Rushlight Awards

Background

There can be no doubt that the environment is one of the top items on the political, social and commercial agendas today.  In the UK and Ireland, the position is now well beyond debating the reality of global warming or its uncertain repercussions.  The last 3 years has seen a plethora of new laws and regulations which prescribe parameters for the production and usage of energy, fuel, power generation, waste and water and it is these targets which are the focus.  All these targets can only be in the best interests of society’s health and the state of the environment for future generations.

That these targets are in all our best interests cannot be in doubt when they are considered in the context of the WWF International Report and findings about One Planet Living.  The fact that the majority of the world consumes or has a direct impact on more of the planet than the planet itself can support should be the fundamental driver for changes in behaviour and our structure of life.  This does not mean that the developed world should take a step backwards and return to a lower standard of living.  What it means is that the world needs to progress apace in a way that accelerates a significant improvement in resource efficiency and consciousness of environmental impact.  Although a drastic cut in consumption would facilitate the attainment of sub one planet living, a change in consumption style and drivers is the more suitable and realistic way forward.

It was in the 1980s that the world first moved to a level of consumption that exceeded what the planet could sustain.  The legacy of environmental disregard, that started in earnest during the developed world industrial revolution, sadly continues and so regulation and other interventions, which are usually introduced to address market failure, are piling up to encourage, coerce and penalise society towards a sustainable future.

A focus on one planet living is helpful.  Climate change is open to the debate of man-made change versus natural evolution and involves measurement uncertainty and the overarching precautionary principle.  Volcanic activity in Iceland reopened discussions concerning the impact of natural phenomena which are seen as outweighing man-made carbon emissions, although the grounding of all aircraft in the area had such a large beneficial impact on global emissions that it is suggested that the overall event was environmentally positive!  The overwhelming majority of expert climate scientists are in no doubt about the importance of climate change and the role that man plays in the deterioration of the stability of our planet.  The great advantage of the WWF International findings is that there are no such debates and uncertainty in the context of one planet living, which encapsulates climate change in any case.

A quick overview of some of the targets and regulations helps to explain the path to a sustainable future that has been set out in law in the UK:

▪   A reduction of 20% in CO2 emissions by 2020 compared with a 1990 baseline, increased to 30% if other countries join in, followed by a reduction by 60% by 2050.

▪   For 10% of the UK’s energy to be sourced from renewable energy by 2010 (leading to an estimated 5% increase in the price of electricity according to the NAO) increasing to 20% by 2020.

▪   An improvement in energy efficiency of 20% by 2020.

▪   A 20% reduction in the use of water by 2020 compared with the 2007 baseline in the UK.

▪   Under the EU Biofuels Directive, for 2.5% of transport to be powered by biofuels in 2008, 3.75% by 2009 and 5.75% by 2010.

▪   New Fuel Standards requiring suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy by 1% per year from 2010 levels.

▪   A 20% reduction in social and environmental costs of domestic food transportation by 2012 from a 2002 baseline.

▪   All new homes built after 2016 to be “zero carbon” – since repealed!

▪   Under the EU Landfill Directive, for a reduction in biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill to 50% of the 1995 baseline by 2009 and 35% by 2016, together with the total banning of certain types of waste being sent to landfill.

▪   A reduction in sulphur oxide emissions from shipping from 4.5% to 3.5% by 2012.

In addition to these wide ranging targets, there are also the following regulations:

▪   EU 2002 Buildings Directive.

▪   Energy Performance Certificates on commercial buildings from 6 April 2008.

▪   Large Combustion Plant Directive and the UK National Emission Reduction Plan.

▪   12 carbon capture and storage demonstration projects by 2015 – not followed up!

▪   Carbon capture and storage on all new and old coal-fired (at least) plant from 2025.

▪   Site Waste Management Plans on all sizeable construction projects.

▪   End-of-Life Vehicles Directive.

▪   Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Directive.

▪   EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, National Packaging Waste Database and the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.

▪   Biomass Action Plan

To achieve these demanding targets and to abide by the new regulations will require:

TECHNOLOGY  +  INVESTMENT  +  BEHAVIOUR CHANGE.

Dr David Clarke, the CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute, who was our keynote speaker at the Rushlight Awards 2008 Gala Dinner on 22 January 2009 said: “The UK energy system is under increasing pressure, requiring upgrading and replacement to tackle the combined challenges of climate change, energy affordability and security of supply.

The scale of the investment challenge is estimated by the UK Government to be around £100bn to reach the UK target for 15% of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.  The majority of this will be in Engineering, Technology, Manufacturing, Installation and Operation of equipment and systems.

This comes at a time when global economics are slowing capital investment and businesses face the critical decision of whether to invest in speculative new technologies, markets and skills for the long term or just aim to survive the short term storm.

The scale of the challenge is such that it can only be met by a coherent and large-scale response from Government, Industry and Society acting together.  By working together within the framework of a consistent long-term strategy then we have the potential to deliver a ‘win-win-win’ of affordable low carbon energy to consumers, sustainable security of energy supply combined with development of a broad ranging UK industry base supporting many thousands of jobs in engineering, manufacturing and maintenance.  A £100bn investment challenge could become a £100bn business opportunity.”

There are a number of direct government and other indirect government-funded and independent initiatives focused on informing consumers and commerce to instigate behavioral change.  Similarly, companies involved directly in the appropriate markets, private equity and venture capital, banks and government-funded institutions are investing significant sums of both debt and equity to finance new energy and waste facilities.  But for these targets to be achieved, for society’s new levels of expectation to be met and to deliver what the investment funds are looking for, new technologies need to be developed and innovations must be implemented.  What is really exciting is that this pressure to change and evolve is producing some great opportunities for new science, business and markets.  Some of the new technologies will be fundamentally disruptive, whether it be in the road vehicle markets, how goods are transported, how power is generated, how water is used or how waste is managed.

The Rushlight Awards focus on the technology and innovation achievements in the journey to meeting these goals.