The real value of energy sustainability

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Andreas Sumper. Professor & Researcher. CITCEA UPC

All human activities are associated with the concept of sustainability. This concept is closely related with resources and our use of them; such resources could be natural, human, economic or social, among others. As we need to consume a certain amount of resources to carry out any activity, conflict inevitably arises if we do not replace the resources at the same speed as we consume them. In fact, an imbalance between the use of resources and their regeneration capacity is parallel to the history of humanity itself.

Energy sustainability requires the joint efforts of industry and political leaders, who must establish strategies and polices to bring about the shift needed in the energy system to support sustainable economic and social development. Energy sustainability evaluates how its three intrinsic goals are balanced: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability, which is what the World Energy Council (WEC) defines as the Energy Trilemma.

Sustainability, and energy sustainability in particular, has been addressed by industry in recent years as an environmental topic, relating to legislative pressure due to the political initiative of reducing environmental impact. Thus, sustainability is considered an essential framework to manufacture and create traditional products. However, industry is gradually realising that energy saving can increase the competitiveness of industrial processes. However, we need to go beyond this concept: the role of energy in the knowledge society needs to be redefined by sustainability. Digitalisation of operational processes provides a large amount of data and information so that all of those involved in a product’s life cycle can find out about the production processes. This traceability empowers consumers, who are interested in a product that not only meets their needs, but also respects their lifestyles. Thus, it is the individual who has the power to decide which product to purchase and may pay a premium for the product that best fits their philosophy of life. The legislator is no longer an intermediary creating environmental laws for the common good: the consumers themselves will select products that, in addition to meeting minimum standards, have the added bonus of being sustainable. Thus, a new ecosystem is created, with different new services and products that have a greater profit margin. This is what is behind the interest in a circular economy. Therefore, energy sustainability creates new business models, and the energy companies that can adapt to this new framework will be those that will succeed in the market.

Finally, a key factor to achieve energy sustainability will be the use of renewable energy resources that are available locally and then distributed. Electrical energy is an essential vector to achieve a shift to a low-carbon society, as most renewable technologies generate electricity.

Andreas Sumper, Professor & Researcher
CITCEA UPC

Article published in the journal “Automática e Instrumentación” of November-December 2016

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