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In an era where concerns are growing about global warming, society must look at greener alternatives to fossil fuels. Sector coupling could provide the catalyst for this change – from transportation to manufacturing and heating homes. So, what is sector coupling and how does it work?
Sector coupling is the practice of powering machines and devices that would typically rely on fossil fuels with electricity instead. While many countries use fossil fuels to generate electricity, renewable sources, such as wind and solar energy, provide a sustainable alternative that could reduce environmental impact.
The path to creating an “all-electric world”
The term sector coupling refers to sharing energy between various sectors. Wind energy presents huge opportunities for becoming greener, as it is an inexhaustible and a clean source of power. The ultimate aim is to create an “all-electric world.” Simply put, this concept means powering the majority of our society with clean electricity to reduce environmental impact.
Let’s take a look at the key areas where sector coupling could make a real difference.
This is a key area where there is plenty of potential for sector coupling. We are already seeing electric cars rise in prominence throughout the world, highlighted by the success of companies like Tesla in recent years.
Moreover, Britain, France, India, and Norway are all planning to completely replace gas and diesel cars with electric vehicles in the future – showing that the transition is well underway. This is good news for sector coupling because for the concept to be viable, electrically powered vehicles are a must.
This change could have huge implications for reducing pollution by minimizing the level of emissions. At present, around 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions come from transportation. If future vehicles are powered with wind energy or other renewables, this figure will drop dramatically, and in turn help tackle the issue of global warming and many health issues caused by poor air quality in big cities.
Manufacturing is responsible for a significant portion of the world’s emissions – approximately 12 percent. This transition is less complex compared to other sectors. Many of machines are already powered by electricity, and the switch to renewables is completely viable. The challenge is making this renewable energy available. This requires investment in grid technology and connections that would make green energy readily available to manufacturing facilities.
This transformation is already happening. 3M announced in February 2019 that it was aiming to power all of its global facilities with renewable energy. Novo Nordisk also committed to being completely powered by renewables as soon as 2020. Novo will actually be installing its own renewable sources, but this clearly shows the manufacturing sector’s shift towards clean energy, where sector coupling could play an influential role.
Millions of households across the world rely on heating. In colder climates, it is an absolute necessity. However, gas is frequently used – contributing heavily to man-made global emissions. This model is not viable in the long term. Governments and authorities require an alternative approach to provide heating that doesn’t damage the environment so heavily.
The German government’s target for the building sector is to reduce heat consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and greenhouse gas emissions by 67 percent by 2030.
Via power-to-heat pumps, people can power houses in an environmentally friendly manner. Not only do these systems produce less emissions than conventional heating methods, they also run on electricity. Other electric applications, such as boilers, are also becoming more common. As renewable energy production increases, sector coupling will become more established.
Similar to transportation, agriculture predominantly uses vehicles and machinery powered by fossil fuels. Once again, there is a simple solution: green technology. Agriculture is, however, somewhat behind in terms of the energy transition. The main issues halting progress in this sector are lack of knowledge and engagement with the energy sector and fears surrounding profitability.
Despite this, there is plenty of potential for sector coupling to become prominent in farming, with companies releasing electric agriculture machinery. Once sector coupling becomes more widespread throughout society, it is likely that farming will follow suit.
There are still challenges to overcome before the concept of sector coupling becomes commonplace. Technology that supports sector coupling and an all-electric world are required to make this vision a reality. Investment will likely be needed by politicians, business executives, and end users alike. Grids also must be available and set up to support various sectors with power when they need it.
Nonetheless, many regions from Europe to Asia and the Americas are setting targets and putting plans in place for decarbonization. A prime example of this is what is known as the energy transition in Germany. How long do you think it will be before we see an all-electric world?