Sustainability and transformation plans: automotive vs heating -

Sustainability: from cars to heating

16 Apr 2019

What do vehicles and heating systems have in common? More than you might think.

Today, the automotive sector is responsible for around 12 percent of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide. This sounds like a lot, but since monitoring started in 2010, average carbon emissions per kilometre have actually decreased by 16 percent. This is thanks to massive investments in R&D around low-carbon technologies, boosted by the evolving market and global calls for a transition to a low-carbon future as recommended by the Paris Agreement. Vehicles will be soon connected, autonomous and nearly zero-emissions, supported by policies and regulations increasingly aligned to these environmental goals.

Although behind the automotive sector in terms of both technologies and stakeholder awareness, the domestic heating sector is aiming for a similar transformation. Heating is set to benefit from innovative sustainable solutions that will increase the efficiency of heat pumps, upgrade electricity networks and improve systems in major factories. The target is to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

So what can we learn by looking at the technical, market and policy aspects of the automotive scenario? RINA was selected by Energy System Catapult to find out. Taking lessons learned from the automotive industry, the aim of this innovative sustainability project was to contribute to supporting plans and investments for the decarbonisation of the heating and cooling sector.

We studied the conditions that favoured the change in the automotive paradigm, including the way stakeholders, governments, policymakers and manufacturers, as well as vehicle users, have reacted. We have also looked at patent applications, which clearly demonstrate that whenever a new policy was introduced, activity around patents increased as innovative solutions were developed across the industry.

The study has identified several key success factors that accelerated the transition process:

  • Technical achievements supported by new technologies and R&D activities;
  • Policies and proactive relationships between policymakers and representatives of associations;
  • Market opportunities such as national incentives, which can make low-carbon systems more competitive and appealing than traditional technologies;
  • Competition among manufacturers;
  • Investments in innovative and sustainable solutions.

A turning point in the automotive industry was the new stringent emissions standards that forced carmakers to increase investment in technologies. Now the change is being driven by our growing awareness of the need for a sustainable development approach to safeguard the future. By studying sectors that are already advanced in terms of transitioning to a low-carbon future, we can help companies in other sectors to transition more quickly and efficiently. This study demonstrates the value of a multidisciplinary, cross-industry approach to innovation in sustainability.

Giovanni Battista DE FRANCHI