Chris Guerin, CEO of Nexans, says the major player in global electrification is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. Here he outlines his plans to achieve this and the challenges around moving global manufacturing towards a sustainable future
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By 2050, Europe intends to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent. How ambitious is this target and to what extent is the growing global demand for electricity both an opportunity and a risk?
If all the stakeholders are aware of their responsibility, then Europe can achieve these targets. As a global pure electrification player, we know sustainable electricity can be the first asset for decarbonation. To produce the electricity of tomorrow, the new world of electricity needs to be renewable, clean and circular. It must also cater to an inevitable rapid increase in global electricity demand, which is expected to rise by more than 40 per cent over the next 20 years.
I see immense potential for electrification, as the global energy transition will concern the entire value chain, from production to distribution and usage of electricity. Electricity will replace petrol and diesel as fuel for road vehicles, replace the oil and gas we burn for heating and lighting and more, and this is incredibly exciting.
However, there are challenges that we must overcome. As renewables become the primary source of electricity, generation is becoming more decentralised, with large-scale fossil-fuel plant being replaced by wind and solar farms. That means electricity distribution networks have to change. They must evolve to handle more complex, multi-directional power flows, while maintain reliability and continuity of supply. The infrastructures of the networks also need to be modernised and secure to support such a change.
When it comes to electrification, which sectors will impact the climate change agenda the most?
We cannot curb emissions without electrifying transport. Tomorrow’s vehicles will be electric and there will be millions of them. Even in the short term, numbers are expected to rise rapidly with thirteen million zero and low-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, up from fewer than one million today. I am excited to see such a rapid change in public opinion; our recent survey found that more than two thirds of UK respondents support the use of electric vehicles.
Similarly, heating is the single biggest source of domestic energy demand and more than 50 per cent of Europeans depend directly on burning gas, oil or coal to keep their homes, factories and public buildings warm. I believe it is imperative that the majority of indoor heating is provided without the help of carbon by 2050 and this means moving more than 100 million homes to electricity.
In September, you organised a Paris Climate Day on sustainable electrification. What were the main takeaways?
I am fortunate to be in a position where I can enact direct change. That’s why I decided to host our first Climate Day and bring together many parties to address the challenges around sustainable electrification.
Our Climate Day took place on September 22 in Paris and we took the opportunity to announce our commitment to going carbon neutral by 2030 and the steps we will take to get there. We also presented the results of our survey on public opinion towards climate change measures and engaged in productive debates and began to structure our collective thinking around responses to the climate crisis.
The discussions revealed many challenges we need to address to succeed. Firstly, young people and emerging countries are the most impacted by climate change, but are less able to enact change to fight global warming. Secondly, the regulatory framework is not currently harmonised and carbon prices vary between different regions around the world. Furthermore, investments in infrastructure renewal to secure supply are low. Finally, the network is not configured to support these changes.
What did you learn from the climate change survey Nexans conducted in the UK? How has the coronavirus pandemic influenced peoples’ perceptions of climate change?
I believe industry must work hand in hand with governments and the public to overcome a challenge as immense as global climate change. Fortunately, our survey of the UK public found people are willing and eager to play their part.
A significant majority (84.2 per cent) agree the UK’s post-pandemic economic stimulus package should be climate-friendly. More than 80 per cent support installing wind turbines on land and offshore, and 84.9 per cent support creation of new solar panel fields as part of the country’s shift to renewable energy sources.
How does Nexans’ pledge to go carbon neutral strike the balance of being both ambitious and achievable?
Our mission is to design and drive the new world of electrification: sustainable, renewable, valuable. We will hold ourselves accountable, be transparent in our aims, set targets, ensure the whole company is on board and make commitments in line with our main values.
Some of the steps we are taking are to reduce our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 4.2 per cent every year, recycle 100 per cent of production waste and fully dedicate research and development (R&D) to energy efficiency and energy transition. These are ambitious, yet realistic, goals and I am confident that, with the full backing of our employees and customers, we can achieve them.
Why is Nexans aiming for carbon neutrality 20 years ahead of the official 2050 target?
We believe bold actions are necessary today and we cannot delay. In light of the commitment set out by the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement (COP21) to set a limit of 1.5C for global warming by 2030, Nexans is more committed than ever to taking concrete action to fight global climate change. I also support these rapid efforts as a challenge and inspiration to other companies. I am confident that Nexans will make it.
How is climate change being integrated into your company culture?
Our carbon neutrality efforts shape everything we do at Nexans, from manufacturing to R&D, sourcing and daily operations. We understand our actions have an impact on the climate and every one of us is fully invested in making immediate changes to ensure a sustainable future. We now manage Nexans by converging together the 3Ps: people, planet and profit. By mixing these, we ensure no project contributes to global warming.
The world is changing and we are keen to meet this century’s challenges with sustainable solutions
The world is changing and we are keen to meet this century’s challenges with sustainable solutions. We are fully committed to delivering everyday benefit to people and the economy, and I sincerely believe this doesn’t need to come at the expense of our planet.