Fresh opportunities to decarbonise energy sector post COVID-19


Has COVID-19 forever changed the way we live our lives, and will our new habits add up to big shifts in the energy sector? These are the questions addressed by consulting firm GHD and research company Sapio Research in a survey of 8,041 consumers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Despite the world’s biggest economies including the US, China and Europe, which are also the world’s largest carbon emitters, setting up ambitious climate change goals, studies are indicating that the pledges made are not enough to meet climate action targets set under the Paris Agreement. With the pandemic changing the way we are consuming energy and emitting carbon, how has this impacted climate change mitigation?

The online survey found that:

  • More than half of citizens in Canada and the US believe that their governments are not doing enough to achieve 2050 net-zero targets.
  • Only 42% of US and 47% of Canadian consumers believe governments are meeting their responsibilities to achieve net zero by 2050. There is also a low level of confidence in society (43% US/41% Canada) and businesses (42% US/38% Canada) to meet this goal.
  • More than ever, consumers are now aware of the environment and are focused on sustainability. Consumers are also willing to change their habits and ensure their activities do not harm the environment.
  • Up to 86% of Americans and 87% of Canadians agree that we all have a responsibility to help the planet become more sustainable.
  • Respondents in the US (56%) and Canada (55%) are looking for their local government to prioritise greener public transportation over personal transportation investments.
  • They also have high expectations for the brands they support, with 64% of respondents in the US and 67% in Canada saying green issues will be an important consideration when determining which brands to buy goods/services from following the pandemic.
  • 32% of both Americans and Canadians want to move their homes and live in an environment with cleaner air.
  • 30% of respondents in the US and 34% in Canada cited the desire to move to have more access to nature.

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Dr. Tej Gidda, future energy global leader at GHD, said: “The global shutdown has changed consumers’ environmental consciousness and puts their demand for greener lifestyle choices – and the clean energy transition already underway – into overdrive. If we are to make a successful shift to net zero, it is crucial the public and private sectors work together with consumers to shape a joint vision for how our world needs to operate. The more we commit to the transition and invest in greener technologies and lifestyles, the more momentum will build.”

Transport electrification and sustainability

The number of consumers willing to use smart mobility continue to increase compared to previous years.

  • 16% of US respondents and 7% of Canadian respondents already drive a hybrid/plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle.
  • That number is expected to grow, with nearly half of Americans (45%) and Canadians (46%) considering an EV purchase in the next five years.

However, with the lack of adequate charging infrastructure expected to continue hindering the growth of the EVs market in the coming years, consumers have highlighted their concern around this issue.

  • 39% of US respondents are concerned they will not be able to access reliable charging infrastructure locally and 28% are worried they will not be able to install a charger at home.
  • Amongst Canadians, that concern is even greater, with 42% concerned about access to local charging infrastructure and 35% apprehensive about their ability to install a charger at home.

Maria Lehman, GHD’s US infrastructure leader, adds: “With 75% of US and 71% of Canadian respondents saying they’ll travel by car the same amount or more as before the pandemic, increasing the use of EVs will be critical to helping lower transportation emissions.

“President Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for a $174 billion investment in EVs and charging infrastructure, and in the past year, the Canadian government and auto manufacturers have announced billions of dollars of stimulus investments to transition to EVs. While this is an important step, further EV adoption will take continued partnerships and radical collaboration between industry and government in both countries.”

Working from home

With an increasing number of consumers stating that they expect to continue working from home, energy consumption patterns are projected to differ from pre-pandemic levels.

  • Going forward, 37% of U.S. and 36% of Canadian respondents expect to work from home more than they did before the pandemic.
  • Residents of both countries expect to spend an average of three hours or more online each day.

Greg Carli, sustainability, resilience & ESG advisory leader at GHD, reiterates: “The shifting workplace dynamics will permanently change how we think about everything – from transportation and digital infrastructure to how we configure our cities and office spaces.

“These changes will significantly impact how the energy sector distributes and how energy is consumed over a 24-hour period to respond to growing requirements for lighting and consuming more data at home, as well as supporting domestic cooling systems in the summer and heating poorly insulated homes every day throughout the colder months. The challenge for businesses and governments will be to quickly adapt and transition to a re-imagined work and energy model that sustainably meets these new needs.”

GHD says the change in how people will work will affect the way communities generate, distribute and consume energy and how EV infrastructure is deployed. However, governments, businesses, and consumers need to commit to the transition to clean resources now through implementing strategies rather than just planning them.

The report is available for download.