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Insights How Dave Cole is Engineering Net Zero

At Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, we're proud of our employees and their positive impact on our world. Like David Cole, market director for power across Europe and the Middle East Africa (EMEA) region, and one of our Engineering Net Zero (ENZ) leaders.

image of Dave smiling

What does Net Zero mean?

Essentially, it's when the amount of emissions we are adding is at least no more than what we take away (and we may also need to remove historical emissions). Through our ENZ initiatives, AtkinsRéalis will aim for that, focussing on the projects that will make a real difference, integration and a system approach, business change and encouraging sustainability through everything we do. We want to lead by example, so we've set a regional target that's tighter than the Paris Agreement. Our commitment is to achieve carbon neutrality across all corporate activities by 2030. As engineers we also know we need to be critical that what is in the toolbox to achieve net zero is real and can be applied today – that scrutiny is part of our leadership.

Why is it so important?

Our emissions are leading to significant environmental issues as well as increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. This year Earth Overshoot Day fell on 29th June, earlier than ever before, and we are experiencing a greater frequency of extreme weather events. Global carbon emissions continue to relentlessly increase. 

To avoid the catastrophic impact of climate change, we need to act now to achieve Net Zero and at a much-increased pace. Our actions have to consider all of society’s needs: energy, industry, infrastructure, transport, water, agriculture – everything is connected.

Do you think it's possible to get to Net Zero?

I believe it is but it is extremely difficult and will require significant investment – I’ve said before that achieving net zero is the biggest engineering challenge humanity has ever faced. We should electrify everything we can, using a reliable low-carbon generation system. This is achievable today by deploying known technologies, but we are well behind the necessary build rate and some want to wait on a promise of new technology to solve our problems – we will need new technologies, but we can’t risk waiting for them. We need to use low-carbon electricity or other means to make fuels for things it will not make sense to electrify, like aviation. We can use carbon capture and sequestration (removing CO2 from the atmosphere) for everything else we need to do. This is how we can achieve our climate goals.

What do we actually do through ENZ?

I'm very proud of our ENZ work – we have taken the debate to the practical realm of delivery today through our engineering knowledge. Awash with scenario modelling thirty years hence we take the assessment to the following questions of can you build the system and in time, will it work reliably and will it actually meet the climate targets being set – and then more importantly define actions to get there.

We're already helping governments and businesses navigate and plan their path to Net Zero as quickly as possible. The work is complex and highly integrated between energy, industry, transport and infrastructure; but everyone here is up to the challenge. 

We work on projects today that are critical to achieving net zero and have done so for many years. We are involved in market leading projects in low carbon power generation, carbon capture and storage, energy storage, hydrogen, renewables, transmission and distribution – the list goes on. The most important thing to me is we are working on projects that will make a difference today and at scale and thus have a significant impact.

Can you give us an example of the kind of net zero projects AtkinsRéalis is involved in?

Too many to mention but most recently we have been awarded a new contract working on a project as owners engineer to develop and build and brand new zero carbon turbine project – very exciting and will develop no doubt into a global fleet. We are working on a whole suite of feasibility studies for large scale storage of hydrogen, as well as projects on generation and distribution and end use such as the manufacture of green steel. We are world-leading on the whole life cycle of nuclear power generation which is critical to achieving net zero. The list goes on and on and we are facing a growing pipeline of projects that will make a significant difference. We have and are developing some of the world’s best engineers but there is room for more!

What part did you play in the ENZ initiative?

I’ve been working on the engineering of decarbonisation for a long time – the decision of the UK to take the step of setting net zero by 2050 into law was a trigger for creating Engineering Net Zero on the back of the previous work – we could see that the engineering perspective and knowledge in the debate was absent and that it was clear we had a role to play to make this achievable and deliverable.

You can see what it's all about on engineeringnetzero.com. The website includes videos, solutions, insights from our thought leaders and the latest stories from our global markets and sectors. Collaborating with some very talented people at AtkinsRéalis , I've helped put together many of the papers and podcasts.

People and businesses can make changes, but what about government policies?

In the UK we regularly engage with government and lead many discussions on the UK's Net Zero All-Party Parliamentary Group and other bodies. We're helping to press for policy changes that move at the right pace, promote zero-carbon solutions, support clean growth technology. Our purpose is to really embed the UK's commitment to delivering a net-zero carbon economy and to challenge where things don’t make sense or don’t add up but also look at how this can then be applied in any region of the world – we are a global business. 

We are pushing very hard for the need to have a near term actionable plan and the need for an Energy System Architect – it was great to see that our work is now being used as key material for the development of the Future System Operator in the UK.

Our work along with many others is essential because if all countries don’t develop and implement achievable plans to deliver real net zero societies then the risks to the planet and its people are very high.

Read more about how our teams are Engineering Net Zero.