When policy makers and the moneymen agree

Two recent watershed developments will not have escaped the attention of the green energy and related industries:

  • In December 2019, the European Commission published the European Green Deal. Lauded by European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, as Europe’s “man on the moon” moment, the European Green Deal sets out the EU’s ambitious cross-sector roadmap to achieving a climate neutral EU continent by 2050.

  • In January 2020, the CEO of one of the world’s largest asset managers, BlackRock, very publicly put environmental sustainability as a front and centre goal of his firm’s investment strategy. Describing climate risk as an “investment risk”, Mr Fink flagged in his influential annual letter to CEOs that his firm would avoid investments in companies that present a high sustainability-related risk.

When policy makers and money moguls meet on the same page like this, we can be pretty confident that real systemic change is not far away. We look at the European Green Deal and what it means for cross-sector opportunities for smart clean tech.

The European Green Deal – a cross-sector call to action

To date, the lion’s share of attention for green energy sustainability initiatives has focused on renewable energy incentives and targets. As the climate emergency stakes get higher, the net is being cast more broadly to require cross-industry systemic sustainability measures. This was evident in the Irish government’s Climate Action Plan published in 2019. 180 actions were identified across a broad range of sectors such as electricity, the built environment, waste, transport and agriculture. Smart metering and smart home initiatives were amongst the focus areas for action. See our coverage of the Climate Action Plan here

The European Green Deal continues to mandate this cross-sector approach and identifies near 50 timetabled actions in areas such as clean affordable and secure energy, smart sector integration and sustainable and smart mobility.

Smart clean technologies – accelerating sustainability

An important aspect of the European Green Deal is the Commission’s acknowledgement that digitalisation and smart infrastructure will be key to achieving the EU’s ambitious decarbonisation and sustainability targets. The Commission comments that:

  • The clean energy framework should foster the deployment of innovative technologies and infrastructure such as smart grids and energy storage, enabling sector integration

  • It will explore measures to ensure that digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, cloud and edge computing and the Internet of Things can accelerate and maximise the impact of policies to deal with climate change and to protect the environment, and

  • Automated and connected mobility and “Mobility as a Service” solutions will play an increasing role in sustainability

Smart clean technologies, smart cities and electric and alternative fuel automated vehicles will now move centre stage as the EU looks with greater intensity to achieving its sustainability goals. With this focus, opportunities for increased collaboration across the tech, telecoms and energy industries will abound.

Indeed once 5G takes off, admittedly from its current rocky start, and unlocks the promised potential of the Internet of Things in clean smart tech, we should expect to see a transformation of the existing energy and sustainability landscape. In the meantime, we will likely continue to see acceleration in the take-up of energy sustainability service offerings which leverage tech efficiencies e.g. “Sustainability as a Service (SaaS)” and “Lighting as a Service (LaaS)” offerings.

Greening the tech industry

While identified as a key driver of future sustainability, the European Green Deal has in turn tasked the tech industry to closely look at its own energy efficiency, in areas such as broadband networks, data centres and ICT devices. Of interest are its early suggestions to analyse the need for a “right to repair” to curb in the built-in obsolescence of electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and chargers. The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) recently published a Call for Inputs on this decarbonisation theme for the electronic communications sector in December 2019 titled “Connectivity and Decarbonisation”.

At a minimum, we will likely see an intensification of the tech industry’s interest in green energy initiatives as part of its own accelerated decarbonisation agenda.

The European Green Deal is a cross-sector roadmap for action on EU climate change. In the near term, we are likely to see it actioned by means of policy instruments and legislative proposals addressing cross-sector measures. With smart clean tech and smart infrastructure firmly in the European Commission’s sights for its green agenda, this is an important area to watch for those in the energy, telecoms and tech industries.