Ed’s note: The modern energy system and the circular economy


In March this year, the European Commission released its new Circular Economy Action Plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. The aim is to encourage sustainable use of resources, reduce waste and build a “climate-neutral, resource-efficient and competitive economy.”

The plan proposes a number of initiatives to achieve the above, including improving product durability and reparability, utilising more recycled contents in production, restricting single-use products and my personal favourite “incentivising product-as-a-service or other models where producers keep the ownership of the product or the responsibility for its performance throughout its lifecycle.”

Related content:
Read more about the circular economy
New Enel report becomes first to measure circular economy in Europe

Enel, along with the ENEL Foundation released a report, entitled Circular Europe: How to successfully manage the transition from a linear to a circular world in September. In this report, the circular economy is assessed across four pillars: Sustainable inputs, end of life, the extension of useful life and increased intensity of use. All of which means we need to produce sustainably, dispose of sustainably, and move away from a ‘use and dispose of’ economy by increasing life span and reducing single-use products.

All of this sounds wonderful! So it got me wondering what the obstacles are to implementing a global or even just a widespread circular economy. There are a few:

Doubt as to whether is it achievable. That’s a good question and one that is likely never going to be 100% achievable all things considered. Apparently, the EU has set long term recycling objectives up to 70%, the remaining 30% being considered as non-recyclable materials.

How desirable is it? That’s a hard one to quantify – in a world in which we change our mobile phones every two years and computers are effectively redundant by the time they hit the shelves, innovation is king. Would it make sense to rethink how products are designed so as to make them modular in some way and upgradable in order to keep up with innovations?

Contradictory. This applies specifically to things such as solar panels. These utilise scarce resources. The more we rely on them, the quicker we use up those scarce resources! How do we design so that re-use of as many of these scarce resources is possible?

All of the above said, and despite the fact that there are many regulatory, legal and standards-based frameworks to be developed and refined, there is something to be said about the concept. And there seems to be considerable support for the move. According to Enel’s report: “95% of the 300 European business leaders [which participated in a survey] consider the shift from linear to circular models a strategic choice for their company.” Many believe that it will offer an advantage over competitors – if (and it’s an important ‘if’) they can get on top of things like value creation, development of relevant skills and/or understanding the production chain.

95% of the 300 European business leaders consider the shift from linear to circular models a strategic choice for their company

What role do you see the power sector playing in the circular economy? What are the implications for the use of batteries for storage and in electric vehicles? How much of the energy system can be converted to renewable sources and how is the impact of fossil fuels mitigated? How can we utilise by-products from industrial processes to improve the efficiency of the energy sector through cogeneration or the utilisation of storage?

Do you have any additional thoughts on the role of the circular economy and energy? We’d love to hear what you think about it’s achievability, practicality or even just how you’d feel about products that are made to last a lifetime. Share your thoughts with us via editorial@smart-energy.com or comment on our LinkedIn post.

Wishing you a sustainable, circular week!

Until next time