Guest Post / Policy Commission

Cold Energy, the Cinderella of the Sustainable Energy Debate?

Sally Uren 2

Guest blogger, Dr Sally Uren discusses the importance of the new Birmingham Energy Institute policy commission – ‘Doing Cold Smarter’ and what it hopes to achieve.

Why the new Commission on Cold is so important
As a heat wave hovers over Europe, and we reach into our refrigerators for that cool drink, we are driving an insatiable demand for cold. Cooling is energy intensive. Estimates suggest that cooling consumes up to 14% of Britain’s electricity and £5.2 billion each year is spent on energy for cold across the grid and transport.  These figures will be significantly higher in warmer countries, while in rapidly developing nations such as China and India investment in cooling is starting to boom.

The provision of cold, or cooling, is integral to modern society; without it, the supply of food, medicine and data would simply break down. Cold is also vital for many other applications including air conditioning, super-critical technologies and freezing and powdering materials for recycling and easy disposal. Yet cooling currently consumes large amounts of energy and causes a great deal of pollution.

Cold is a classic systemic challenge, yes, it is energy intensive, and yet it is definitely part of the solution to some complex sustainability challenges.  Take food waste; 30% – 50% of global food production is wasted globally, while one in eight people in the world go to bed hungry every night.  Insufficient, or often no refrigeration, contributes to these statistics.  But, but If trends in refrigerant usage continue, it has been projected that HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) would be responsible for nearly half of all global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

Compared to electricity, transport and heat, cold and cooling has received little attention in the international energy debate.  However, the energy and environmental costs associated with the need to provide cold have become evident and are predicted to increase dramatically in the years to come.

The UK needs a joined up approach on heat energy, the management of which is an even greater challenge than electrical power.

Enter the Commission on Cold
This is a new policy commission which will research new ways of providing cold in a sustainable way, specifically through a system level approach, as well as exploring the economic opportunities this new clean cold industry could present. The list of commissioners, including yours truly, can be found online here 

This policy commission will also investigate ways the UK could become a global leader in the development of new cold energy systems, the technical, economic, research and skills issues around ‘cold’ and the potential economic and environmental impacts.

The final report and recommendations will be presented to government and the public at the end of October this year.

How you can get involved
The call for written evidence is now open for the rest of this month.  Interested experts and organisations are encourage to submit written evidence,  addressing the central questions of

‘What are the economic, business and regulatory barriers to improving the resource efficiency of cooling, and what fiscal, policy and legislative changes might be required to overcome them?’

More information about the evidence gathering process or to submit a contribution can be found online here

What the Commission hopes to achieve
The commission aims to make clear recommendations for UK policy-makers on how to ‘do cold smarter’. This will involve developing a system-level approach to address demand, production and sustainable new technologies. Look at integrated energy systems, to join up not just heat, power and transport, but cold as well. The report will include a ‘roadmap’ on how this might be delivered. Additionally, the commission aspires to raise awareness of the importance of rethinking cold and demonstrate the value of investing in research and development in cold energy systems.

Which means Cinderella may get to go the ball after all, powered of course, with renewable energy.

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