By Deepa Poduval
The year 2021 was momentous all around, from cultural shifts and a working revolution to massive government investments in infrastructure and a stronger-than-ever push to fight climate change. For many of our private and government clients, this meant taking their sustainability and decarbonization efforts to new heights.
At November’s COP26, more than 130 countries pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, and more than 100 signed the Global Methane Pledge to collectively cut methane emissions by 30 percent by the end of this decade.
Companies are also making commitments, including the 215 that have signed the climate pledge, a collective effort among the business community aimed at achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
When we take stock of all that has been accomplished, all the goals set and pledges inked, this is tangible, meaningful progress. And yet, it is not enough. There is a journey to be made between goals and execution. A critical phase of the energy transition is the development of detailed strategies and plans with clear steps to lowering carbon footprints and reaching sustainability goals.
Planning and Flexibility are Key
As companies and nations navigate the tangled web of sustainability drivers — government incentives, regulation, technology advancements, shareholder and commercial pressures and workforce demands — many struggle to identify and analyze the multitude of uncertainties and create a coherent strategy.
A joint survey between GreenBiz and Black & Veatch, detailed in the 2021 Corporate Sustainability Goal Setting and Measurement report, found that more than 80 percent of companies surveyed with revenues greater than $250 million have set greenhouse gas reduction goals, yet 25 percent are unsure how they’ll meet them.
As they figure out how to move forward, they will need to maintain an active balance of planning and flexibility to make informed choices while the sustainability landscape continues to evolve. Successful approaches to decarbonization will be adaptive, assessing and accounting for each situation’s unique parameters. With such a wide range of goals, available technologies, geographical considerations and cost uncertainties, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology.
A good starting point for any company is to define where it is and where it wants to be and then identifying its gaps, prioritizing flexibility and developing “crawl, walk or run” strategies. Beginning with easy-lift projects that can immediately shrink a carbon footprint gets the ball rolling for weightier efforts. Once an entity has their priorities in order, they can begin to evaluate solutions, matching each challenge with the right technologies to overcome it.
As decarbonization strategies are developed, they will rely on new and developing technologies to meet growing energy needs. Placing strategic but informed bets on emerging low-carbon fuels and technologies such as ammonia, hydrogen, carbon capture, bio-fuels, and long-term storage is a challenge since the commercial viability and timeline of these technologies are constantly evolving through investments, research & development, and policies. Every roadmap needs significant technology expertise to ensure that entities are strategically and tactically positioned to make the best economic and technology choices possible to meet their decarbonization objectives.
Digital technologies offer another critical set of opportunities to support achievement of decarbonization objectives. In the era of Big Data, we have the ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of information, creating a 360-degree view of our infrastructure. This capability enables us to drive efficiency and lower carbon emissions.
In many cases, like that of Orbital Marine Power Ltd., a developer of tidal stream turbines, implementation of data analytics can help bring more renewable energy to customers at a lower cost over the long-term. When the company enlisted Black & Veatch to boost their use of technology, we deployed a digital model to help them forecast operations and maintenance. As part of Orbital Marine Power Ltd.’s research and development program, Black & Veatch created a digital twin of Orbital’s current turbine design that allows the teams to model turbine improvements and identify which advances deliver the lowest levelized cost of energy across the entire turbine lifecycle, essentially achieving more from less.
Creating a Game Plan
Decarbonization roadmapping can be a daunting task, with the best roadmaps going into intricate detail for timespans peering up to 30 years into the future. When entities begin to get down to the specifics of decarbonization, they often find themselves overwhelmed by the number of alternatives and the degrees of uncertainties in various pathways.
As they take this challenge on, there are essential steps that can make creating an executable decarbonization strategy more easily achievable. In short, those looking to decarbonize should be brave enough to embrace new technologies, smart enough to know when to ask for outside expert help, and flexible enough to anticipate changing course along the way as needed. Black & Veatch helps our clients take the journey from goals to execution, with a cohesive approach that incorporates strategic, financial, and regulatory considerations along with technology, engineering and construction solutions.
Sustainability targets for 2050 may seem far away, but less than three decades is a short time to revolutionize the way our industries operate. Developing detailed decarbonization strategies now will be crucial to taking concrete steps in the right direction, setting companies and nations up for long-term decarbonization success.