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The Challenges of the ‘Energy-Climate Era’

What are the most challenging issues that humanity is facing today? As far back as 2003, the Nobel Laureate, Mr. Richard E. Smalley had placed energy consumption as the First of Humanity’s Top Ten Problems for the next 50 years, in response to the projection of an increase of world population from 6.5 billion to 8-10 billion by 2050. In the recent years, a lot of people have listed “Energy” as one of the growing environmental problems. Certainly, many of our environmental problems today arise from the types of energy we use, and the increased burning of fossil fuels that accelerates climate change.

Author of the #1 Bestseller The World Is Flat and one of the America’s most respected New York Times columnists, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman addressed the looming effects of climate change and factors that have shaped the Energy-Climate Era in his book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” including how 9/11, major hurricanes such as Hurricane Katrina, the flattening of the world due to the rise of personal computers and the internet factor in climate and energy issues. We can no longer expect to enjoy peace and security, economic growth, and human rights if we continue to ignore the key problems of the Energy-Climate Era: energy supply and demand, petro-dictatorship, climate change, energy poverty, and biodiversity loss. How we handle these five problems will determine whether we have peace and security, economic growth, and human rights in the coming years. As Friedman notes: “The era concerns itself with the energy and climate problems, both of which are widely debated and needing solutions; but they have not gone very far, the much-touted 'green revolution' has hardly begun”.

The global climate system is warming, with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events such as heat waves, cold spells, heavy rainfall, droughts and tropical cyclones, and a rise in the sea level. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Eleven out of the twelve years between 1995 and 2006 ranked among the twelve warmest years since 1850. In addition, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York which monitors the global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis updated that the average global surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880; continuing a trend in which nine of the ten warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000. The comparison also indicated that the Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago, with the increase of temperature which is widely spread across the globe, with the rise of sea levels and the decrease of snow and ice.

Current energy and CO2 trends run directly counter to the repeated warnings sent by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concludes that reductions of at least 50% in global CO2 emissions compared to 2000 levels will need to be achieved by 2050 to limit the long-term global average temperature rise to between 2.0 degrees C and 2.4 degrees C. Recent studies suggest that climate change is occurring even faster than previously expected and that even the “50% by 2050” goal may be inadequate to prevent dangerous climate change.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) ‘Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) 2010’ report, the next decade is critical. If emissions do not peak by around 2020 and decline steadily thereafter, achieving the needed 50% reduction by 2050 will become much more costly. The IEA also released its ETP 2012 2°C Scenario (2DS) exploring the technological energy efficiency and balanced energy system options that are needed to realise a sustainable future. Central to this is the use of renewable energy sources and ensuring lower emissions.

According to the 2DS, energy savings and the use of alternative energy sources could save countries a total of 450 exajoules (EJ) in fossil fuel purchases by 2020. This is comparable to the past six years of total fossil fuel imports among all OECD countries. By 2050, the cumulative fossil fuel savings potential is said to be almost 9 000 EJ – equivalent to more than 15 years of the current world energy primary demand.

The 2DS demonstrates how energy efficiency and accelerated deployment of low-carbon technologies could help cut government expenditure, reduce energy import dependency and lower emissions. ETP 2012 explains why energy efficiency must be driven to achieve its potential. Being energy efficient will help cut emissions and reduce the energy intensity (measured as energy input per unit of gross domestic product [GDP]) of the global economy by two-thirds by 2050. In this regard, information and energy management are proven and effective ways to encourage energy efficiency measures in industry.

However, the world needs ever increasing energy supplies to sustain economic growth and development. But energy resources are under pressure and CO2 emissions from today’s energy usage has already threatened our climate.

What options do we have for switching to a cleaner and more efficient energy future? How much will it cost? And what policies do we need?

The Green Revolution - Energy Technology

‘Energy efficiency is the most promising means to reduce greenhouse gases in the short term,’ said Yvo de Boer, Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the beginning of a new era – the Energy-Climate Era. Increased energy efficiency will become the most important ‘momentum’ of the future. Low-cost options for reducing actual consumption – many of which are already available – offer the greatest potential for cutting CO2 emissions over the period to 2050.

Thomas L. Friedman also stated in his book: We cannot continue the business as usual path. We need a green revolution and we need to focus on Energy Technology (ET) based on renewable energy production and energy efficiency. Followed by his another book “That Used To Be Us”, Thomas also addressed the new emerging technologies that will provide clean, abundant, low-cost and reliable energy will be the next global industry. Clean energy will be “the next major cutting-edge industry on which economic fortunes of the richest countries will depend.” ET will be the new information technology (IT) like today. A country that has a flourishing ET industry will enjoy energy security and strengthen their national security. It positions the country as the next global industry leader that also contributes to global environmental security. In this manner, America can overcome its “pattern of energy consumption” which is the one of four major challenges pointed out by Thomas. Nonetheless, this is also the challenge face by humanity today.

The Energy Management System (EnMS)

In this new “Energy-Climate Era”, energy conservation technology and facilities/equipment are only part of the approaches to improve energy efficiency. Systematic management and the behavioural approach have become the core efforts to improve energy efficiency today.

An EnMS Standard (ISO 50001:2011) is a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” approach to integrate energy efficiency with the existing industrial or commercial management systems including ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 for continuous improvement. The purpose of ISO 50001:2011 is to enable organisations to establish the systems and the necessary processes to improve energy performance and increase cost savings. ISO 50001:2011 specifies requirements for an organisation to establish, implement, maintain and improve their energy management system through a systematic approach in order to continuously improve energy efficiency, use and consumption. Implementing these standards should lead to reductions in energy costs with a positive effect on an organisation’s bottom line, while minimising greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the overall negative impact on the environment.

Former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu also indicated: ‘In fact, energy efficiency is not just a low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground. And energy efficiency means money back in your pocket because you pay less on your energy bills.’ The key question for energy management practitioners is how to provide the best case for successful energy management within their organisation, one that will achieve the desired buy-in at top management level, and can be implemented as a successful management system.

A Success Story

AU Optronics Corp. (AUO) – The First Manufacturer Awarded ISO5001:2011 Recognition

AUO is the First Manufacturer in the world to be awarded the ISO 50001:2011 certification for its Gen 8.5 Fab in Central Taiwan Science Park. The company has consistently pushed its efforts in energy-saving practices and has received global recognition as The World’s First LEED Platinum Certification from USGBC.

AUO recognized the achievement of ISO 50001:2011 as the ‘Next Global Highlight’ (following the quality management system: ISO 9001:2008, and the environment management system: ISO 14001:2004) that have positioned and differentiated AUO from its competitors, worldwide. SGS was appointed by AUO to support their project team in the ISO 50001 certification process, as well as implementation of the certification to front-end TFT and back-end module facilities.

AUO aims to achieve 25% energy savings by 2015, with 2010 as the base year. They are also looking at related areas that can further improve their energy performance through management procedures. SGS’ industry expertise, commitment and professionalism in the system change management helped AUO reduced the use of energy by 10% at AUO's Gen 8.5 Fab in Central Taiwan Science Park in 2011. More than 30 energy performance indicators (EnIPs) were set for plants and divisions to monitor energy performance on a monthly basis. An estimated saving of 55 million kWh of electricity, and reduction of 35 thousand tonnes of carbon emissions i.e. Equivalent effect of more than nine times of the afforestation of New York Central Park. The projected energy saving objective was twice as high as the group’s annual objective.

With the success of the ISO 50001:2011 implementation at AUO's Gen 8.5 Fab in Central Taiwan Science Park, AUO plans to expand the ISO 50001:2011 energy management system across all its operations in the near future. Plans are also in place for energy performance assessment in their procurement process, to further enhance value chain energy management.

In a Nutshell

ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele indicated that energy is no longer a technical issue, but is a management issue that has an impact on the bottom line; and, we need to address the issue NOW. EnMS is one of the ISO certifications that showed significant increase in the recent years - Up to the end of December 2011, 6 months after the standard was released, at least 461 ISO 50001:2011 certificates have been issued in 32 countries and economies.

The world has stimulated a boom of the ISO 50001 certification activities. ISO 50001:2011 combines the benefits of a business management tool for energy management and business processes, with the ability to meet growing global customer requirements for reduced GHG emissions. Global application of an energy management standard contributes to a more efficient use of available energy sources, enhanced competitiveness, reduced costs and a positive impact on climate change.

Eric Gwotai Huang
Global Product Manager
Energy and Sustainability of SGS