Editor’s comment: Here comes the sun…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

03 September 2022

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

As we cover Energy in this month’s EPDT, when I sat down in sunny August to write this month’s column, I thought once again about how central engineers are to tackling the grand challenges facing society...

A version of this editorial leader was originally featured in the September 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

As the world confronts the climate crisis, governments are setting more aggressive Net Zero targets. And with the Russia-Ukraine war driving fears around both energy security and the spiraling cost of living, they are also trying to figure out how to accelerate the transition from a traditional fossil fuel dominated, supply-centric energy model to a cleaner, smarter consumer-centric system, with diverse renewables at its heart.

Meanwhile, Europe has endured extreme heatwaves again this summer – with parts of it literally on fire. In the run-up to my first holiday in close to 3 years (after the pandemic put paid to planned family trips to France and Cornwall), a much-needed July getaway to Malta, the UK was as hot as most Mediterranean islands. Indeed, despite persistent sunshine and stifling temperatures on Malta making it hard to do much beyond sit beside the pool with a book and an ice cream, temperatures back at home remained virtually as high – sometimes even higher – than those locally.

The day we landed back home, the UK recorded its highest-ever temperature of 40.2°C at London Heathrow; and driving home, we saw two ‘wildfires’ at the side of the M25 – something I can’t ever recall seeing before. As The Beatles said in 1969, Here Comes the Sun – but this time, it ain’t alright! As well as fires, this unprecedented peak resulted in dangerously hot, ill-equipped homes, school closures and disruptions to transport infrastructure and services, plus increased pressure on emergency services.

The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, in February 2022, reiterated that climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet, stating starkly: “Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks”. The Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, says that heatwaves in the UK are now “30 times more likely to happen due to climate change”, not to mention rising sea levels and flooding. Both organisations warn that such extreme weather conditions can cause damage to buildings and infrastructure, disrupt transport and agriculture, and increase risks to public health – saying that businesses and government must plan for adaptation around the changing climate.

As I’ve said before, once political and economic will is aligned, then it will largely be down to engineers (and scientists) to come up with the solutions to these problems. The STEM community remains vital to researching, designing, engineering, building and maintaining the technologies needed to address (and deal with the consequences of) climate change – ideally without adversely impacting our economic wellbeing and quality of life.

Of course, this must include electronics, as the proliferation of connectivity, smart devices and the vast data centres that power them could consume more than 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, producing >5% of total global carbon emissions – more than aviation, shipping or any single country other than the US, China or India.

Encouragingly, features in this month’s issue show engineers (including those of an electronics design persuasion) are thinking hard about sustainability, producing more energy efficient devices, that can not only help us monitor and address energy usage concerns, but are also designed for the circular economy to reduce e-waste.

EPDT's September 2022 issue also contains features on Embedded technologies and Energy applications, plus the latest edition of EPDT's Electronics Outsourcing supplement, covering the world of contract manufacturing & EMS (electronic manufacturing services). Read more on what's inside EPDT this month

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