real estate is a lagging industry – two years elapsed before office vacancy rates peaked following the global financial crisis.

The other side of the equation is the supply of capital for office projects. WSP director Gary McCarthy advises financial institutions, and he thinks real estate will still be attractive. “There is a deep pool of capital available for the right assets and real estate will continue to offer long-term investment managers a defensive strategy for their portfolio, and return yields sufficiently above government bonds. There will be specific challenges – regional offices will struggle more than prime city centre offices – but I don’t see there being a drop in capital commitment.”

The big question for investors in the commercial sector, McCarthy adds, will be how to differentiate your asset from the rest. How can you make sure that your office is the one that tenants and their employees want to go to. What will make an office into a compelling destination in a post-COVID world? That’s a question we’ll consider in the next article in the series. Subscribe to receive the latest updates

A Renewed Focus on Energy Efficiency – Energy Audits

By: Julie Lundin, LEED AP ID+C, WELL AP

2020 is in our rearview mirror.  The pandemic will end, most likely sometime in late 2021.  Businesses are beginning to restart and plan.  However, much has changed since the pandemic took hold of our lives and economy.  Initially the commercial building industry’s focus has been on the health issues of building occupants by addressing IAQ, employee density, social distancing, occupancy patterns and work schedules. But an important aspect not to be overlooked is to refocus on proactive strategies that manage operating expenses. With increased vacancy in commercial properties, decreased economic and business activity, now is the time to institute energy conservation and cost-saving measures to help contain building operating costs. A commercial energy audit will help building owners become more profitable by reducing wasted energy use whether operating under normal business conditions or COVID-19.

Commercial Energy Audits

What comes to mind when the term “audit” is used?  I usually think of a financial audit which requires a close examination of documents and perhaps a negative outcome.  The term “energy audit” might initially invoke the same response from building owners and managers. The idea of closely examining a buildings energy needs and operating efficiency might appear to be looking for unwanted change especially if the building seemingly operates fine daily. A commercial energy audit should be viewed as an energy opportunity assessment to reduce energy expenses and increase profit. Compared to a financial audit when the best that could happen is nothing, an energy audit has positive outcomes.

What motivates an energy audit?

With the inherent push back on change what motivates building owners or CFO’s to conduct an energy audit? It is usually financial driven, sustainability driven or a combination of both.  An energy audit is often the first step in making a commercial building more efficient.  The goal of an energy audit is of course to identify energy-saving opportunities but can also increase asset values, lower ownership costs, and promote environmental stewardship, human comfort, health, and safety.

What is involved in an energy audit?

Buildings, whether long-standing or recently constructed, have potential for energy improvements.  Typically, an energy audit is a loose term and follows a general framework of identifying energy usage throughout the building, assessing building systems, and conducting on- site inspections. A final report is produced outlining energy conservation and system improvement measures.

However, an energy audit is a specific term defined by ASHRAE, a global organization focused on advancing technology to improve sustainability. ASHRAE specifies three types of energy audits:

  • Level 1: A basic, high-level walkthrough. It requires data collection regarding the operation of building systems and a review of facility utility bills with the purpose of identifying major problem areas.
  • Level 2: Includes a Level 1 audit and additional complex, detailed calculations in connection with proposed energy efficiency measures.  Note: The literature suggests an entire workbook of calculations for each identified project, which means people tend not to identify small projects because the write-up is the same. As a result, a Level 2 may less useful because organizations do not consider ways to address the “low-hanging fruit” (such as LED lighting, for example) which tend to have low-cost and high return—avenues for energy efficiency that are certainly worthy of consideration.
  • Level 3: Sometimes called a “comprehensive audit,” this level includes more detailed data analysis related to the projects identified during the Level 2 audit, as well as extensive cost and savings calculations.

The result of any commercial building energy audit is to analyze and understand a facility’s energy usage. Then to design appropriate strategies for making improvements that will reduce energy input and ultimately save money.

The Energy Audit Process

Emerald Skyline’s team is trained to assist property owners and facility managers understand their buildings and discover the greatest opportunities for energy savings.  We specialize in energy management solutions and discover the greatest opportunities for energy savings. The energy audit process allows us to determine what systems are causing you the most money on your utility bills.

Review Historic Utility Bills

To begin our process, we collect facility’s historic utility bills to determine the facility’s annual energy consumption.

Examine Existing Assets

Next, our team collects on-site data by performing the energy audit. During this time, we are determining potential solutions that maximize savings.

Present Economic Solutions

After we complete the audit and compare the utility bills, our team works together to design comprehensive systems custom tailored to each individual facility that maximizes energy savings.

 Mechanical Systems

HVAC units, boilers, hot water heaters, chillers, and more to determine current state of equipment, age, life expectancy, and performance.

Interior and Exterior Lighting

Lighting technology has increased significantly over the years. With LEDs not only do you improve lighting quality, but significantly reduce electric usage

Thermal Boundaries

The building envelope (windows, insulation, roofs, etc.) seal is essential to keep your conditioned spaces from leaking air. Ensuring proper insulation throughout the facility is key to minimizing heating and cooling costs.

Destratification Fans

In facilities with tall ceilings, maintaining consistent airflow helps maintain comfort in the facility.

Every facility is custom and operates differently. Our team has audited facilities across many industries from retail, hotels, offices, multi-family, and more. We have an expanded knowledge on systems and are flexible to tackle any project. In this time of uncertainty, it is important to keep operating expenses to a minimum. Unnecessary costs include costs for energy that you do not need to use. An energy audit will help determine the best energy conservation measures for your building.

Energy Awareness Brings Savings During COVID-19

As commercial real estate owners face budget constraints, rediscovering efficient energy infrastructure paints a silver lining.

By: Diana Mosher
View the original article here .

As we settle into fall, some U.S. employees are being summoned back to the office. Physical occupancy in office properties was at 25 percent as of Sept. 9, according to data collected by Kastle Systems in 10 large U.S. cities. Most people are continuing to work from home, however, many with no return date in mind. In fact, when a viable COVID-19 vaccine is finally rolled out, some might discover they have no office to return to, with companies rethinking whether they need a physical base at all. Facing this turn of events, property owners and managers are prioritizing energy efficiency as they grapple with fluctuating consumption levels.

“Managing occupied, partially occupied and unoccupied spaces with cooling, heating and lighting is essential,” said Barry Wood, LEED accredited professional & director of retail operations at JLL. “Many tenants will not fully reoccupy, and owners and managers must be able to adjust and adapt their energy usages to the needs of the building and tenant.”

Built in 2008, 22 West Washington is one of Chicago’s trophy assets. The 17-story, 439,434-sq.ft. commercial property was designed by architecture firm Perkins + Will with high speed (minimal wait time) elevators; 14-inch raised floors for power, data and tenant-designed HVAC; digitally controlled, high capacity HVAC; and open floor plans that can be modified to meet social distancing protocols. 

According to Wood, improving energy efficiency is a differentiator in most buildings because utilities typically rank in the top five for expenses. “Also, because of COVID-19, many buildings are seeing that rental income and expense recoveries are down, and owners and managers must be creative in managing the balance of the property needs. Maintaining conveniences to the tenants and guests coming to the property is essential to ensure they are comfortable being there.”

Best practices depend on the facility, but Wood said they will certainly include varying the set points on chillers and rooftop equipment; ensuring the operation of chillers, cooling towers, air handlers and roof op equipment is within the highest efficiency zone; and working with tenants to cluster workers—within CDC suggested guidelines—for lighting and cooling efficiencies.

Additionally, properties should stagger schedules to take advantage of natural daylighting. Another item on the list is the revision of settings on occupancy sensors for lighting and cooling in walk-through traffic areas as well as individual offices that may have shorter stay times.

It will be a challenge to obtain the same capital improvement dollars as before. Wood said, “To be approved for this type of project at properties, many owners will focus this capital money on ‘must do’ or ‘re-tenanting’ projects rather than operating efficiencies, therefore the building operations and engineering team will be essential in finding savings through operating efficiencies.”

MONITORING ENERGY USAGE

Technology is bringing big advances in monitoring energy usage, but adoption has been sluggish. However, since COVID-19 has pushed up operating costs, having an efficient building has become sexy in the minds of owners. Energy consultants offering audits, such as Bright Power, have the receipts to prove that energy monitoring does save money and can reduce carbon emissions.

“When stay-at-home orders began, we saw our office and higher education clients’ building staff adjust equipment schedules to reflect the new reduced occupancy schedules,” said Samantha Pearce, director of energy management services at Bright Power. Clients that had action plans—or were able to easily prepare plans based on what equipment was essential for limited occupancy—are saving more.

According to Pearce, the best tip to offer is finding out how your equipment is operating, and how to adjust settings quickly and efficiently. “Remote monitoring and energy management services are an impactful way to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on maintenance and operations plans.”

We had a client who needed to switch from heating to cooling at their building. We were able to walk them through the switch remotely since we had installed a remote monitoring system before the stay-at-home order. And, we were able to verify that the switch happened correctly, rather than have the property staff wait for resident complaints or before receiving increased utility bills,” she said.

Since the pandemic began, virologists have been preaching for bringing in as much outside air as possible. Doing this during mild weather can actually improve efficiency; for example, by utilizing the spring outdoor air to lower the temperature in a crowded auditorium instead of using a cooling tower. However, during extreme weather, increasing outdoor air can bring a drop in efficiency. In both cases, the outcomes depend greatly on the site’s mechanical equipment.

“It becomes extremely important to know how to capture those savings (during mild weather) in order to possibly counter the potential increased costs of increasing outdoor air supply during the extreme weather seasons,” Pearce said.

NEW OPERATIONAL GUIDANCE

Commercial buildings sitting vacant since March are significantly less energy efficient and more expensive to operate. According to Jeff Gerwig, LEED green associate & national engineering manager for Colliers International U.S., the reason is new operational guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) during the pandemic. ASHRAE’s new standards help create healthier indoor environments. However, energy efficiency measures implemented for years are now being reversed to achieve the recommendations.

“The primary impacts on energy efficiency and operating costs have been centered around three items,” explained Gerwig. “First, the increase of HVAC operating hours—ASHRAE recommends increasing building operating hours, if possible, up to 24/7. Also, outdoor air dampers are being opened to maximum percentages allowable to bring more outdoor air inside the property and create higher demand for HVAC operations.”

ASHRAE also recommends that dampers be opened up to 100 percent if possible, and Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) be disabled. “This technology worked in conjunction with outdoor air dampers. It measured indoor pollutant concentrations and used precise amounts of outdoor air to maintain spaces.” Gerwig added, “Given that ASHRAE recommends outdoor air percentages be increased to highest levels possible, these devices are being disabled.”

CREATING SAFE, HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS

Employees are bound to continue reoccupying buildings in coming months, providing an excellent opportunity to consider both air quality and whether buildings are on track with long-term sustainability or efficiency goals.

“The types of air quality requirements we’re seeing put in place are very dependent on both the region/state and the type of building and can have a variety of implications on energy efficiency,” said Lou Maltezos, executive vice president of Ameresco, a company that specializes in renewable energy and energy efficiency consulting.

“As building owners have considered and experienced what ‘back to work’ looks like in communities around the world, we’re seeing a number of customers consider items such as touchless controls, updated HVAC systems and automated entry/exit systems to address both the efficiency needs of the building and the health and safety of the occupants,” Maltezos added.

For example, with the correct process and tenant instruction in place, owners can implement technologies such as ionization to their outside air units in return ducts that may reduce the amount of air needed to condition a space. Maltezos added that efficiency relies on utilizing data not only from the space, but the air handlers and controls system as well, for providing the correct amount of outside air.

RETHINKING PRIORITIES

In the current climate, it is essential to stay in touch with thought leadership on all matters related to energy. “Unfortunately, in most cases the energy savings reported (since COVID-19) for most buildings are not as significant as expected and not in line with occupancy reductions,” weighed in Thomas Vazakas, Cushman & Wakefield associate director of energy, infrastructure and sustainability for the EMEA region. “This is due to the inability in most buildings to have effective controls and zoning.”

For example, heating and cooling is provided to all open plan areas, whether occupied or not. Similarly, in many cases there are no occupancy sensors for lighting, therefore most, if not all, the lights will be on even though only a small area of the office needs it.

“As a result, we see most buildings using very similar energy to heating, cooling or lighting even though their occupancy is 50-90 percent less than it used to be,” explained Vazakas. “This is a great opportunity to install adequate controls in our buildings to ensure no energy is wasted.”

As the effects of the health crisis unfold, owners and managers continue testing in resilience. “Surely the loss of human lives is devastating, but at the same time COVID-19 presents an opportunity to rethink our priorities and change the way we live—and how we use our buildings. Many property owners are already looking into this and trying to use this crisis to help them develop and implement their sustainability goals and especially their corporate plans to meet Net Zero Carbon,” Vazakas concluded.

When this agenda also results in operational savings, it’s icing on the cake.