Protecting our planet in the ‘new normal’ world

Ahead of edie's new smart grids content series with E.ON, the utility company's chief executive Michael Lewis notes that we cannot lose sight of our long-term commitment to protecting our planet while overcoming the coronavirus pandemic.

Protecting our planet in the ‘new normal’ world

It hardly needs saying right now but it’s quite right that all of us; individuals, businesses, governments, global organisations, put all of our attention into tackling COVID-19 and returning to normal – or rather our ‘new normal’ – as safely as we possibly can.

That work will continue, and I have no doubt it will succeed. But the longer-term risk is losing sight of the persisting climate crisis and the role we must all play in continuing to do our bit to tackle this. In short, when life gets back to normal, we must not just simply go back to normal.

Instead, we need to make sure recovery plans are designed to bring sustainable progress and prosperity – the two complement one another, investing in more sustainable infrastructure brings economic recovery which translates directly into jobs and skills. It also helps climate change, air quality, and improves health and wellbeing, especially among more vulnerable customers.

To achieve that we need an ambitious climate policy as a core element of an economic and industrial strategy for a world after this pandemic, a ‘Green Deal’ that can help us achieve climate goals in accordance with the Paris Accord.

The turn of this decade brought commitments from governments and businesses across the globe and growing momentum at home as the eyes of the world turned towards the UK ahead of the COP26 climate change conference.

Of course, since then we’ve been met with a new, even more pressing crisis. The onset of COVID-19 has seen whole industries brought to a standstill and a quarter of UK firms forced to temporarily close or pause trading. In the face of this pandemic, the efforts across our communities have been nothing short of inspiring.

It has been encouraging to see that the energy industry has played a crucial part in the country’s united front by offering support to those facing financial hardship – and that this appears to be recognised with an increase in public trust in energy suppliers.

At E.ON, we’re working hard to support customers, ensuring we keep them on supply and continue to provide a high level of service. We have taken a number of steps to provide relief for our customers, such as deferred payment arrangements and bespoke support to help those who are struggling to make ends meet.

Upholding our climate commitments

As this outbreak continues to test the strength of businesses, governments and the global economy, we cannot distance ourselves from the commitments we have made to protect our planet.

It is heart-warming to see the images of cities clear of smog and to hear of people noticing clearer air in our communities. But forecasts of reduced emissions due to disruption in travel, work and industry are a short-term benefit and we simply cannot expect this to continue without building on our climate goals. Short-term effects will not solve the climate crisis.

Indeed, every emissions dip to date has been followed by a period of growth, with China’s emissions a clear lesson. Carbon Brief estimates in the four weeks after the Chinese New Year, China’s carbon emissions temporarily fell by around 25%. Elsewhere, as the country and its industrial operations returned to normal at the end of March, nitrogen dioxide pollution levels also rebounded, meaning those emissions are now close to pre-pandemic levels.

Climate targets central to recovery plans

Both the UK Government and businesses have a responsibility to ensure the UK does not follow this trend but rather continues its efforts to hit a net zero by 2050 target.

First, the Government must demonstrate that progress towards a future with lower carbon emissions and cleaner air remains paramount in its post-coronavirus stimulus package, with increased incentives for businesses to invest in clean technology and energy efficiency.

Businesses, too, cannot afford to renege on pledges to advance efforts towards net zero. They must meet customers’ growing demand for cleaner air and recognise that investment in clean energy and energy efficiency makes business as well as environmental sense.

Ultimately, energy savings can play a vital role too, in rebuilding businesses’ bottom lines and serving as their contribution to tackling climate change as they look to get back on their feet.

The collective effort of small businesses has the potential to save millions of pounds in energy costs and reduce millions of tonnes of carbon emissions. And this journey can begin with simple measures such as swapping fluorescent tubes for LEDs and better managing energy consumption through behavioural as well as technological means.

Time to reimagine our greener future

At E.ON, we began this year by helping such small businesses accelerate their journey towards a greener future, as we extended our 100% renewables-backed electricity supply to eligible microbusiness customers across Britain.

We have the opportunity now, along with the rest of the nation, to start to reimagine how our sustainability agenda will take shape after this crisis and how we can promote a green recovery.

The Committee on Climate Change’s announcement that it will refocus its annual Progress Report to Parliament to include advice on supporting a resilient recovery following the pandemic brings optimism that Government will progress the clean energy transition. It also serves as a model for businesses to follow as they consider their own recovery plans.

We now stand at a critical juncture, as we hope to quickly and safely overcome this crisis. While seeking to protect and rebuild our country and businesses, we must not forget our duty to protect and rebuild our planet.

edie’s smart grid masters series

With distributed energy assets fast becoming a mainstream part of the UK power network, this live online masterclass will equip businesses with the insights and inspiration they need to decentralise, decarbonise and democratise their energy through smart grid technologies and systems.

Brought to you as part of edie’s “Smart Grids Masters” series of content in association with E.ON, the 45-minute session will break down how energy and sustainability managers can generate their own low-carbon power, store it onsite, and/or sell it back to the grid.

The masterclass will have a particular focus on the burgeoning vehicle-to-grid (V2G) market, which enables energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the national electricity network to help supply energy at times of peak demand.

Register for the masterclass here.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie