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Lighting the way to a brighter future

HSBC and the Climate Partnership are coming up with ways to help us all live a greener life. Climate Change by Jackie Whitelaw.

London Mayor Boris Johnson last week announced plans to ensure 100,000 electric cars will be used in London - 5% of the total. They will come with 25,000 electric charging spaces in London by 2015.    

The problem with fullscale conversion to electric cars in cities however is that this would demand extra power to be generated to make the cars run. Unless you can fundamentally rethink how you power cities and create some spare capacity for the electric cars to pull on.    

Baby steps, but pressure group come charity the Climate Group is working with the HSBC Climate Partnership to do just that.    

There’s a big opportunity to reduce energy use with LED lighting

According to Climate Group’s corporate partnership manager Bjorn Roberts the place to start is with how cities are lit and the potential for a full conversion to low energy LED lighting outdoors. As an example, Electrical manufacturer GE has estimated that simply switching traffic lights to LED will save 30% of energy.    

“There’s a big opportunity to reduce energy use with LED lighting,” says Roberts. Conventional lighting – domestic and public – is a big contributor to emissions in cities. “But LED is innovative technology and there’s a big cost to a full scale conversion. How do you finance it and scale up a city budget to cope?”    

Apart from reducing emissions with the lighting itself there would be a big associated benefit. “If you use LED you take a lot of pressure off the grid at night, that would allow you to think about a smart grid to allow electric vehicles to recharge at night,” he says. HSBC was a founder member of the Climate Group back in 2004. The group describes itself as: “An independent, not for profit organisation working internationally with government and business leaders to advance smart policies and technologies to cut global emissions and accelerate a low carbon economy.” Companies and city authorities form the bulk of its membership.    

In 2007 HSBC started its own Climate Partnership and one of the key strands of this is cities as that is where two thirds of the worlds expanding population will be living in 20 years’ time. It is working with the Climate Group and five international cities – New York, London, Mumbai, Shanghai and Hong Kong – to find technologies to make cities more sustainable.    

“The approach is ‘here’s some technology that needs to be scaled up and we look to our networks to make an impressive contribution to that scaling up’,” Roberts explains.    

The starting point for LED city lighting is Shanghai which is committed to a large scale trial to give evidence of how the lighting can perform. There are also discussions on going with New York and London.    

In terms of funding the hope seems to be that green private finance deals will come to the rescue. “When the upfront costs are prohibitive for city budgets, but there is payback over the years, we need innovative finance packages,” Roberts says.    

To help encourage banks and other investors to sign up for more financial innovation the Climate Group last year launched its Climate Principles in December. These are similar to the Equator Principles for ethical social investing that most banks now support, but relate obviously to projects that help and do not harm the climate. “The principles are aspirations, for instance investing in clean technology,” says Roberts.    

“The next stage is to make them bite a bit and work out how signatories will measure their stated aspirations – maybe by lending money at a better rate. We have done the research and know that there is a big reputational benefit to doing this; consumers want to feel that what they buy is climate friendly and the businesses they buy from and work for are climate friendly,” Roberts says.  

6.7bn

world population 2008

9bn

predicted world population by 2050

66%

of population living in cities by 2030

70%

of manmade green house gases produced in cities.

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