Saturday 21 September 2019

Cracking the climate conundrum with innovative Cool Planet project

An interactive exhibition highlighting climate change dangers and solutions opens early next year. Business leaders and funding partners to the Cool Planet Experience tell Environment Editor Paul Melia how natural gas generated from food waste, the Internet of Things, clean electricity and lighting and heating upgrades will form part of the solution - but that public buy-in is essential if we are to tackle the problem of global warming

The Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow is the setting for the interactive Cool Planet Experience, which aims to highlight climate change issues and educate visitors on the challenges ahead
The Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow is the setting for the interactive Cool Planet Experience, which aims to highlight climate change issues and educate visitors on the challenges ahead
Siemens chief executive Gary O’Callaghan
NTR Foundation chairwoman Rosheen McGuckian
Norman Crowley, founder of Crowley Carbon
Wind power has a huge part to play in reducing carbon emissions
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The Cool Planet Experience is, in many ways, an idea borne out of frustration. Despite climate change already having an impact in Ireland and abroad, some suggest the 'green' message is largely depressing. Stop taking foreign holidays. Turn down the thermostat. Stop eating meat.

But business leaders say that many of the technologies needed to tackle global warming already exist. The problem is excuses for inaction are offered too readily.

The Cool Planet Experience (coolplanetexperience.org) aims to highlight the technical solutions, and bring on the debate.

The brainchild of entrepreneur Norman Crowley, Ireland's first interactive climate change experience will explain the science of climate change, allow visitors to experience changing weather patterns first hand, and show how gridlocked, polluted and dirty cities can be transformed into smarter places to live, using off-the-shelf technology.

The Irish Independent and INM are media partners to the exhibition, which opens early next year on the Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow. Funding partners include some of the country's biggest firms. Here, we speak to business leaders about why they're involved in Cool Planet, and the steps they're taking to tackle climate change.

Norman Crowley, Crowley Carbon

Crowley founded and sold a number of companies before establishing Crowley Carbon in 2008, where he serves as CEO. The idea for Cool Planet Experience came around five years later.

"In 2013, the business had stabilised and it had grown to the point where we weren't as worried about its survival, but felt we hadn't done enough about climate change and Ireland wasn't doing enough. Ireland still isn't doing enough.

"We felt business had a better part to play compared with other actors because we understand what people are and aren't willing to do. Our greener people in Cool Planet say it's not unreasonable to ask people not to eat meat, but we say it is unreasonable, but you can eat meatless meats. The trick is how do you get a normal person who lives in Lucan, works in Intel, worries from one pay cheque to another - what is reasonable to ask them to do?"

He maintains the messaging around climate action is "a bit depressing". "There's guilt, first of all. There's turning down the thermostat and putting on a jacket. We shouldn't go on holidays. We feel technology has moved on so we can have our cake and eat it. Let's not harbour on the negative but focus on what can be achieved.

"Myself and my fellow sponsors live in a world of budgets and targets, so we can bring a realism. If we are depending on behavioural change we're f**ked. But almost all of the tech is there. We need people with money to adopt it earlier, and we need government to legislate faster. If only the Government just understood how brilliant it could be. The ignorance is just staggering."

He says there's a "propaganda" that the costs are too high, but he argues that many measures required - such as energy efficiency in buildings - are no-brainers. "At the end of Cool Planet, you're encouraged to take a personal action which is incredibly reasonable. If you don't have any money you can do it. If you're a meat eater you can do it. We also ask you to lobby government. Our version is let's use Cool Planet to convince the voters, and let the voters convince the Government."

Pat O'Doherty, ESB

The ESB chief executive says while electricity generation is a large part of the climate change problem, it will also form a major part of the solution. By 2050, he says, carbon will be taken out of power generation, while using green energy to heat buildings and power the transport fleet will dramatically reduce emissions.

"Some 20pc of emissions today come from electricity generation, and 35pc come from transport and heat. If you can electrify all of transport and heat from clean electricity, it moves from being the problem to the solution," he says.

"For us, the path to this requires an informed dialogue with citizens and consumers. The partnership with Cool Planet is around investing in that conversation, particularly with the next generation."

Since 1990, the carbon intensity of ESB's electricity generation has fallen by 36pc, and it's set to drop by 50pc by 2030. The company has connected more than 3,000MW of renewables to the system, but admits that burning coal and peat at its plants is a major issue.

"We recognise that coal and peat are on borrowed time. We will actively manage out of coal and peat out to that period (2030). There'll be more investment in renewables, and wind and solar is likely to be part of that. There's likely to be offshore wind. We'll replace some of our combined cycle gas turbine fleet with newer ones where it makes economic sense."

Carbon capture and storage, where emissions from generation plants are captured and stored underground, "has to be part of the solution", he adds. Wave energy also has a role.

"If you want to get people to buy into this future, you need to get them to understand it. I'm of the view that all the players in this have an obligation to inform. There are big decisions to be made here, some of which have cost implications."

Sharon Nolan, Calor

Gas supplier Calor has been involved with Cool Planet since 2015, and aims to offer its customers a product which is "better than oil" in terms of performance and emissions. Next year, it will launch a renewable liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) offering, which will be the first available on the market.

Marketing manager Sharon Nolan says the firm has a "responsibility" to provide choice for customers willing to make a switch to less-polluting fuels.

"We sell LPG gas across business and to the domestic setting. Oil is dominant in rural Ireland, especially for home heating. We have bio LPG about to come to the market and we believe that's going to be a real game-changer. It's a renewable fuel, made up of 60pc waste from food manufacturing processes, and 40pc renewable vegetable oils. We do find people who switch from oil to LPG do so for emissions. There's an appetite for it, but it's all about education and choice.

"LPG is a small player in the context of the energy market, about 2pc. We have a responsibility as suppliers of energy. We need to give our customers choice, and there's an education piece out there."

Cool Planet will help drive change, she says, particularly among a younger audience.

"We got involved in 2015 when they were looking for sponsors. We would always maintain we have an offering to rural customers that's better than oil. For us, it's all about the educational piece.

"Cool Planet is trying to get a young audience, school-going children, and the more we can support an audience like that the better. I'm very impressed with how it's taking shape. I think it's going to be a very fun, interactive place. It will help them understand at a layman's level. I still think there is a proportion of the population who like doing something, but aren't in the mindset yet."

Rosheen McGuckian, NTR Foundation

The NTR Foundation was established in 2008. An independent philanthropic organisation, it has invested in organisations including the Marei Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy at UCC, the Wind Energy Centre at Letterkenny IT and Dublin's Science Gallery. Chairwoman Rosheen McGuckian says the foundation funds everything from communications to advocacy, practical supports including bursaries, bird mapping and community ownership of wind energy.

Why Cool Planet?

"We got on board right at the beginning because we were really inspired by the vision that Norman Crowley had, to engage people in a meaningful and interactive way, in terms of what it means to us, but as well as policy issues.

"We also liked the fact of not throwing our hands up in despair. This is about showing, in a fun way, what actions we can take. It's not driven by one sectoral agenda, but transport, energy, food sustainability and water."

She believes some people may feel powerless about the role they can play, but that action has to happen. "I'm not sure people are internalising it and bringing it into their daily lives. I think people believe it's terrible, but it's nothing they can do something about. People involved in policy and politics have a lot of competing issues they have to resolve, but it doesn't take away from this. We can remind people we all have a role to play here, we have to take serious decisions. It's not something we can put on the long finger. It's something that needs to happen."

Sarah Slazenger, Powerscourt Estate

Sustainability is in Sarah Slazenger's genes. One of the reasons her family ended up in Powerscourt in the early 1960s was because it came with Ireland's highest waterfall, and her grandfather spotted potential for an hydroelectric scheme.

"As it turned out, the waterfall wasn't suitable," the managing director of the Wicklow estate says, adding that an old millrace does generate electricity for a house on the property.

"We would have had an ambition for the estate to become carbon neutral," she adds. "The challenge is to make it sustainable both environmentally and financially, but it's such a challenge with the general public going in and out of it, with doors opening and closing. We had enormous oil boilers going all the time, but now have highly-efficient gas boilers, and have installed quite a sophisticated energy monitoring system, which highlights potential issues, and also changed all our lights to LED."

Since a 1974 fire which practically destroyed the main house, the family has looked to ways to "do things better". The energy efficiency and other climate measures, funded in part through grants from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, can be translated into other historic buildings, she says. "You never quite believe the savings will be there, you'll always build in a bit of scepticism, but we're delighted."

But why Cool Planet?

"For me, it's an obvious link. Powerscourt is all about nature and being sustainable, and Cool Planet is all about that. We're always looking for things which complement what we're doing. With Cool Planet, you can have a wider impact. It's not a passive experience, and they [visitors] will make commitments [to take action on climate] when they leave. I think it brings it back down to the individual. What we'd be hoping is this will gather momentum politically, and more funding will come to the fore in helping people to make the change."

Gary O'Callaghan, Siemens

Siemens has been involved in sustainability "since before it was a thing", says Siemens CEO Gary O'Callaghan, and being involved in Cool Planet is a "simple way" to highlight its green agenda.

"We want to be seen as a thought leader supporting sustainability, and it obviously provides us with an opportunity to promote our technologies including smart cities. It's the education piece also. It will be pitched very much at schools and not just third-level education where students have already chosen their subjects."

He said that in the 1970s, the Siemens business model was "almost entirely" based on fossil fuel use. It's a different story today, and the German firm has supplied almost 400 wind turbines capable of generating 840MW of electricity in Ireland, enough to power more than 700,000 homes. Cities now are the focus.

"Seventy percent of energy is consumed in cities. A lot of things like electric vehicles, emission controls and traffic controls are going to be mainstreamed. Almost everything we're doing now in power generation is moving towards a more sustainable solution. We have distributed energy, where you can have small plants or even small groupings of plants in an industrial estate which can come together, generate electricity from renewables and utilise excess heat. We're going to see more of these microgrids or smart grids.

"It's a huge change and it's very interesting. In the past, energy supply responded to demand - if someone switched on more lights, they just produced more electricity at the source. Now, energy demand will have to follow supply where you will have to consume more energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining."

Do people get it?

"The spectrum in the customer base ranges from a significant knowledge to very little. People aren't aware of the opportunities. I don't believe it's mainstream. Generally we're going in the right direction, but there is an absolute need to accelerate that learning so the next generation coming up is completely unambiguous about the need to address this.

"The Government are doing a reasonable amount, but they will have to step up. I think over the next five to 10 years you will see people voting with their feet. I think parties will have to nail their sustainability credentials."

Liam O'Brien, Vodafone Ireland

Vodafone has some half a billion customers globally, and consumes vast quantities of power. But Ireland's Director of Strategy and External Affairs Liam O'Brien says that communications technology is also a "powerful force for social good", capable of helping societies transform to a low-carbon future.

"It's not greenwashing, communications can enhance society," he says. "As a company with almost half a billion customers in 26 countries we are a substantial consumer of energy, but we also understand that our technologies are powerful in terms of enabling energy efficiency.

"Vodafone is the world leader in the Internet of Things, and we see more and more spaces where technology can be deployed to make better use of energy including smart lighting and heating controls. For us, energy innovation and climate change is a very important societal topic. We felt Cool Planet was a great opportunity to educate, to help people understand the challenges around extreme weather, food security and water, and it's a really engaging way to bring people into this ecosystem to understand the challenges, and what they can do about it."

Vodafone and other companies will help provide solutions, and the Internet of Things provides an opportunity to take actions previously thought impossible. They include smart lighting, where cities can effectively turn on and off lighting to suit the flow of people, and where people deploy technology in the home to make better use of their energy, turning the heat on for when they need it.

"It can take a while for technologies to reach maturity. We've talked about the IoT for over a decade, and it has gone over that tipping point three or four years ago. This will only continue.

"On the awareness side, the Paris climate agreement has got a lot of attention where as a collective we have signed up to ambitions in that direction. It's easy to be critical of Government, but the obligation is on everyone. Government has its role to play, and we do too as individuals."

Indo Business

Also in Business