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Embracing Carbon Neutral Power Production

May 20th, 2024

Commercial power consumption produces a considerable amount of the continent’s carbon emissions, whether from a manufacturing, operations or office-led perspective. To meet approaching CO2 reduction goals, Europe must streamline carbon neutral power production into its energy portfolio for it to become genuine power generation solution. 

Defining Carbon Neutral Power Production

For society to be deemed carbon neutral, net reductions of carbon emissions from fossil fuels must reach 100%. This can be done in a number of different ways, including generating power using renewables, compensating for carbon emissions generated through other methods like carbon offsetting, or by using carbon-neutral fuels like synthetic fuels such as carbon or methane. In this article, we’ll mostly focus on green energy, through renewable energy production.

The Transition to Carbon Neutrality in Power Generation

It’s vital that we bring green energy to the world’s existing power system if we’re to reach key carbon reduction milestones such as the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. To transition to carbon neutrality in power generation, we need to adopt new methods of green energy generation, such as renewable energy, which will replace existing infrastructure that generates power using fossil fuels. This transition globally requires significant amounts of investment, both financially and operationally, and power grids also need to be modernised to cope with the fluctuating power generated by renewable energy. The long-term cost efficiency of carbon neutral power generation will be addressed further on in this article.

Technologies Enabling Carbon Neutral Power

Solar  

Renewable energy costs have come down considerably, with photovoltaic being one of the fastest growing renewable generation methods. Solar energy harnesses the energy from the sun and converts it into power. Photovoltaics can be installed on commercial roofs or on flat surfaces in commercial businesses. Any excess solar energy generated as a business can be sold back to Transmission System Operators under various subsidy and export schemes, contributing an extra revenue stream to your business. 

Wind

By 2050, scientists expect that zero-carbon sources should replace virtually all fossil fuel sources. Wind generation has become a serious contender to solar power as more and more wind turbines crop up across the countryside throughout Europe. The benefit of wind turbines is that they can provide power to smaller network grids, meaning a business can use one turbine for commercial use rather than installing numerous turbines. 

Ground source heat pumps   

A departure from the previous examples of renewable energy, ground source heat pumps provide only heating for a business rather than power production. However, ground source heat pumps still help to achieve carbon neutral energy production as they can prevent the carbon emissions that would have been created via fossil-fuel generated heating from your energy generation portfolio. 

Modernising the power grid 

Renewable technologies such as solar, wind and hydro-power are not consistent sources of power generation. Unlike fossil fuels, such as coal, which generate constant sources of power when burnt continuously, renewable energy floods the grid with power when a specific source is abundantly available, for example, wind. When wind turbines receive a lot of wind, they generate power consistently, flooding the grid with power. However, when no wind is present, turbines produce no power at all. Legacy grids are not engineered to deal with such fluctuating power production, so need to be modernised to cope.

Overcoming Barriers and Embracing Carbon Neutral Power Production In Your Business

Integrating new technologies requires financial capital, which is one of the key barriers in transitioning to carbon neutral power generation.

Take the electrification of the commercial automotive industry as a parallel example - fleet owners were initially required to invest in new equipment (electric vehicles and electric chargers) to benefit from long-term cost efficiency without relying on fossil fuels, so initially, uptake was slow. As the cost of infrastructure technology and the fleet itself came down, the technology was more widely embraced. Electric vehicles have become a viable option for fleet managers, contributing to reduced carbon emissions and fuel cost savings. The carbon neutral power generation suffers the same barriers as manufacturers resist installing green energy technology to generate their own energy to power factories because of the initial out-cost to do so.

Is the investment in renewable power, either by installing power generation on your own site or by investing in green energy suppliers worth it for your business long-term? Thankfully, renewable energy costs have reduced over the last 10 years, making integrating renewable energy into your energy portfolio more realistic. Take the time to examine your company’s operational business model and determine if the cost of investing in carbon neutrality outweighs the gains. As total power generation continues to rise, you must take a look at your carbon footprint - it might make more financial sense to work out ways to reduce power generation through methods like energy-efficient lighting rather than simply replace your power needs with an alternative, green source.

Case Study of Carbon Neutral Power Initiatives: Seacourt Printing

Seacourt Printing is the UK’s most sustainable printing company, surpassing targets of carbon neutral and now a reaching carbon net positive status. It's now recognised as one of the highest scoring B Corp print and media company in the world. It employed a mix of in-house power generation, green energy purchasing and energy consumption reduction. Here is how Seacourt achieved that status:

  • Installed a photovoltaic array on the roof of its commercial building, which now supplies 15% of all total electricity consumption

  • Printers are now powered by 100% renewable power sources 

  • Bought green electricity from renewable power suppliers for more than 10 years 

  • Print on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks 

  • Uses a waterless, non-toxic technology to print 

  • Achieving status as the most sustainable SME in Europe, 2017

  • Won three Queens Awards for Sustainable Development

  • Have produced materials and guidance for other SMEs wanting to achieve similar sustainability goals

Looking to implement your own sustainability strategy?