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Social Change on the Road to Net-Zero

Power distribution
02 August 2021 | Updated 03 August 2021

To deliver true decarbonisation we need a varied, unified choice of secure, accessible and affordable fuel sources – these also need to be internationally identified and agreed, says Chris Goggin of Rinnai.

ImageWhen the manual and logistical reality of an energy transition period begins, then a change in attitude and behaviour from the consumer will be necessary for the success of achieving net-zero.

Domestic and commercial energy supply, production, storage, and distribution will fundamentally have to change and the effects of which will require the end-user to change their attitudes and behaviour towards their own energy appliances and sources. Cleanly sourced and affordable domestic energy is happening now, and it demonstrates that science and industry have commercial answers to combat any possible justification of utilising fossil fuels. There is a constant trickle of new developments and investments in hydrogen – one of the latest is from Centrica, which is ready to put £1.6bn of investment into a hydrogen storage site just off the North Sea coast of Yorkshire. It could create 3-4,000 jobs during construction and store hydrogen instead of methane.

Picture, right: Chris Goggin, Rinnai.


Sustainable Development for Residential and Commercial Heating


At the smallest end of the scale for societal change, all products and systems delivering heating and hot water will need to include affordable whole-life cycle costings along with a host of other features – such as easy installation and operation at maximum overall engineering and economic efficiency. There is a considerable move by major manufacturers towards the development of products that will achieve zero emissions but with maximum total efficiency.

In layman's terms this means that a product system for domestic heating and hot water and for commercial heating must be designed and installed so that it is constantly working at max efficiency for the longest possible time, with no built-in obsolescence. End users should be persuaded to give preference to those manufacturers with a wide variance of modulations and a track record of innovation. Already there are several noted manufacturers offering hydrogen-ready products and systems.

Along with this, we must quickly accept the need for societal change as a beneficial inevitability. It will become constant and does not have to be treated with trepidation. Societal change acts like gravity in flowing down to the individual and often happens in times of social pressure or when new technology is introduced. The effect on a personal routine that societal change demands soon dissipates as new practises and benefits change attitudes.


Social Shifts in Global Progress


WWII, global computerisation, and the current COVID-19 pandemic are three notable examples of societal change within the last 100 years. All three have imposed restrictions on human behaviour or have required widespread society to adopt alternative circular methods and adapt commercial customs.

WWII was responsible for almost 50 million deaths, saw multiple cities entirely levelled and millions across the European continent in camps with refugee status. In Britain, throughout the Blitz on London, society adapted to extreme hardship by adopting different habits and accepting government safety advice. Rationing, military conscription, blackouts and severe centralised control of every facet of everyone’s life were imposed and accepted by the population, demonstrating society’s ability to modify its behaviour in challenging circumstances.

The task of global computerisation can be considered another instance of societal change. Before the introduction of computers office culture was markedly different to a recent perspective.

Paper was consumed in abundance and that meant forest clearances. All things visual - graphs, charts and presentations - had to be cranked out on paper having been either hand-drawn or typewritten, soaking up countless hours of manpower, time and money.

Workplace communication before computers was, by today’s standards, slow, inefficient, and wholly reliant on the telephone, the typewriter and the filing cabinet. As computers have now been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the global work force it is evident that societal change has been accelerated by technology. Communication is possible anytime, anywhere and on a wide selection of platforms.

Computerisation has also impacted working culture by introducing flexibility to working hours away from office environments, allowing for a degree of balance between work and home life.

Another example of societal change is the current COVID-19 pandemic which has imposed large restrictions on usual commercial and domestic activity. Due to the risk of infection transmission, large sections of society have had to assume new routines structured around health and safety issues.


Post-Pandemic Recovery


The international economy has suffered. Social life had been paused. COVID-19 has limited domestic and commercial life and directed global attention towards presenting workable solutions.   

Functioning hospitals were constructed within a fortnight, a vaccine produced and distributed in a record time scale and billions across the world obeyed lockdown rules. Widespread health and safety constraints that reduced financial income have been introduced and accepted by consumers and traders alike. In all three examples the temporary discomfort caused by societal change has been minimum in comparison to the benefits that change brings.

Societal change is necessary in terms of the additional social experience that is gained which ultimately enhances human knowledge. Owing to societal change future generations will be more advanced technically and medically due to recent progress. Social change and the ensuing adaptation are vital to human development.

It is evident that societal change is a healthy habit. Without progress there would be no NHS, education system, sporting facilities, computers, internet and global communication. Although a temporary nuisance, the refinement of social structure is constantly required. History demonstrates that human improvement begins with social change. If we all work together towards a common goal it is inevitable we will get there quicker – united we stand and succeed, yet divided we coast along, risking a pace too slow to mitigate our obstacles.


Picture: electricity distribution from a power plant.

Article written by Chris Goggin | Published 02 August 2021


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