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For every energy system that we use, for instance a car, a smartphone, a building, an infrastructure, there is always four distinct but complementary steps to achieve carbon neutrality. As an illustration, let’s explore the four blocks to reduce the carbon footprint of a very well known energy system, i.e. a car.

Step 1. Decide to not use the car, by privileging clean mobility options. We can also car pool. We can ecodrive. In other words, we can adjust our behaviour and limit or avoid some Greenhouse Gas emissions. Sufficiency best describe this first step. With adequate lifestyle and behaviour change, we can decide to focus on the service that we need;

Step 2. Select the most energy efficient car. Typically for a car, the lighter, the more energy efficient. The Weight of a car very much drives its energy performance. But many other technical features or parameters influence the fuel consumption of a vehicle. This second step is called Energy Efficiency. Through better design of material and sound selection of technologies, energy efficiency optimizes the energy service of any system while reducing the energy being consumed;

Step 3. Select the cleanest fuel to operate the car. Today, consumers face a choice a fuel when purchasing a car: the car engine can run on gasoline, diesel, gas, biofuel, hybrid, electric, or even hydrogen. The choice of fuel will influence the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Step 3 refers to Renewable Energy. In today’s world, renewable energy have become more cost effective than conventional energy supply.

Step 4. Select a car with the smallest carbon footprint during its manufacturing. The carbon footprint of the material used in an energy system can no longer be ignored when carbon neutrality become the ultimate objective. Carbon sequestration techniques and bio-sourced material help reduce the carbon footprint of any of our energy system.

The four options are of course complementary and delivers the greatest impact when combined. Any decarbonisation effort, policy or programme builds from a combination of these four steps. The -4 prongued approach to decarbonize our economy is holistic and universal. It applies to a smartphone as well as to a building.

As we move towards COP26 in Glasgow, the climate change community calls for a global carbon neutrality of our economy preferably before 2050. Around the globe, numerous communities and organisations are exploring ways to decarbonize. The most comprehensive and cost effective scenarios combines sufficiency, efficiency, renewable energy and material decarbonisation (including enhanced carbon sequestration).

Combining sufficiency and efficiency generate energy conservation and lower the total energy demand that clean energy can then match. Behind the scene, a background effort to optimize the carbon footprint of the material that we use help to close the loop of carbon neutrality. Failing to take into account any of the four ingredients contribute to increase the cost of decarbonisation and delay the achievement of the Paris agreement. In 2021, the role of renewable energy is well understood by governments and investors. Efforts to promote renewable energy are well engaged. Lowering the carbon footprint of material, including enhancing carbon sequestration, is gaining momentum, but huge efforts remain to be done.

Encouraging behaviour and lifestyle change and promoting energy sufficiency is receiving attention in a growing number of communities and scenarios. Energy efficiency appears on decarbonisation strategies but continues to fail to attract financial support to deliver its known GHG abatement potential.

Having in mind energy efficiency is usually the entry point to cost effective decarbonisation efforts. Energy efficiency nicely combines with sufficiency and lifestyle changes. Energy efficiency also inspires resource efficiency efforts to lower material carbon footprint.

Energy efficiency leads the way to a faster and less costly decarbonisation.

Benoit Lebot,
Energy Efficiency Expert