We need to change the way we produce, the kind of energy we use, the buildings we live in, how we travel from place to place, the things we buy and the way we make our food.
With the European Green Deal, the Commission has set out an ambitious plan to transform Europe’s economy and make it the first climate neutral continent by 2050.
As we proceed with the green transition, we are also undergoing a digital transformation. New technologies are becoming more and more central in our daily lives. They allow us to do things that were unthinkable just 10 years ago and give us access to an enormous amount of knowledge.
The potential of these digital solutions to cut or avoid emissions is huge. It is estimated that today’s digital technologies, if well optimised and applied widely could reduce 15-20% of total emissions. To realise this potential, technologies have to be designed and used in a way that minimises their negative effects.
So what are scientists doing to apply these digital technologies for a greener future? Here are five ways that digital solutions are paving the way for a climate neutral Europe.
Mapping solar and wind potential on our rooftops
Transforming Europe’s energy system is a priority because energy accounts for more than 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising energy prices across Europe have made this even more urgent.
With the REPowerEU Plan, the Commission has set out measures to save energy, diversify supply, and accelerate the roll out of renewable energy, such as solar installations and wind farms.
Digital maps help countries identify the best places to put these installations, utilising the highest energy-producing potential, while minimising damage to the environment.
For example, the JRC’s ‘Photovoltaic Geographic Information System’ (PVGIS) is a digital tool that maps Europe’s solar radiation and photovoltaic system performance. Anyone, from investors to installers and individual citizens, can use the tool to assess the potential to generate solar energy from rooftops in their area.
Another example is the JRC’s Energy and Industry Geography Lab (EIGL), which displays energy, industry and infrastructure data on interactive maps. Countries can use the tool to assess renewable energy potential and find ‘go-to’ areas for renewable installations that will not damage the environment or disturb natural protected areas.
Improving industrial processes with smart technology
Digital ‘smart’ grids and smart meters can optimise the use of solar and wind energy by tracking energy flows and helping grid operators to manage the supply of energy from different sources.
Smart technology is also useful for industry – such as cement, steel and chemical producers - to be able to monitor their energy use in real time and use that information to optimise their production processes. Smart technology may also bring system-wide benefits, like higher flexibility for the integration of renewable energy. These are key, as the industrial sector must decrease its emissions by 23% by 2030 to stay on track towards carbon neutrality by 2050.
The JRC observes, simulates, tests and assesses smart energy solutions through its smart grid interoperability laboratory. It also supports policymakers in mapping low-carbon industrial technology projects in Europe and the take up of new low carbon technologies in general.
Digital tech for smart, sustainable housing
Energy use in building accounts for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. To achieve climate neutrality we need to make our homes and offices more energy efficient. More than that, our homes will become a key enabler of a sustainable energy system.
Many of us will now not only consume, but also produce energy at home, for example through installing solar panels on our roofs. With smart devices at home, consumers can play a more pro-active role, not only optimising their energy use but also supporting a reliable and efficient operation of the electricity grid.
Your dishwasher will run when energy is abundant, while your electric car’s battery might help to power your home appliances when energy is scarce.
This will not only save us money, but will also help the power grid to cope with the daily changes in the supply of energy. However, this can only work with interoperable smart appliances.
To reduce electronic waste, it will be important to monitor the footprint and durability of such devices, and avoid the design of products with planned obsolescence or low reparability.
The JRC’s Smart Grid Interoperability Laboratory helps to ensure interoperability in smart homes and communities by testing solutions and fostering the adoption of a common testing methodology. The lab complements the JRC’s work on the interoperability of smarts grids and electric vehicles.
Our homes and communities will also have to become more energy efficient. In the EU, 75% of the building stock is energy inefficient and only 0.4-1.2% of buildings are renovated annually.
The European Commission’s renovation wave strategy aims to double annual energy renovation rates in the next 10 years to enhance energy efficiency, reduce emissions and tackle energy poverty.
To support these efforts, the JRC developed the Level(s) framework to help the assessments of the sustainability of buildings. Level(s) offers indicators to measure carbon, materials, water, health, comfort and climate change impacts throughout a building’s full life cycle.
Living labs to test future mobility solutions
Imagine: You take a self-driving car with two neighbours to the local train station, ride the train to the city centre and then cycle to your office on a rented city bike, all this planned and arranged via a single app.
Service-oriented mobility models can increase the willingness of users to switch to low-carbon transport. In a system of ‘Mobility-as-a-Service’, you are able to plan your journey involving several different modes of transport, and select and pay for the service within the same mobile application.
If adopted, such a system could significantly improve the efficiency of the transport system and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and pollutions. Of course, only if many more people would prefer this system instead of using a private car.
The development of innovative mobility solutions will also be crucial to ensure that the future of transport is cleaner and more equitable than its private car-centred present.
The JRC, through its Future Mobility Solutions Living Lab provides a space for innovators to test, implement, monitor, and evaluate new and innovative mobility solutions.
For example, e-Shock, a European company, is testing its Rob.Y self-driving vehicle on rural and urban JRC test-tracks. The Rob.Y digital chassis is the most complete robotic platform for vehicles and can be combined with autonomous driving applications.
The JRC’s research site in Ispra with around 100 buildings, 36 kilometres of internal roads and 2,000 staff; provides an ideal, city-like testing environment.
Precision digital tools in support of farm productivity and emission mitigation
Climate change and environmental degradation can increase the spread of new pests and diseases, exacerbate water scarcity, reduce soil quality, and threaten biodiversity. Agriculture has to become more resilient to guarantee food security.
At the same time, the sector needs to be more sustainable, and one way of achieving that is reducing the use of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics.
Installed and operated in an optimised way, digital technologies and data-driven insights make farms more efficient and productive, and reduce their emissions through more accurate application of feed, water, energy, fertilizer and pesticides.
For example, combining data from weather forecasts and on-farm sensors, farmers can better plan their irrigation measures saving water and increasing yields.
Research and innovation is vitally important to accelerate the digital transformation in agriculture.
To support the transition, the JRC assessed based on case studies the impact of precision agriculture technology on greenhouse gas emissions and farm economics. The results show that precision agriculture can lead to emissions reductions and less pollutions, especially on larger farms. Drawing on the results of survey of farmers, the report also put forward recommendations on how to increase the uptake of these methods in the agriculture sector.
- Publication date
- 5 July 2022
- Joint Research Centre