Columnists: Rod Janssen, Sustainable energy expert

Published on: 23 Dec 2022

Zero carbon industry is a real possibility

Europe’s industry has been battered in recent years. In the past few years, industry had to contend with Covid-19 and the brutal collapse of our global economies. This was on top of the need to meet our long-term climate and energy objectives. But the need to move forward is undeniable.

Decarbonising European economies is now accepted as fundamental to meet Europe’s long-term climate and energy obligations, most noted under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Given the latest data and analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is a need to keep the global temperature from going beyond 1.5° C. This necessitates decarbonisation to unprecedented levels at a very fast pace.

eceee, Europe’s largest and oldest NGO dedicated to energy efficiency, has an important part to play throughout this transition.

To generate and provide evidence-based knowledge and analysis of policies, eceee has been organising summer studies since 1993, at first with dedicated panels on industry and then beginning in 2012, having summer studies that solely focused on industry. Since the pandemic, eceee reintroduced an industrial panel to our Summer Study.

In parallel, eceee organised a new dedicated industry event, more targeted on the link between efficiency and decarbonisation in order for experts and stakeholders to share experience and lessons learned. It was held in November, in Antwerp, Belgium, one of Europe’s most vibrant and innovative industrial and maritime regions. The title of the conference, Zero Carbon Industry, says it all.

Three panels discussed over one and a half days decarbonising industrial processes, the importance of energy management and innovation, and policy drivers for change. There was a separate workshop on financing because, regardless how we decarbonise, there is a financial cost. In addition eceee and the European Industrial Insulation Foundation (EiiF) set up a pre-conference workshop entitled “Saving Energy in a Hurry”. (You can see all presentations and some films from our Antwerp event  here).

Industry, generating wealth and employment in our European economy, plays a key role in achieving Europe’s long-term climate and energy objectives. However, while the improvement of the companies’ processes and operations is a permanent endeavour, there is a common understanding that more drastic transformations are needed to achieve deep decarbonisation. At the same time, industry must remain competitive – within Europe and globally – and become leaders of developing zero-carbon technologies and techniques.

Energy efficiency has an important role to play and there is a need to stay true to the ‘Energy Efficiency First’ principle. Energy efficiency is but one of the tools to achieve zero carbon. Achieving full climate neutrality is a multi-facetted endeavour, that aside energy efficiency encompasses shifting to new processes, substituting fossil by renewable energy and capturing remaining CO2 emissions. Fundamentally, achieving zero carbon (or at least getting close) requires a paradigm shift from the traditional incremental improvements to a more drastic transformation. It is encouraging that many of the speakers gave real evidence that the transformation is underway.

We have no choice but to remain optimistic and this conference left participants knowing there are effective ways forward. There are many excellent and effective projects underway to drive the “drastic transformation” forward. While many are funded by the European Union, there are also important projects funded at the national level or through international collaboration.

Let us know what you thought of the Antwerp conference and what you would like to see eceee do next to help Europe weave its way to zero carbon industry.

Yes, zero carbon industry is a real possibility. Let’s all make it happen.

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Rod Janssen