Solutions, solutions, solutions
A contribution to EUSEW blogs by Dr Bertrand Piccard, initiator, chairman and pilot of Solar Impulse.
For as long as I can remember, climate change and environmental degradation have been framed as a problem to be confronted. It was depressing, then it was boring, and now many of us are just numb to it, even though it impacts upon the lives of millions of vulnerable people. But lately, I feel we have turned a corner.
Since 2011, when we flew the first prototype of Solar Impulse to Brussels for Green Week, much has changed. The international community has created a workable global climate agreement, renewable energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels, and we managed to fly around the world powered entirely by the sun. We are in a very different place than we were six years ago.
Furthermore, when I speak at conferences or with partners, I feel a new enthusiasm, and it’s exciting. I hear less about problems that need to be overcome, and more about opportunities and solutions. This probably explains the success of the Paris climate agreement, which allows countries greater flexibility to decide what their contributions to climate change will be. Relevant technologies have also become more accessible to a critical mass of people, many of whom can now share their ideas and visions. We have reached a tipping point.
An enabling environment…
We must now create an enabling environment for people to realise innovative ideas and expose them to real-life market and social conditions. How do we do that? Well, the theme of this year’s conference - Clean Energy for all Europeans - is more than just a target or even a slogan; it’s a chance for the continent to take a lead in modernising its economy through a clean energy transition, offering a new vision and giving hope to Europeans.
One part of this is to build capacity to produce clean energy – an excellent opportunity for European companies, who hold 40 % of all patents for renewable technologies. The other half of the equation is energy efficiency – focusing not on energy production, but on how we use it. It bodes well that it is the topmost priority for the European Commission’s energy strategy.
This – coupled with a new focus on solutions – is exciting to me and for Europe. I aim, through the Solar Impulse Foundation, to bring 1000 efficient and profitable solutions to COP 24, so as to help governments reach their goals under the Paris accord. Indeed, I have already met with the European Commission and several commissioners, including Maroš Šefčovič, Miguel Arias Cañete, Jyrki Katainen and Carlos Moedas, to discuss a partnership between us to this end. This will directly benefit EU innovators, businesses and citizens. That’s why I’m looking forward to attending this year’s Sustainable Energy Week, as it will be another excellent opportunity to meet with the people that can bring solutions to advance our energy transition.
…for energy innovation
For too long, our approach to energy has been akin to a man running a bath in a leaking tub. Yet, instead of plugging the holes, he decides to keep the tap running to maintain the water level. It sounds like an exaggeration, but unfortunately is not; we currently lose as much as half of all the energy we produce due to inefficient systems, devices and buildings. At this conference, I challenge participants to adopt a pioneering spirit as we did with Solar Impulse: question your assumptions and certitudes, show that clean technologies can go beyond what we thought possible, and focus on solutions, solutions, solutions.