In Glasgow in November, Nicola Sturgeon announced bold ambitions to reduce Scotland’s emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, five years earlier than the UK target. Whilst many rightfully lauded these goals, there were equal measures of scepticism over whether they were feasible.
The question of feasibility is a fair and important consideration. At the GSMA – which represents mobile operators and organisations across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries – we believe that the tools already exist to meet the net-zero goals outlined by the Scottish Government. As low- and zero-carbon technology evolves, there is the misperception that we need to wait for future technology solutions.
The reality is that we have already have many of the smart tools and connected technology needed to drive down carbon emissions, especially in the energy sector – they just aren’t being used to their full potential. That is why we now need to focus on deploying them, at scale.
Without the wide use of smart technology, the world will miss its 2050 net-zero commitments.
Creating a connected energy transition
That’s why we are calling on governments and business-leaders alike to act now to harness the power of mobile technology and connectivity as a key lever to achieve net-zero goals. In recent research, conducted with the Carbon Trust, we found that smart technology could contribute 40 per cent of the required carbon-emissions savings to 2030, across the energy, transport, manufacturing and buildings sectors.
With these tools already available, it is now up to policymakers and leading players within industries around the world to harness the true power of mobile technology and connectivity to achieve the targets we have set ourselves. In February 2019, the mobile industry was the first sector to commit as a whole to achieving net zero by 2050.
But we believe that we can have an even bigger impact by enabling emissions reductions in industries beyond our own.
Not surprisingly, the energy sector is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. To achieve net zero by 2050, carbon emissions from the global energy sector need to be reduced by 50 per cent by 2030. And mobile technology can help. Our research showed that 46 per cent of the cut required in carbon emissions could come from the rollout of connected wind and solar energy grids – equivalent to decommissioning around 1,000 coal-fired power plants by 2030.
Today, however, connected technology is used in only 35 per cent of solar grids and 10 per cent of wind grids globally. As onshore wind farms are Scotland’s largest energy source, accounting for approximately 70 per cent of all renewable energy output, the nation has the potential to be a pioneer in leading the transition to renewables and the deployment of green energy via connected grids.
Smart technology allows for a more efficient distribution of green energy once it’s been created. Businesses that upgrade to connected grids can retain a stable renewable energy output. Put simply, “connected grids” are smart energy grids that can predict the peaks and troughs of supply and demand to ensure uninterrupted energy supply.
Deploying this technology is particularly important for renewable energy such as wind and solar, as it helps avoid the need to use fossil fuel as a back-up. They supercharge management efficiencies whilst keeping energy flowing where and when it’s needed.
This is not theoretical. The Swedish telecommunications company Telia has already reaped the benefits of connected grids. Since implementing smart-grid equipment on electricity lines in Sweden, Telia has seen a 25 per cent increase in power-line capacity, quicker identification of faults, and increased carbon efficiencies.
Curbing emissions beyond energy
Beyond the energy sector, our research has found that connected technology is significantly under-utilised by emissions-intensive sectors like manufacturing and transport. In fact, 16 per cent of the carbon reductions required in manufacturing by 2030 could be delivered through the use of smart manufacturing processes.
This is the equivalent of manufacturing 140 million cars. But today, connected technology is only used in 1 per cent of factories across the manufacturing sector globally.
The implementation of connected technology would improve efficiencies across production lines, inventory-management, and connected robotics. It would also help with material-recycling, moving us a step closer to a more "circular” economy where products, components and materials are reused rather than wasted.
Similarly, connected technology would facilitate the reduction of emissions across the transport sector. Currently, electric cars account for only 0.8 per cent of all cars on the road.
While progress is being made to transition to electric vehicles (EV) and low-carbon solutions, the technology already exists to cut carbon emissions from the sector deeper and faster. The transport sector could cut 65 per cent of the required emission reductions by 2030, an equivalent of 2.8 billion flights from New York to Paris.
This could be achieved by using connectivity to enhance the EV-charging infrastructure and optimise transport routes. Additionally, better connectivity means even more of us can work from home, helping to reduce commuter journeys, while 5G mobile networks will enable us to work from anywhere.
Although these changes are already under way, they could be amplified by more direct support from governments, helping us to reach net-zero targets faster, cheaper, and more easily.
As the climate emergency becomes ever-more urgent, we must utilise the resources we already have to the best of their potential. Government and business-leaders in Scotland, and beyond, should act now to leverage the power of mobile technology and connectivity in the global race to net zero.
John Giusti, chief regulatory officer, GSMA