A first quantified report on the impact of the digital sector on carbon emissions in Belgium is published by Agoria. The sector federation is counting on a very significant impact of digital technology on the reduction of CO2 emissions.
Technology helping the environment? The promise is regularly evoked in opposition to the growing carbon footprint of the sector. Agoria, the federation of the Belgian technology sector has looked into the potential of digital technologies in reducing CO2 emissions in Belgium. The first study on the issue for our territory, it lays the foundations for a strategy advocating digital technology as a contributor to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Belgian CO2 emissions will have to reach a maximum of 87 megatons by 2030 to meet the objectives set, particularly at European level. In 2019, the last year before the arrival of Covid-19, our country emitted 116.5 megatons of CO2. There is therefore a significant gap to be filled, but according to Agoria, digital technologies can contribute to this objective. “CO2 emissions will be reduced by 10.4 to 13.3 megatonnes of CO2 in 2030 thanks to the deployment of digital solutions in the four most CO2-intensive Belgian sectors”, explain the representatives of the federation, i.e. approximately ten percent of Belgium’s total emissions today.
The digital sector, which represents 2% of Belgian emissions, must not forget to make its own effort. According to Agoria estimates, the sector’s footprint would drop from 2.8 megatonnes of CO2 to 2.2 to 2.6 megatonnes in 2030 mainly thanks to the improvement of the energy efficiency of the sector, one thinks for example of the very energy-intensive data centers. But the most important part lies elsewhere. The potential of the digital sector would be above all in the solutions it can provide to reduce the emissions of other sectors.
Digital twins for industry
“We can reduce emissions by 9% for a company in the industrial sector that uses digital twins.”
Agoria has targeted 15 digital technologies or solutions that can have a significant impact based on their adoption rate. With 29% of CO2 emissions of Belgium, industry is quite logically the most important contributor. But the sector also has the greatest potential.
This is particularly the case at Takeda in Lessines, active in biotechnology, where digital twins are used. “These are visual copies that make it possible to map a production process, test it, and find the most efficient and energy-efficient processes. We can reduce emissions by 9% for a company that adopts them”, we explains Floriane de Kerchove at Agoria (see “3 questions for” below).
3 questions to Floriane de Kerchove, Senior digital advocacy advisor at Agoria
Digital technology is regularly pointed out as being an integral part of the climate problem. You seem convinced that he will be on the side of the solution?
Digital will contribute to the solution by 2030, we are convinced of that. According to our calculations, the reduction of CO2 emissions via technology can make it possible to achieve 30% of the CO2 reduction objectives by 2030. Regarding the sector itself, both Telecom operators and data centers are making efforts and the vast majority are committed to using as much renewable energy as possible. In our report, we are moreover very conservative with regard to other studies which are even more optimistic.
The study does not take into account environmental effects such as resource depletion or potential rebound effects. So aren’t the conclusions a bit optimistic?
We have actually not taken the element of resource depletion into account. We based the study on the climatic aspect. The supply of raw materials or recycling are essential elements, but this does not bias the reading of the results.
Regarding the rebound effect, it is very difficult to estimate it. We nevertheless tried by taking the worst scenario on the table which is 37%. We always arrive at a positive effect of digital where it would reduce emissions by 2.5 to 3 times more compared to its total footprint.
In your opinion, should sanctions be considered for companies that do not adopt this type of digital transformation quickly enough?
We are not for sanctions. An interesting proposal at European level is to increase the price of carbon. If this price is increased, there will be greater interest in investing in these technologies. We must work with companies and support them to implement these digital solutions.
Several Belgian companies are using digital technology to improve their energy efficiency. One of the pioneers in this field is Yazzoom. The company succeeds in reducing carbon emissions by deploying its software product, Yanomaly, in 10 power plants operated by ENGIE Electrabel. The software detects anomalies in values, trends and sensors.
In the same vein, Haulogy, Walloon software specialist for the energy sectorhas developed an active management software for the network of the energy supplier Ores which allows, via almost real-time monitoring, to integrate the production of renewable energy and to smooth production and consumption peaks to avoid waste or saturation.
“The carbon savings enabled by digital solutions will be around 5 times greater than the carbon footprint of the digital sector by 2030.”
Put end to end and applied in a maximum of companies or territories, these examples and digital solutions will be able to have an impact on Belgian CO2 emissions. According to the federation of the technological sector, the carbon savings made possible by the digital solutions presented will be approximately “5 times greater” than the carbon footprint of the digital sector by 2030. All this will obviously depend on the rate of adoption and the evolution of the impact, both of which should logically increase, of these digital solutions over the next few years.
- By 2030, the impact of digital technology on the climate will be five times more positive than its total footprint in Belgium, according to Agoria.
- Belgian CO2 emissions could be reduced by 10% in 2030 thanks to the deployment of digital solutions in the four Belgian sectors that produce the most CO2.
- In the sectors of mobility and some logisticsdigital technologies can save between 10.6 and 14.2% of the sector’s total emissions.