Photo by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

Over the past fifteen years I have written five books about the large-scale transformation to sustainable business and a sustainable economy. They are all based on one common idea — to transform society on a large scale to electromobility and a circular economy, using clean technologies, many of which only exist in early versions and are applied as stand-alone installations, large-scale change programmes will be needed.

The present approach to change is based on the idea that every little contribution helps and that we all can do small efforts to change, by transforming little things in our daily lives. These small contributions would, somehow, add up to a complete transformation from the present resource-intensive society to a sustainable society where all resources are used over and over again in eternal cycles, like in the old days.

That this will happen without large-scale management programmes and coordinated activities and investment is, however, impossible. The global economy consists of a multitude of very large global systems, each with a hundreds of components that need to change in quite specific ways to create well-functioning and competitive sustainable systems of the future.

The transformation to sustainable future systems will require large-scale transformation programmes, similar to the Apollo Programme, the Marshall Plan, or the transformation of American industry to military production in 1942, during the Second World War.

To succeed, the conversion will have to be managed by organizations in each country with the responsibility for transforming certain sectors of society. These national organizations need budgets and tools for managing the transformation, as well as the remit of doing everything that will be necessary to achieve the goal. They will also need budgets that can cover a share of the financing of change activities that cannot be financed directly through market-driven change.

I outlined these ideas in the book “Global Energy Transformation,” published in 2009 and in “The Business of Global Energy Transformation,” published in 2012 by Palgrave.

NASA has held this type of responsibility for the management and financing of space programmes in the United States. The transformation to a sustainable society does not require new Apollo Programmes. The structure of change programmes will have to be tailored to the needs of the specific situations in each country and in each sector of the economy.

The area where the change towards sustainability has made the most progress is electromobility. Still, there are only 2 percent electric cars in the world and the number of electric lorries is negligible. Not even the leading country Norway where 10 percent of all cars are electric, have people experienced the demands of large-scale change.

Recently the EU commission decided to ban the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2035 and the UK government already in 2020 made the decision to ban the sales of fossil-fuel cars from 2030.

A complete transformation of car fleets to electromobility will require very large investment. From 2045 the majority of cars will have to be charged on a daily basis, wherever they happen to be. In many cases charging will have to take place in locations where relatively little electricity is used at present, for example along major roads, in carparks in cities, or at night when many cars are parked along city streets. This means that the capacity of power grids in all countries that embrace e-mobility will have to be expanded on a large scale.

Governments also expect that the use of electric lorries and buses will increase substantially over the same period of time. The charging of electric trucks will require even more power. The need for charging infrastructure will be concentrated at industrial estates, logistics centres, and along roads, places where often little electricity is used at present.

To drive all cars, buses, and lorries of the UK on electricity, some 100 TWh of electricity will be needed. The present production amounts to 325 TWh per year, which means that about 30 percent of all electricity produced in the country will be needed for electromobility. Unfortunately, the need increases in the winter, as electric vehicles need more electricity in the coldest weeks of cold winters, compared to spring, summer, and autumn. In the UK it is possible that the need for generation capacity will increase by up to 50 percent in the coldest weeks of the coldest winters over a 20-year period.

In Germany the some 150 TWh will be needed to power all vehicles and the current production amounts to 600 and the additional generation capacity needed in cold winters is likely to exceed that of the UK. The same situation is present in most countries.

The chairman of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, in December of 2020 went public with the estimate that the investment needed in infrastructure to transform Japanese transport systems to electromobility amounts to between 135 and 358 billion dollars.

In an interview at the conference CodeCon 2021 Elon Musk argued that the implementation of electromobility will require a doubling of power production. He stated that investment will be needed in all parts of power grids, as well as in power production and he especially mentioned the need for the large-scale expansion of local generation resources, such as solar panels. The doubling of power production will be required to power battery production and for the charging of electric vehicles. The comments were made in response to a question from the audience one hour and one minute into the interview, that can be accessed via this link: Link to Musk comment on the need to expand power infrastructure

The change to e-mobility opens up large business opportunities, but for investors and companies to invest in the development, they need to know that the transformation has a chance of success. Managed transformation will be necessary for the EU and individual countries to succeed and managed change programmes will be needed in order to manage the speed of the transformation and avoid unpleasant surprises.

The transformation to a circular economy is still in its early stages. There are early examples of successful business concepts that have been developed and launched by visionary entrepreneurs and industrial leaders. To transform society to a circular economy, where resources are used over and over again, the focus needs to be on particular areas where significant savings in terms of emissions or resources can be achieved with relatively modest investment.

The circular economy is an umbrella concept that covers several sub-concepts, such as local production, upcycling of products, the increasing use of biological materials, and standardisation and modularisation to make it less expensive to repair and upgrade products.

The scale and complexity of the transformation in each area is so vast that the present approach of financing pilot projects in different areas in a more or less random fashion cannot contribute significantly to achieving the goal of a complete transformation to a circular economy over the coming decades. At present the change to a circular economy is driven by visionary companies, the EU, and by national governments that finance pilot projects.

Each sub-area of the circular economy includes a large number of different industries that need to be converted to circular production and distribution flows and this cannot be achieved via small-scale pilot projects.

For example, the need to change to local production would include this ambition for a number of different types of products, such as food, clothes, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and a large variety of industrial products. Each of these areas include many industries. Food production includes bakeries, dairy companies, meat and meat products, fruit and vegetables, condiments, grains, cereals, beverages, and many more.

The need to increase the use of biological materials would involve industries that use plastics and metals on a large scale and increasingly turn to biological and mineral based materials, wood, and other natural materials. Each specific example would be very complex to relate.

The need to reduce the dependence on imports from other parts of the world has been high-lighted through the Corona virus pandemic and people have been given the impression that this could be a relatively straight-forward change, reducing purchases from Asia and investing in production in Europe or North America. In reality, the large-scale transformation to circular production and distribution flows will require change programmes that focus on particular areas and that are managed and financed with the objective of achieving substantial conversion of particular industries in the desired direction.

I outlined this in the book “Circular Business Models,” published by Palgrave in 2018.

The general direction of change programmes and the need to manage and finance the change has been outlined in my previous books. To achieve large-scale change the transformation programmes in each of the above areas need to be outlined.

At present, I am working on the book “Global Electromobility Transformation” and I consider the writing of a book on the large-scale transformation to local and regional production — perhaps with the title of “Local Production Transformation.” It may also be relevant to update “Circular Business Models” with some new chapters that outline the progress, or possibly, the lack of progress that has been made since its publication in 2018.

Overall, the world needs to be transformed to sustainability and for this to happen decision makers need to shed their blindfolds and realise that the change is not likely to organize and finance itself simply through market-based interaction.

There will be a need for managed change on a large scale. The alternative can only be spelled f-a-i-l-u-r-e.

Unfortunately, I have not found books, articles, or other tools to guide nations, regions, and municipalities through the transformation process, other than my own. I have also not been able to identify researchers, experts, politicians, or business leaders that approach the change from the same perspective as I have done.

When I search the Internet using search phrases like “electromobility transformation” I receive hits for electric cars, but no sites that provide guidance for the entire transformation. In the case of the circular economy, there are ample accounts of pilot projects, but no discussions on how a large-scale transformation can be achieved.

The absence of literature indicates that few people have realised how the sustainability transformation needs to be approached and there is a very large potential to fill the gap with relevant titles.

In “The Blind Guardians of Ignorance” I discuss the lack of awareness among decision makers and administrators of the scale and complexity of the transformations.

Obviously, there are people who prefer that the change to a sustainable future continues to be described as a relatively straight-forward process that will happen almost automatically over the next two or three decades.

The citizens of the world have a right to know that this is not likely to be the case, and it is important to expose the misunderstandings and misinformation of the sustainability rhetoric.

It is important to continue to tell the truth about the nature of the large-scale changes of the future in the hope that the truth will eventually replace the overly simplified narratives that are spread at present.

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Mats is the author of five internationally published books on sustainability, focusing on the large-scale change to electromobility, the circular economy, and energy efficiency. His latest book is “The Blind Guardians of Ignorance — Covid -19, Sustainability, and Our Vulnerable Future” and the first one of these was “Global Energy Transformation.”

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