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Digitization demonstrably supports decarbonization

by Editor

Digitization can make a decisive contribution when it comes to achieving Germany’s climate targets by 2030. This was the conclusion of a study conducted by Accenture, “The digital economy’s impact on the climate” by the digital association Bitkom, which used case studies in seven economic sectors to examine the influence of various digital technologies on the net savings potential of CO2 emissions, i.e., carbon dioxide equivalents as a uniform unit of measurement of different greenhouse gases. Accordingly, the areas of industrial manufacturing and mobility offer the greatest reduction potential. Following the results of the study, a decisive lever can be the optimization of routing and freight management.

Germany’s self-imposed climate targets call for producing 65 percent fewer emissions in 2030 compared to 1990. To achieve this goal, annual emissions must be reduced by 372 megatons of CO2 by that date. Net greenhouse gas neutrality is to be achieved by 2045, five years earlier than originally targeted.

Achieving climate targets 2030 through digital technologies

As the study shows, systematic and accelerated* digitization of the economy and society could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 152 megatons in 2030. This would correspond to 41 percent of the targeted savings. If the pace of digitization remained moderate, the net savings potential would only amount to 103 megatons (28 percent).

The seven sectors examined were manufacturing, mobility, energy, buildings (smart homes, energy efficiency of buildings), work and business, and agriculture and health.

Net savings effect clearly demonstrated

In its calculations, the study also takes into account the ecological footprint caused directly by digital technologies. The emissions generated were offset to determine the net climate effect.

After adjustment, the result remained clear: the net savings effect amounts to 34 percent in the accelerated digitization scenario and 23 percent in the moderate scenario.

Even with intensive use of digital technologies, the savings potential is therefore much higher than the climate effects caused by digitization itself.

Manufacturing and mobility have highest savings potential

The study identified the greatest potential for saving carbon emissions in industrial manufacturing and mobility – two areas that have a decisive influence on the decarbonization of supply chains.

The model calculations show that, depending on the scenario, smart solutions in mobility and logistics could avoid eight to 13 percent of the emissions expected today for the year 2030.

In the area of manufacturing, for which the application of digital twins and the automation of production were exemplary examined, the predicted CO2 emissions of industrial manufacturing processes can be reduced by ten to 16 percent.

Digitization of logistics makes a decisive contribution

Reducing emissions of a company and its supply chain through smart logistics solutions is equivalent to decarbonizing the transport of goods. Digital technologies in logistics thus increase supply chain transparency and reduce traffic congestion, according to the study.

Route and freight management: A decisive lever is route and freight optimization, in which context smart technologies are used to plan, control and distribute flows of goods and to optimize route planning. Software-based fleet management, Big Data analytics, digital warehouses and traffic management platforms, among others, have proven to be the most significant digitalization technologies. In the corresponding trial, the use of a logistics platform and the associated increase in efficiency and transparency also resulted in cost savings of 18 percent.

Additive manufacturing: According to the survey, additive manufacturing, which enables on-demand, low-waste production using 3D printing, also has great potential for savings. Likewise, the reduction in labor costs makes local manufacturing quite efficient, as global supply chains can be shortened.

According to the calculations, the two application areas together can contribute five to eight megatons to Co2 reductions.

Potential of digital technologies in manufacturing

Industrial manufacturing offers even greater savings potential. With moderate digitization, a reduction of 37 megatons is possible – compared to 64 megatons if digitization efforts are accelerated.

The study identifies the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big Data & Cloud Computing and artificial intelligence among the most important technologies in both areas.

Digital twin: 19 to 33 megatons of CO2 emissions are attributable to digital twin simulations. Thus, by optimizing workflows and processes using digital simulations, five to eight percent (19/ 23 megatons) of the expected primary energy emissions for manufacturing processes in 2030 could be avoided.

Automation in production: Approximately the same amount of Co2 emissions (18/ 31 megatons) can be avoided by optimizing processes and using automation technologies. Qualitatively, process automation ensures optimized resource efficiency and production flexibility.

Digital technologies can therefore make a significant contribution to decarbonization and thus to achieving German and global climate targets. However, accelerated digitization not only pays off in terms of environmental protection, but also increases the resilience and competitiveness of companies in addition to improved controllability, process efficiency and transparency.

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