Emma Huizar, Sustainability and Energy Consultant at Diurna Energy in California and MSc in Energy Management Alumna (Class of 2018), tells us about the latest policies, measures adopted by the US and Mexican Governments to boost energy efficiency and renewables, and why we should focus on residential developments.
Can we give our planet the chance to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C? If so, what actions are needed?
Definitively. We have to be aware that we do still have the chance of living here, but that we need to help the planet heal the damage we create. In terms of what actions to take, there is a lot of internal work that we need to do first; I am not that optimistic that we will reach the goal, though.
The fact that we had to isolate ourselves for months during the Covid-19 pandemic has made the impact of our routines visible – tangible, even – helping us become more aware and conscious of our actions. However, the role of social media created risk due to the rapid distribution of misinformation around the efforts towards a more sustainable lifestyle. A lot of people do not act on the concerns of climate change, Covid-19, vaccines, etc. - they only share it on social media; and sometimes the information lacks truth or it is incomplete and they don’t even know it. That is a big risk. For example, influencers may promote sustainable brands but then they order them for home delivery, creating huge amounts of packaging waste.
I use these examples because we need the creation of policies that attend to the whole process of a product if we even want to have a chance of achieving the goal of reducing temperature rise. The good part is that now, people recognise and agree on the big picture.
How do the pandemic and current policies impact the prospects for rapid clean energy transitions in the US and Mexico?
Overall, the velocity of how we consolidate policies and the restart of post-pandemic economies will define the transition to clean energy. The last two years have been especially eye opening regarding our impact on the environment because they impacted directly on our comfort and lifestyle. Our efforts towards sustainable development will define the emissions emitted and the impact of climate change in the next decades.
Mexico and the United States have a dependency on each other in many areas. We need the synergy of both countries in order for one to even start the clean energy transition. Taking sustainability reporting as an example, how many companies now have an accessible report with their efforts towards sustainability? And what are the financial benefits of the company after the reports are released?
Companies have started to implement internal policies that will have a good reflection and align them with the trend towards sustainability. So, in terms of clean energy, the creation of good policies at national level is key for continued success with renewables. If we look back to the Texas power crisis and how this affected both countries, it has only proven the need for other locally sourced energy to fulfil increased demand.
What are the latest policies adopted by the US and Mexican Governments and how are they going so far?
At a larger scale there is a lot of movement towards energy efficiency, especially for existing buildings. There is an increase of green building certifications in the US, and Mexico is getting there. This could be considered a result of global initiatives, but also due to the need of increasing our level of comfort. One of my classes at CETYS is particularly aimed at how to make an existing building more efficient, and universities are looking for this particular type of building. Especially during Covid-19 that capacity was down almost to zero. Hopefully net-zero buildings can become a norm in the near future.
When it comes to energy, net-zero buildings are self-sufficient in large part due to the use of solar power. A project I am currently working on has the aim of making low-income houses more efficient, and the programme offers solar panels. Solar energy is becoming more and more accessible, yet there is much to do in the logistics of distribution. There is a need for policy creation that supports the market.
Waste has become a big theme and policies around managing waste are booming across both countries. From single-use plastics to composting, recycling programs, even waste collection competitions. This is positive because it creates awareness in two countries that have high consumption rates, but there is still a lot of work to do in the end-use part of the process. One of the policies that had a big impact in the sustainability sector was China and Indonesia’s recent ban on waste importation. Now, the US has banned sending mixed plastics overseas as well. The recycling industry seems unprepared for this: it needs more work on their supply chains and an increased “in-house” production. In Mexico, there are numerous companies that are starting to produce biodegradable and/or compostable items.
Tell us more about your current role and responsibilities at Diurna Energy and the projects you are working on.
Diurna Energy focuses on providing clients with the best and most accurate information to make the most convenient decisions regarding their energy consumption in Mexico and in the US. Because energy regulation is in constant change, especially in Mexico, we guide our clients through the process and help monitor their energy demand and supply.
Our multidisciplinary team’s expertise comes from the public and private sectors. Currently, I collaborate with Diurna on the consultancy contracts related to building performance, and how and what is most convenient for them. Projects range from the procurement of energy to the implementation of strategies for better management of energy in companies or agencies.
In terms of investment, what is expected in environmental, social and governance (ESG) projects? Can you give us some examples?
I am very happy that ESG is on the rise; this is crucial if we want to meet our environmental conservation goals. The UN has released a sustainable stock exchange initiative, and there is a noticeable performance of REITs with a focus on ESG that have outperformed and shown a year-on-year increase of commercial property value. ESG standards are proven to reduce risk on property investment and at the same time help maintain a healthier operation of activities.
What drives you at work? Which aspect of your job is most exciting to you?
I love structure; whether it is a building or simply a plan in life, I need to have something set. But I also love the detours and to see how naturally changes occur. I think my job gives that. The energy industry changes constantly: there is always something better, a new innovation or a new rule, so it is very hard for me to get bored. Plus, there is always the opportunity to explore other areas of the same industry.
You are currently working in the US and Mexico and working as both a consultant and a Visiting Professor at CETYS University on its renewable energy engineering programme. Tell us more about your teaching experience?
Working in academia has been great. Coming from a family of educators and being the eldest child in my family, I think teaching has always been a skill and something that comes naturally to me. But I also love to learn and I believe that is the reason why I am enjoying it so much. As much as I teach, I still learn the same or even more. I am teaching two subjects: Renewable Energy Projects and Energy Management in Buildings, both to engineering students. They know a lot of things that I don’t because I am not an engineer, so I gain as much as I give.
Why is having a 360-degree view of the energy industry crucial?
Everything is energy. Most of the things we use on a daily basis require energy. We expect to have energy all the time, no matter the circumstances. It is important to understand the industry and how it behaves. What are the other industries and/or sectors that it overlaps, and what impact will change in these industries and sectors have in the energy industry.
Tell us about your experience on the MSc in Energy Management at ESCP Business School and how the programme helped your career.
It definitively broadened my perspective and it allowed me to be able to explore the energy industry from a holistic view.
What are your hopes for the future?
I am very passionate about buildings, so I hope we are able to adjust to having them all net-zero in the near future. Buildings are a completely enclosed environment and, because of their long-lasting life cycle, they also have a big impact on the ‘outside’ environment. Plus, on average, we do spend 90% of our entire life inside one.
Feeling inspired by Emma’s career? To follow in her footsteps, check out ESCP Business School’s MSc in Energy Management programme.