Global warming and climate change have become one of the most concerning and crucial issues in the 21st century. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations have also continuously emphasised the importance of affordable and clean energy, climate action and life on land, and net zero planning is an important cornerstone to achieve sustainable goals.
Taiwan and many countries around the world have announced the goal of a net zero plan by 2050, and strive to achieve the goal of comprehensive renewable energy supply and zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, the net zero plan should not be reduced to just a slogan, but must have a rigorous scientific basis, research methods, and calculation tools.
Dr. Cheng-Ta Chu, who has participated in sustainable planning in Taiwan, modelled decarbonization strategies for every countries in the world, and now working at Emirates Water and Electricity as Modelling Expert in United Arab Emirates, was invited to an interview with “The Icons”, not only to reveal the professional content of net zero planning, but also to propose four thoughts of net zero planning!
Open and transparent, not a black box!
Being open and transparent and not letting net zero planning become a secret black box is the first important thinking shared by Dr. Chu. He emphasised: “All methodology, calculation models, to input data must be open, transparent, and reviewed by experts and the public. We must have an attitude like conducting scientific research.”
Justin took Taiwan as an example. Taiwan introduced the ”2050 Calculator” tool that is now used in around 50 countries around the world ten years ago. It’s a tool to engage the public for decarbonization planning with solid scientific ground. The principle is very simple, like an Excel table where you can check the data and formulation, but it actually contains a huge amount of information, such as the conversion efficiency of each power plant, the area where solar energy can be developed, the cost assumptions of new build power plants, etc.
“The main feature of this tool is its openness and transparency, so as to facilitate public engagement and public consultation, and can be spread to each stakeholder easily for examination.”
We cannot only look at a single indicator in net zero planning!
Dr. Chu said that net zero planning involves a wide range of dimensions, and those who plan cannot just look at one aspect. In general, at least three aspects “3E (Environment, Economy, Energy)” should be considered:
The first E, Environment, refers to environmental aspects such as carbon emissions, pollutant emissions, and land development. It can extend to wider social impact as well, but it is difficult to quantify the impacts.
The second E, Economy, is simply the cost. It can also extend to wider economic impact such as industry value and job created ;
The third E, Energy, is the general direction that balances the supply and demand with security and reliability constraints .
“An ideal net zero plan should take all these aspects into consideration,” Justin concluded.
Planning for twenty or thirty years may not be enough!
Dr. Chu mentioned that energy planning thinking has been changing rapidly in the decade! In the past, policymakers focused on “energy value”, “that is to say, if I build this power plant, how much electricity needs to be generated in next week or next month to meet the demand.” But now the perspective of thinking has changed, and more attention is paid to the “capacity value”, “green value”, and “flexibility value” of a generation source. A power generator can be used for 20 to 50 years. “Not only do you need to look at the long-term planning of a power plant in 20 to 30 years, but also pay attention to how much flexibility and environmental impact it can create in addition to meeting the current demand,” Dr. Chu added.
Renewable energy is part of the equation without doubt.
Dr. Chu said that energy issues were not the focus of public concern in the past. Only in recent decades, as global warming, sea level rise, and extreme climate events emerged one by one, have alternative energy sources such as renewable energy gradually attracted attention.
When asked about his attitude towards the development of renewable energy in Taiwan, Dr. Chu answered optimistically: “It solves some issues and creates some new issues, but without doubt it is part of the equation to reach net zero. Taiwan spends hundreds of billions TWD to import coal, natural gas and other fuels every year. If part of the budget is invested in the development of renewable energy, the prospects are very promising, not to mention the industry value and job creation.”
Finally, Dr. Chu called on having new SDGs thinking and actions to promise a better future for the environment we live in every day, and for the next generation of children and grandchildren!
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