Deepak Garg, Forbes Councils Member has in a Forbes INNOVATION article elaborated on building the connected energy and water future. Here it is :
Building The Connected Energy And Water Future
We have read about many versions of our planet’s future: some good, some bad, some urgent and some distant.
In all versions, collective humanity is responsible for either the downfall or the reconstruction of the planet. Collective responsibility is fascinating. How do we mobilize billions of people toward a common goal? It is equally challenging and thrilling, as grand as it sounds and as aspiring as it can be.
Thinking about today and tomorrow, I imagine the possibilities: a world where energy and water are sustainable and abundant—a world where billions are connected and empowered. And I believe this is happening. We are gradually moving toward a connected energy and water future, with utilities, smart cities and governments playing a crucial role. They are reinventing human experiences, helping people make smart decisions about optimizing energy and water use every day.
There’s no new playbook or secret mantra to this success; the digital platforms and capabilities we’ve built have brought forth a sea of change. With them, utilities worldwide are uniting people around a common goal.
Connection Is Key
By connecting people with new technology for meaningful interactions and with front-line workers to ensure better two-way communication, utilities have started to build a digital ecosystem, enabling them to meet customer expectations and improve responsiveness.
From streamlining billing and payments to being available 24/7, providing personalized omnichannel interactions, advising on programs that help in saving energy and water and giving real-time updates, customers are getting the right assistance at every step from their utilities.
On the other hand, utilities are also enabling their field workforce with digital platforms, thus providing real-time updates, predictive insights, automation and collaboration for them, establishing a direct 1-to-1 connection with the people.
This connection is the key in mobilizing the right stakeholders to achieve sustainable goals.
So, what are we looking at? Right in front of us, we see:
• Digital utilities are changing the way we work. By blending digital investments with sustainability goals, utilities are delivering measurable outcomes.
• The mesh of IoT, AI, analytics, automation and cognitive techniques is improving predictions, personalization and service delivery. This is done by enabling decentralized work and changing how utilities engage with customers and drive workforce efficiencies.
• The next-gen customer experience is here! Utilities are shifting from a static, one-way consumer relationship to one that is dynamic, context-driven and personalized.
• Power lies first in data, then assets. Utilities are developing a long-term approach to field workforce management by reevaluating what role is played by their workforce and technologies—giving more and more to front-line workers, empowering them with data insights to manage operations remotely and engage with customers on a real-time basis.
• Investment is key. To meet their ambitious plans of moving ahead, utilities are prioritizing digital-first investments, reimagining the utility-consumer relationship and restructuring operations.
We have exciting years ahead, marked by decarbonization and decentralization agendas, changing consumer behaviors, evolving expectations and mobile field workforces. These digital-first and human-centric changes deserve applause as we march ahead to a connected future.
The Future Of The Connected Ecosystem
The connected future will be seen in our smarter homes and smarter cities as we become resource savvy citizens. We, as in billions of people, will see the rapid adoption of renewables, distributed energy resources (DERs), electric vehicles (EVs) and more, and we will see our demands for new energy and water services met. In the future, connected ecosystem utilities will achieve ambitious climate targets—not just net-zero but absolute zero. They will build an intelligent and mobile workforce on the ground using the power of predictive and preventive management to meet customer needs and manage assets.
This is the version of our planet’s future that I am most excited and passionate about.
How Do We Move Forward?
It is difficult to pin down exact steps for how utilities can meet these future needs simply because goal posts are shifting, and we never know when the next disruption will occur. However, lessons that we have learned from the past provide a good reference for how we need to adapt.
Broadly, to build a connected energy and water ecosystem, we would need the following:
1. Utilities must adopt a platform mindset that transcends simple service delivery. Utilities are and will become platform businesses that offer bundled services. For example, a digital marketplace enables customers to buy efficient products. Utilities understand their customer, and when they operate as a platform, they transform the way people consume energy and water.
2. Customers and the citizens need to sit at the center of utility operations. What they need today and will need tomorrow will guide connected experiences. They need savings today, and tomorrow, that will evolve into smart home and EV management. Only a truly customer-centric company will fruitfully engage with customers to adapt to this shift.
3. Building a robust technological foundation with pilot projects in emerging areas will help utilities become more agile and innovative. This also encourages further evolution, where business leaders become tech leaders. Tech leaders will evaluate how current processes can be automated and performed intelligently and how silos can be removed, and teams will then be able to collaborate and work toward a common goal.
4. Lastly, lessons from peers and other industries are always helpful. Keeping a close tab on what other companies are doing helps in widening our perspective and avoids tunnel vision.
I am elated by how much the energy and water industry has evolved in the past couple of years. I’m eager to see where these ambitions will lead them in the coming years.
The production and release of plastics, pesticides, industrial compounds, antibiotics and other pollutants is now happening so fast and on such a large scale that it has exceeded the planetary boundary for chemical pollution, the safe limit for humanity, a new study claims.
We asked Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate at Stockholm University and one of the authors of the study, to explain what this means.
What are planetary boundaries?
In 2009, an international team of researchers identified nine planetary boundaries that maintain the remarkably stable state Earth has remained within for 10,000 years – since the dawn of civilisation.
These boundaries include greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the ozone layer, an intact biosphere and freshwater. The researchers quantified the boundaries that influence Earth’s stability and concluded in 2015 that human activity has breached four of them. Greenhouse gas emissions are pushing the global climate into a new, hotter state, species extinctions threaten the biosphere’s integrity, the conversion of forests to farmland has degraded the quality of land and industrial and agricultural processes have radically altered natural cycles of phosphorus and nitrogen.
The researchers lacked the data to quantify the boundary for chemical pollution, otherwise known as novel entities (essentially, any substances made by humans plus natural elements like heavy metals which human activity mobilises or transports at high volumes), until now. Our research suggests we have crossed this boundary and beyond the known safe operating space for humanity.
How did you discover this?
This project involved 14 authors in five countries and was led by Linn Persson, an expert in chemical pollution at the Stockholm Environment Institute. We wanted to be able to understand the consequences of taking, using and releasing novel entities on a larger scale in the face of huge gaps in our knowledge. Essentially, we wanted to go beyond the individual’s ability to experience and comprehend these things.
We investigated a set of control variables that capture several of the complexities and characteristics of the planetary boundary for chemical pollution. One of these is the trend in the production of novel entities – the volume of chemicals and plastics produced, or the share of chemicals available on the market that have data on their safety or are assessed by regulators.
Another thing we assessed was the continued trend of global emissions of these chemical substances, including plastics, into the environment. We also considered the unwanted effects of these entities on ecosystem processes by drawing on evidence of the toxicity of chemical pollution or the role of plastics in disturbing the biosphere.
When did humanity breach this limit?
It is difficult to say specifically when humanity breached the planetary boundary for chemical pollution. Unlike other boundaries, this one deals with thousands of different entities.
We know there has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is projected to triple again by 2050. Plastic production alone increased 79% between 2000 and 2015.
There are 350,000 synthetic chemicals in production globally, and only a very small fraction of these is assessed for toxicity. We know little about their cumulative effects or how they behave in a mixture. This is important, as we are all exposed to (often) small concentrations of thousands of substances over our entire lives. We are only beginning to understand the large-scale, long-term effects of this exposure.
We judged that the boundary had been transgressed because the rate at which these pollutants are appearing in the environment far exceeds the capacity of governments to assess the risk, let alone control potential problems.
What is very important to us is that this study highlights the global scale and severity of chemical pollution. Not only because of the effects of producing and releasing such huge volumes of these substances into the environment on a daily basis, but also because it puts into perspective the consequences of human activity on a geological scale. These changes, led by humans, will have persistent and cumulative effects long after we have gone and industries have stopped pumping them out.
What are some of the possible consequences of exceeding this planetary boundary?
We have observed the problems and risks associated with chemicals and plastics during their entire life cycle. Currently, this is largely linear: from extraction, to production, to use, to waste and, finally, to release into the environment.
Damage can occur at all of these stages. For example, fossil fuels are extracted by processes that can lay waste to entire habitats. These raw materials then give rise to plastics and pesticides which take lots of energy and generate lots of climate-warming gases during manufacture. They are used to wrap food or are applied to farm fields, and then they end up in the soil or in rivers and, eventually, the ocean.
Their environmental impacts might be easiest to visualise according to their effect on other planetary boundaries. Plastics are tightly connected to the climate – approximately 98% of all plastics are made from fossil fuels and will release CO₂ when burned as garbage. Chemicals and plastics both affect biodiversity by adding additional stress to already beleaguered ecosystems. Some chemicals interfere with animal hormone systems, disrupting growth, metabolism and reproduction in wildlife.
Are some parts of the world exceeding this limit more than others?
This problem is a planetary one. As I understand it, the production and release of chemical pollution is intrinsic to the global economic system. In this way, the problem is like any other major environmental issue, including climate change.
People are exposed to these chemicals everywhere, not only in the countries where they are produced. We all use these products and chemicals keep being released while we use them. We consume them and then dispose of them, though they don’t simply go away.
There is a constant flow of them, and so, the situation is becoming more and more alarming. Even as we learn more, we are also making visible the vast unknowns that remain.
Where should governments prioritise action in order to bring humanity back within the safe limit as soon as possible?
I would like to cite my colleagues here. Professor Carney Almroth of Gothenburg University in Sweden says that the world must “work towards implementing a fixed cap on chemical production and release”.
Associate Professor Sarah Cornell, my supervisor at Stockholm University, says:
“Shifting to a circular economy is really important. That means changing materials and products so they can be reused not wasted, designing chemicals and products for recycling, and much better screening of chemicals for their safety and sustainability along their whole impact pathway in the Earth system.”
We do not wish to paralyse readers with despair. Rather, we want to inspire action. We believe we are still on time to revert this situation, but for that we need urgent and ambitious action to take place at an international level.
Kevin Schembri Orland in his eNGOs’ 2021 wish list: Stronger legal, environmental protection, fossil-fuel-free vision might as well be addressing not only the specifics of Malta but the whole of the MENA region. Let us see if apart from the no so distant proximity, there are other similarities.
3 January 2021
Legislative and policy changes, including on building heights, certain changes to the constitution and the move towards a fossil fuel-free Malta are among the things environmental NGOs wish to see in Malta in the new year. Kevin Schembri Orland spoke to some of the main environmental lobby groups.
‘Many policies were designed around the needs of developers… this needs to change’ – Moviment Graffitti
Andre Callus from Moviment Graffitti mentioned three points.
The first regards planning policies. “In 2020 we issued a document titled Reforming Planning and Construction in Malta, where among other things, we listed a number of policies which need to change. As an example, we mentioned the rural policy on which a consultation was launched yet until now has not been changed, also on the policy which allows hotels in certain cases to rise as much as the developer wants, or in other circumstances where policies allow big development in areas that cannot handle it.”
He said that there were many policies that were designed and centred around the needs of developers rather than the people. These need to change, he said, “to respect the environment and the people. Right now, they do not and communities around the country face applications that threaten their quality of life all the time. Some of the applications literally speak of hundreds of apartments that will be built on one spot. These applications radically change the lives of the residents in the area and have a negative impact.”
The second point revolves around the way authorities related to environment and planning operate, which include the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority and even the Lands Authority, in the way government land is given to third parties.
“There are a number of different authorities that, right now, are not transparent and, clearly, certain people and lobby groups with a lot of money have certain control over them. Decisions are seen to be taken to aid particular interests which is undemocratic and allows space for corruption. We believe that the way these authorities take decisions needs to change. We had made suggestions in terms of how they should change, and the people who are appointed to such boards should be done through a Parliamentary process and not simply be appointed by a minister, as is the case today.”
The third point is about farmers. “We have fought many battles over farmland, the most recent one in Qormi.” He said that Infrastructure Malta does what it wants and bullies residents and farmers, “moving into their land killing their products in order to pass a road or widen them which in some cases do not even make sense.”
“Aside from damaging our environment they are also taking farmers’ land.”
“They are showing great disrespect towards such an important sector.”
All major projects should be suspended pending independent social impact and carrying capacity studies – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar
Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) Coordinator Astrid Vella spoke about the need to revise planning regulations as well as the need for pedestrian spaces to no longer be eaten up by tables and chairs.
In 2021, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) would like to see residents’ health and quality of life given their rightful importance in planning laws and decisions. “As such we urge the authorities to immediately revise planning regulations that undermine residents’ quality of life and the integrity of Maltese towns and villages, such as Annex 1 of the Design Guidelines 2015, which allows extra heights all over Malta and Gozo and the all-important Sanitary Law which was watered down to favour developers at the cost of residents’ health. Enforcement of building regulations, air and noise pollution laws is a must.”
“All major projects, tall buildings and applications for extra storeys for hotels and care homes for the elderly (which violates the National Health Strategy) should be suspended pending independent social impact and carrying capacity studies to assess localities’ ability to cope with more building in terms of population density, transport and utilities.”
She said that to make towns and villages healthier and more liveable, “we maintain that it is necessary to enact laws to forbid the destruction of old urban gardens and green spaces, enact an effective tree protection law that prevents further destruction of mature trees, and regulations preventing the demolition of unscheduled houses of heritage value. Bars, cafes and restaurants should no longer be allowed to take over public spaces/pavements with tables and chairs so as to improve the ability to walk in towns and villages.”
“Similarly, more cycling lanes and pedestrian priority areas need to be established rather than having cars and motorways taking over public spaces and even public gardens as is happening at Gżira, where the MIDI project will gobble up much of the Gżira promenade and public garden, while the Msida Creek flyover will totally destroy Msida as we know it.”
“Most importantly, the authorities should start purchasing unbuilt green spaces in urban areas, such as the site of the Razzett l-Antik in Fgura (now-destroyed) and Manoel Island, in order to convert them into public parks which are essential to residents’ physical and mental health.”
BirdLife Malta hopes that the natural environment footprint in the country does not decrease any further
BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana spoke about looking ahead towards the action being taken over Malta’s spring hunting derogation by the European Commission and also spoke about Malta’s natural environment footprint.
Sultana hopes that the government realises “that the public deserves a healthy natural environment and that the natural environment footprint in the country does not decrease any further.”
“I hope that there will not be any further use of natural habitats for the benefit of the economy. It needs to be the other way around and health must come first. I hope that Covid-19 has opened our eyes more on this issue.”
BirdLife Malta is also looking forward to understanding how the European Commission will react to the government’s replies regarding the two derogations that are now being challenged at EU level – the Spring hunting derogation and the Finch trapping for scientific research derogation, and as to how the EU Commission will proceed.
“It is unfortunate that in 2021 we will not see the government be courageous enough to take decisions in favour of birds and natural habitats and therefore we will need to rely on the European Commission to ensure that it abides by the Birds and Habitats Directive.”
Din L-Art Ħelwa will push for stronger protection of natural and urban heritage to be included in the Constitution.
Din L-Art Ħelwa’s (DLĦ) Executive President Professor Alex Torpiano spoke about the environment minister and the need for changes in the way public consultation is handled, among other things.
Torpiano said that the new environment minister (Aaron Farrugia) has been saying the right things and added that DLĦ will continue to support him to achieve environmental improvement goals as well as for possible changes to the Planning Authority that need to be done in order to save urban areas “which, at the moment are under threat.” He said however, that while DLĦ supports what Farrugia is saying he wants to change, they have not seen the changes being made yet.
He said that DLĦ will continue to push for more community participation in decisions, for better understanding of the value of our urban spaces and the importance of having green areas inside urban areas.
“We hope to convince the government and developers that granting permission to build everywhere to a maximum of five floors and higher in other places is damaging. Some areas can take it but in many, it is ruinous for the urban space, particularly if in a row of two or three storey houses one owner decides that they want to build up because policies allow it. I believe that the policies are wrong as they allow this type of activity everywhere in Malta. Safi, for example, is not the same as Qormi and Għarb is not the same as Sliema. Having the same policies apply does not make sense. We think that the minister is beginning to understand this point and is trying to find the ways with which to resolve this issue.
The DLĦ Executive President expects that, in 2021, there will be advances in the discussions revolving around Malta’s Constitution. “As DLĦ we will push for stronger protection for natural and urban heritage to be included in the Constitution. By stronger protection, I mean not just a statement – because there is such a statement already – but it is not currently enforceable. Unfortunately, it is one of those clauses which is a statement of principle but is not enforceable. In other words, civil society cannot sue the government for passing a law which is clearly damaging the environment or urban heritage. We believe that it is time for civil society to have stronger powers to prevent the damage that the government is meant to protect from. In reality, we wouldn’t need this if the institutions were doing their jobs properly. Institutions have been, over the past years, biased towards development.”
This, he said, is because development is an easy way to help the economy. He said that the GDP is a crude measurement of the economy, but it does not take into consideration other economic aspects. “For example, if the character of Gozo is lost it will impact the tourism industry and development can impact people’s quality of health. There are hidden economic aspects which people need to become more aware about.”
He hit out at the consultation processes in Malta. “The PA regularly publishes calls for comments… People submit their comments, say they do not agree, they are formally noted and then ignored. Unfortunately, it has been inculcated in us that this is the way things have to be done, but this is not true as other countries have found systems whereby the community truly decides what is of benefit for the community and ultimately it is the constitution that must protect this right.”
‘A vision for a fossil fuel-free Malta must be drawn up’ – Friends of the Earth Malta
Friends of the Earth Malta Director Martin Galea De Giovanni spoke of the vision of a fossil fuel-free Malta, the wish to renationalise the energy sector, and the implementation of waste reduction measures.
He said that 2020 will be remembered as the year the world hit pause on our daily lives and economies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Friends of the Earth Malta would like to see a green and just post-Covid-19 recovery, both on a national and European scale. We must ensure that the economy we build back is more resilient, fairer, and less destructive to our planet. This is the right moment for the government to support citizens at a time when many are already struggling to pay their bills. Instead of supporting big businesses, future economic stimulus packages could help finance renewable energy support schemes and make homes more energy efficient.”
A vision for a fossil fuel-free Malta must be drawn up, researched, and plans for a fossil fuel-free Malta put in place, he said. “Ensure implementation of the current Climate Action Act (2015). Start the process to review the Act in order to make it more ambitious in a way to reflect the current reality of a climate emergency. A climate change adaptation strategy should be put in place, given inevitable climate effects in the coming decades even if all emissions were to stop tomorrow.”
In terms of waste management, FoE is hoping to see the implementation of waste reduction measures, such as the single use plastic ban which has been rolled out as of 1st of January 2021 and the introduction of the deposit-refund scheme for beverage containers. “We encourage similar initiatives which reduce the scale of the waste problem rather than promote unsustainable consumption.”
The government must shift towards agro-ecology and food sovereignty, he said. “We’ll be continuing our work together with other NGOs coming together from across the whole European Union to call for bee-friendly farming. With our European Citizens’ Initiative, we are calling on the European Commission to support an agricultural model that allows farmers and biodiversity to thrive in harmony.”
“We need to protect nature and green spaces and ensure people have access to them, especially within our densely populated urban environment. We need protection of mature trees – not just on paper. Although planting more trees is a positive initiative, let us not delude ourselves into believing that planting saplings have the same positive benefits for our environment and wellbeing as mature trees. The same applies for replacing trees from urban environments and replanting them away from communities.”
FoE Malta also believes that there can be no environmental justice without proper and fair democratic institutions and structures. “This is the right time for people to say no in response to the many decades of having politicians from both PN and PL parties in government roll out the red carpet to dubious tycoons, autocratic leaders and tax evaders. The value systems brought about by politicians and their ‘as long as the economy is fine anything goes’ mantra have now led to some of the biggest environmental and social injustices suffered by the country.”
Friends of the Earth Malta demands that all national institutions “be freed from political manipulation and thus serve the public interest rather than politicians and big business. All large tenders and planning applications that were dished out over the past years must be investigated by an independent authority. We also demand that national services such as the power station be renationalized in the interest of the general public.”
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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