The remaining barriers to a climate-resilient future are political, rather than technological. Much of the tech required to transition to a low-carbon economy already exists — here are just a few to look out for.
The impassioned speech given by teenage activist Greta Thunberg to the United Nations climate change summit, in which she told politicians young people would not forgive them if they failed to act on the climate crisis, caused an excited stir. But while social media was dominated with talk of her personality quirks, the reasons behind such a heartfelt plea was largely washed over.
As UN chief Antonio Guterres told politicians in his closing remarks, there is still a “long way to go.” While new aid for poorer nations was promised, and a handful of small island states pledged to go carbon-neutral, many of the countries responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gases either glossed their action plans, or didn’t bother to turn up at all. As Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute, said in the aftermath: “Countries were expected to come to the summit to announce that they would enhance their climate ambition … [but] most of the major economies fell woefully short — their lack of ambition in sharp contrast with the growing demand for action around the world.”
That is not to say progress isn’t being made. The UN says that 77 countries have committed to hit net zero emissions by 2050, as advised by the science; with another 70 promising to improve their climate action plans by next year. And earlier this month, at the C40 World Mayors Summit, mayors from 94 cities across the globe publicly acknowledged the global climate emergency and announced their support for a Global Green New Deal.
The next two UN climate talks — in Chile and Britain, respectively — will be crucial in making sure nations deliver on their promises. Right now, current policies will lead to global warming of at least 3 degrees this century — well above the maximum 1.5 degrees estimated as permissible by scientists.
Frustratingly, the remaining barriers are political rather than technological. Many of the technologies required to transition to a low-carbon economy in all corners of the globe already exist — and the list of companies geared up and ready to play a role in solving the climate crisis continues to grow.
Good examples were announced as winners of this year’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) New Energy Pioneers. Unveiled as 10 “game-changing” companies of 2019, the businesses have found new ways of supporting the clean economy with not only new technologies, but also innovative business models and market structures.
The ten were chosen by a panel of industry experts from 185 applicants from 35 countries. Each was assessed for their potential to scale and have global impact, the level of innovation of the technology or business model, and the progress it has made so far.
Among the ten pioneers are:
The Canadian startup CarbonCure has found a way of making use of captured CO2 in concrete manufacturing, to both improve its structural properties and reduce the environmental impact of what is still the world’s most abundant man-made material. By introducing recycled CO2 into fresh concrete in a process known as CO2 mineralization, the carbon dioxide is converted to a mineral and becomes permanently captured. So far, the company has saved 44.6 million kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
Based in France, Metron has developed an artificial intelligence-driven industrial internet of things (IIoT) platform that can constantly optimize how and where energy is being used within big industrial facilities.
“Most manufacturing companies lack a dedicated team that would constantly analyze the flow of energy in their facilities and produce actionable insights to tackle the ever-increasing energy burden. This is where our expertise lies — in the constant improvement of the energy usage in industries,” says Vincent Sciandra, the company’s CEO.
Another exciting tech player coming out of France is Navya, which is working hard to make self-driving vehicles a reality in our cities. With a manufacturing plant in Detroit, the company is going after the US market, working with cities to consider how zero-emission, all-electric, first- and last-mile transport could “return fluidity to congested urban centers,” shattering carbon footprints in the process.
Zunum Aero is in the throes of developing hybrid and fully electric airplanes. It expects to bring aviation emissions on short-haul flights to zero by 2040. “With our aircraft in the air, people can expect door-to-door times two to four times faster than they are today, while carriers will see operating costs and emissions slashed by up to 80 percent,” says Ashish Kumar*,* CEO of the US business.
Zero Mass Water
Established back in 2014 to change our relationship with water and get rid of water stress, Zero Mass Water has perfected a technology that uses sunlight to generate water out of thin air. Its completely off-grid Hydropanel products are already being used in schools, hospitals and homes throughout the world.
To make solar installations go further and faster, US-based Sunfolding has invented new motor-free solar trackers, the devices used to orient photovoltaic panels and reflectors toward the sun to make the most of its energy.
The Sunfolding T29 tracker uses three components, as opposed to 21 used in traditional trackers, making it twice as quick to install. An excited Jurgen Krehnke, the company’s CEO, says that its “robust tracker technology unlocks value at every stage of a PV power plant’s lifecycle and can successfully scale with solar’s massive global growth.”
Similarly, Ubitricity has created technology to speed up the adoption of electric vehicles. The UK firm’s smart electricity cable for EV charging enables a much smaller and more affordable charging spot to be created, right outside people’s front doors — in lamp posts, for example.
The technology is already being used in Berlin and London, and pilots began in New York in 2019. “Just as smartphones are bundled with digital services today, EVs will be bundled with electricity services in future,” predicts Knut Hechtfischer, the company’s co-founder, with the energy data required generated by the EV’s electronics serving as mobile smart meter.