We need to change the way we produce, the type of energy we use, the buildings we live in, the way we move from place to place, the things we buy and the way we manufacture 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 go green, we are also undergoing a digital transformation. New technologies occupy an increasingly central place in our daily lives. They allow us to do things that were unthinkable just 10 years ago and give us access to a huge amount of knowledge.
The potential for these digital solutions to reduce or avoid emissions is enormous. It is estimated that today’s digital technologies, if properly optimized and widely applied, could reduce total emissions by 15-20%. To realize this potential, technologies must be designed and used in a way that minimizes their negative effects.
So what are scientists doing to apply these digital technologies for a greener future? Here are five ways digital solutions are paving the way to a climate-neutral Europe.
Map the solar and wind potential on our roofs
Transforming the European energy system is a priority as energy accounts for over 75% of EU 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 defined measures to save energy, diversify supply and accelerate the deployment of renewable energies, such as solar installations and wind farms.
The digital maps help countries identify the best places to install these facilities, using the highest potential for energy production, while minimizing damage to the environment.
For example, the JRC’s ‘Photovoltaic Geographical Information System’ (PVGIS) is a digital tool that maps solar radiation and the performance of photovoltaic systems in Europe. Anyone, from investors to installers and individuals, can use the tool to assess the potential for solar power generation from rooftops in their area..
Another example is the JRC’s Energy and Industry Geography Laboratory (EIGL), which displays energy, industry and infrastructure data on interactive maps. Countries can use the tool to assess renewable energy potential and find benchmark areas for renewable energy installations that will not damage the environment or disturb protected natural areas.
Improving industrial processes with smart technology
Digital “smart” grids and smart meters can optimize the use of solar and wind energy by tracking energy flows and helping grid operators manage energy supply from different sources.
Smart technology is also useful for industry – such as cement, steel and chemical producers – to be able to monitor their energy consumption in real time and use this information to optimize their production processes. Smart technology can also bring system-wide benefits, such as greater flexibility for integrating renewables. These are essential, as the industrial sector must reduce its emissions by 23% by 2030 to stay on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.
The JRC observes, simulates, tests and evaluates smart energy solutions through its Smart Grid Interoperability Laboratory. It also helps policymakers map low-carbon industrial technology projects in Europe and the uptake of new low-carbon technologies in general.
Digital technology for smart and sustainable housing
Energy consumption in buildings 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 by installing solar panels on our roofs. With smart home devices, consumers can take a more proactive role, not only optimizing their energy consumption, but also supporting reliable and efficient operation of the electrical grid.
Your dishwasher will work when power is plentiful, while your electric car battery could help power your appliances when power is scarce.
This will not only save us money, but will also help the power grid cope with daily changes in energy supply. However, it can only work with interoperable smart devices.
To reduce e-waste, it will be important to monitor the footprint and durability of these devices, and avoid designing products with planned obsolescence or poor repairability.
The JRC’s Smart Grid Interoperability Lab helps ensure interoperability in smart homes and communities by testing solutions and promoting the adoption of a common testing methodology. The laboratory complements the JRC’s work on the interoperability of smart grids and electric vehicles.
Watch our video if you want to learn more about our interoperability lab.
Our homes and communities will also need 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 each year.
The European Commission’s Renovation Wave Strategy aims to double annual energy renovation rates over the next 10 years to improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions and tackle energy poverty.
To support these efforts, the JRC has developed the Level(s) framework to facilitate building sustainability assessments. Level(s) offers indicators to measure carbon, materials, water, health, comfort and climate change impacts throughout a building’s life cycle.
Living laboratories to test future mobility solutions
Imagine: you take a self-driving car with two neighbors to the local train station, take the train downtown, then pedal to your office on a rented city bike, all planned and organized through a single app .
Service-oriented mobility models can increase users’ willingness to switch to low-carbon transport. In a ‘Mobility-as-a-Service’ system, you can plan your trip involving several different modes of transport, select and pay for the service within the same mobile application.
If adopted, such a system could considerably improve the efficiency of the transport system and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Of course, only if many more people 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 fairer than its car-centric present.
The JRC, through its Future Mobility Solutions Living Lab, provides space for innovators to test, implement, monitor and evaluate new and innovative mobility solutions.
Our Future Mobility Solutions Living Lab helps innovators develop self-driving cars and other new mobility solutions.
For example, e-Shock, a European company, is testing its Rob.Y autonomous vehicle on JRC rural and urban 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 research site in Ispra with approximately 100 buildings, 36 kilometers of internal roads and 2,000 employees; provides an ideal, city-like testing environment.
Precision digital tools in support of agricultural productivity and emissions 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 must become more resilient to ensure food security.
At the same time, the sector must be more sustainable, and one of the ways to achieve this is to reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics.
Installed and operated in an optimized manner, digital technologies and data-driven information make farms more efficient and productive, and reduce their emissions through more precise application of food, water, energy, fertilizers and pesticides.
For example, by combining data from weather forecasts and on-farm sensors, farmers can better plan their irrigation measures, saving water and increasing yields.
Research and innovation are of vital importance to accelerate the digital transformation of agriculture.
To support the transition, the JRC assessed, on the basis of case studies, the impact of precision farming technology on greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural economics. The results show that precision agriculture can lead to reduced emissions and less pollution, especially on large farms. Based on the results of a survey of farmers, the report also made recommendations on how to increase the adoption of these methods in the agricultural sector.