Two top academic leaders on Wednesday expressed their support for the ongoing shift towards electrified transportation, with one of them highlighting the importance of having a comprehensive picture of the carbon footprint when making electric vehicles.

It should be calculated how much energy has been used to assemble an electric car, including the emissions generated from the materials used by the manufacturers, Saifur Rahman, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), told the audience at the BEYOND Expo 2023 tech conference, held in Macao from May 10 – 12.

Rahman, along with Song Yonghua, president of the University of Macau, added that there is big potential in the adoption of clean energy sources such as solar and wind.

This panel discussion took place on Wednesday at the BEYOND Expo 2023 tech conference, held at the Venetian Macao Convention and Exhibition Center, partnered exclusively with China Taiping. The text below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Prof. Saifur Rahman, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 

Today I would like to talk about how technology can help address climate change problems and how scientists and engineers can play a role in the global climate change debate. I come from the IEEE, a professional association made up of scientists, engineers, technologists, and physicists, and we’ve been working on clean tech solutions for climate sustainability for a long time.

For now, carbon dioxide accounts for 75% of the total greenhouse gas emissions globally, and there has been an idea called “decarbonization through electrification” to deal with the issues, which means the adoption of electric vehicles and the phase-out of gasoline cars, for example. The problem is: where is the power of making EVs coming from? If that is from coal-fired plants, then it doesn’t help. It has to come from clean sources.

When you look at the total carbon dioxide emissions globally, around one third of them come from power stations, another third from transportation, and the remaining from factories and so on. I am focusing on the transportation part and would like to share some of my points to reduce carbon emissions.

Firstly, energy efficiency, which means you use less electricity to do the same job. For example, if you raise the temperature by two degrees with an air-conditioner, you use 10% less energy. Secondly, renewables. Our goal is to replace traditional fossil fuel energy with solar, wind, and hydrogen power. China is the biggest country in the application of renewable energy in the world.

Thirdly, we can’t shut down all the coal-fired plants overnight, and therefore have to build highly efficient coal plants that install carbon capture technologies. Then, hydrogen power and storage batteries. If you have excess power at night due to low demand, you can store the extra electricity your system produced at night and use it to generate hydrogen power during the daytime.

Next, cross-border power transfer. Not every country can survive using domestic resources. The US buys energy from Canada, and China sells to Vietnam, for instance. Finally, nuclear power. Many of us are still concerned about the safety issues of nuclear power because of the Fukushima accident, and yet new technologies are emerging, such as small nuclear reactors, which are much safer and less expensive.

Those are the things I am pushing very hard. I should point out one thing: that there is no unified solution for all and therefore we need to be inclusive. Asia is very diverse. The challenge is how to make electricity widely available to poor regions such as villages. Populations from those areas use much less electricity than those in the cities, but they need to get reliable power.

Prof. Song Yonghua, rector of the University of Macau

My first key point is that we must focus on cities if we want to tackle the climate change issues. Cities are usually a major source of carbon emission. When you look around the world, 70% of the carbon emissions are generated by cities, because half of the global population live in cities and consume around 70% of the energy.

In China, due to its great success in urbanization, we see more than 65% of the population living in cities, consuming at least 75% of the energy, and generating around 85% of the country’s carbon emissions. We have to strike a balance between economic development and the effort in dealing with climate change. Also we can’t simply repeat what Western countries have done, which could incur a hard cost.

Macau is a city of tourism, exhibition, and education. There is great potential for Macau in the application of renewable energy as well as transport electrification. We have large amounts of roofs and walls that can be effective in generating electricity locally, while upgrading grid infrastructure for EVs and electrifying our ferries and boats.

There is also a lot of work we can do to improve energy efficiency with air-conditioners, which is the largest source of energy consumption in Macau, as well as other nighttime facilities. Sometimes the temperature is too cold and the lights are too bright.

Sustainability is a big topic. It goes beyond disciplines such as finance and technology, and we have to move across the barriers of those disciplines and among different ideologies. Thus, education is a key as we expect our younger generation to work together in fighting against climate change.

As the only comprehensive public university in Macau, we take a responsibility to educate young talents for the city. We have an institute for applied physics and material engineering where our research fellows are working on various energy materials, such as new photovoltaic materials for hydrogen production. We also have a program to cultivate young talents for the purpose of making smart cities.

With the support from the central government and the Macau SAR government, our university has a very beautiful campus and an advanced management structure, which have attracted top professors from around the world. Macau is part of China under the One Country, Two Systems policy and now as we have the Greater Bay Area initiative, we need to deepen our collaborations with the rest of the Greater Bay area.