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The first book on HOW to transition to zero carbon

Dr Susan Krumdieck author of Transition Engineering - Building a Sustainable Future

University of Canterbury (UC) mechanical engineering Professor Susan Krumdieck, a pioneer in the emerging field of Transition Engineering, has written the world’s first book on engineering the carbon downshift, including tackling the huge issues of climate change and world decline in oil supply. Her new book, Transition Engineering: Building a Sustainable Future, examines new strategies emerging in response to the mega-issues of global climate change, decline in conventional oil supply, scarcity of key industrial minerals, and local environmental constraints.

Dr Krumdieck has an extensive background advanced energy systems having taught energy engineering at UC for 17 years. Her research focuses on developing engineering methods and innovative technologies that reduce fossil fuel production and consumption. She is an expert in developing new ideas for achieving decarbonisation in transportation systems and urban regeneration as well as being the co-founder and a trustee of the Global Association for Transition Engineering (GATE).

About the Book

“When my son was a boy, he was getting really worried about climate change. He wanted to know that sustainable energy – my research area at the time – would be the solution,”

Professor Susan Krumdieck

When asked why she is so passionate about Transition Engineering Susan replies, “when your child, with total faith in you, says: ‘Well Mum, you have to figure out what will work,’ then you have to challenge your assumptions.” Climate change, the decline in conventional oil supply, scarcity of key industrial minerals, and local environmental constraints all pose challenges for organizations, businesses, and communities. Engineers will need to begin developing ideas and projects to implement the transition of engineered systems. “All of our unsustainable energy and material use is possible through successful engineering, therefore achieving transition will require evolution in engineering”, says Professor Krumdieck, hence the motivation for writing the book.

Over the past two decades Transition Engineering has been developed through research and collaborations across a range of disciplines around the world. Professor Krumdieck says her new book teaches the Transition Engineering methodology in a way that engineers can begin applying it in their work. “Transition Engineering is a methodology for working on complex social and economic problems, but there are usually engineered systems at the heart of the issues. Transition Engineers work with communities and organisations to re-develop for the next century,” she says.

The book’s content has been taught in universities in Europe and New Zealand. It has also been used in professional development courses. Transition Engineering projects have been carried out in transportation, housing, commercial buildings, products, airlines, agriculture and energy use.

What is Transition Engineering?

“Fifty years from now fossil fuels will not be part of the consumer lifestyle. That transition starts now, with thousands of different shift projects, every one involving re-engineering and re-developing by the Re-Generation, using much more resourcefulness than resources.”

Professor Susan Krumdieck

The first rule of engineering is ‘define the problem’. It is not a great surprise that the engineering professions have spent the past twenty years going about business as usual, including working on ‘green’ technologies that are perpetually ten years away from technical and economic viability. Our energy and material systems provide huge benefits and conveniences, but they also are unsustainable, incur unacceptable external costs, and pose environmental and social risks. Transition Engineering is emerging to deal with wicked problems. Due to complex interdependencies wicked problems are those which are difficult or impossible to solve with one single solution as solving one aspect of a problem may create other problems or lead to unexpected consequences.

Susan’s energy research focuses on innovations aimed at continuity of human activities and well-being within the constraints of environment and resource availability. Transition Engineers design and carry out the projects of change. They work from a systems perspective to strategically plan changes to today's engineered systems so they fit into the future society wants. Transition involves the whole of society, economy, law, ecology, infrastructure, and energy and material supply chains. We use the Interdisciplinary Transition, Innovation, Management and Engineering (InTIME) methodology to generate new opportunities through disruptive ideas. These new ideas are developed into shift projects with the mission of long-term engineering and management of the 80% fossil fuel production decline required to realize global warming mitigation targets.

Why Do It?

“We can’t predict the future, but we know this century will be different from the last. More than 90% of current energy supply is fossil hydrocarbons. Massive transformational change of everything is the realistic mitigation of catastrophic climate crash.”

These problems of un-sustainability have been obvious for many years. The engineering professions have responded by pursuing innovation and development in clean energy and clean technologies. There have been many successful developments like emissions control on coal power plants that reduce particulates and replacement refrigerants that don’t deplete stratospheric ozone. However, it is clear that even with all of the clean technology improvements conceivable, industrial society as we know it will have to change dramatically to adapt to reductions in fossil fuels and materials, or the activity systems dependent on continuous growth of consumption will fail.

Susan believes Transition Engineering is more about a hands on “on the job” approach as opposed to researchers working away in labs. People in industry, organization, financial institutions, councils, ministries… need to look at changes and develop transition projects, do them, and learn on the job. These transition endeavours need to be supported by research as they will run into unknowns and need new tools as they go along.

It also involves taking steps of discovering change projects (not just sustainability projects like reducing waste, being more efficient in energy use, or installing solar panels) is the work of transition engineers. There is a new discipline that is the specialization of working with BAU people to get unstuck from their normal and to start to navigate and adapt through specific shift projects.

This work presents a methodology for shifting away from unsustainable activities. Teaching the Transition Engineering approach and methodology is the focus of the text, and the concept is presented in a way that engineers can begin applying it in their work. The work aims to develop sustainability metrics, engineering fundamentals for low-fossil energy systems, and bridging technologies and control systems to manage the transition to sustainable systems.

What about the Future?

“Transition Engineering is a methodology for working on complex social and economic problems, but there are usually engineered systems at the heart of the issues. Transition Engineers work with communities and organisations to re-develop for the next century,”

Transition Engineering right now is a simple concept – Engineers in all fields, and particularly in transport, energy, buildings, oil, agriculture, manufacturing, can and will work directly on the problems of changing what is unsustainable. This is different from the sustainability champion work. It is a new offering. "We are finding our way on how to offer the work, account the costs and benefits, innovate, design, manage and deliver massive carbon downshift.  All of our unsustainable energy and material use is possible through successful engineering, therefore achieving transition will require evolution in engineering”,  says Dr Krumdieck.

The role of engineering in the future will be changing existing complex systems commensurate with survival – constraints in energy and materials supply and constraints on environmental and social impacts. Transition engineering is the research and application of state of the art knowledge to bring about changes in existing engineered systems in order to improve the odds of survival. Engineers are activated by the collective moral outrage of society when failures occur. Groups of engineering professionals and researchers respond to the un-acceptability of failure by organising and getting to work on ways to change what is preventable. Market signals and policy directions follow transition engineering developments.

How do we get to engineer a zero-carbon future

“The only way to transition energy systems into the low-carbon systems of the future is for professional engineers in every field to do the job of Transition Engineering. Policymakers, economists and the general public have a vital role – demand a rapid transition.”

Transition Engineering, like all other engineering fields, has science-based fundamentals and methodologies for achieving the deliverables. In this case the deliverables are innovations in how to change a particular system to downshift carbon. Professor Krumdieck says her new book teaches the Transition Engineering methodology in a way that engineers can begin applying it in their work. She suggests, “we can’t predict the future, but we know this century will be different from the last. More than 90% of current energy supply is fossil hydrocarbons. Massive transformational change of everything is the realistic mitigation of catastrophic climate crash.”

Over the past two decades, the fundamentals and methodologies of Transition Engineering have been developed through research and collaborations across a range of disciplines around the world. Now, for the first time, all professional engineers can learn HOW to discover, design and carry out the projects of re-development for re-generation. Policy makers, economists and the general public can also learn HOW to drive the transition.

Transition Engineers design and carry out the projects of change. We work from a systems perspective to strategically plan changes to today's engineered systems so they fit into the future we want. Transition involves the whole of society, economy, law, ecology, infrastructure, and energy and material supply chains. These new ideas are developed into shift projects with the mission of long-term engineering and management of the 80% fossil fuel production decline required to realize global warming mitigation targets.

The new book, Transition Engineering: Building a Sustainable Future is applicable and relevant for all professional engineers and business managers, and financial analysts. Academics in any university course, from environmental science to economics and policy, and of course in any engineering program can add elements of the book to their course, or develop a whole Transition Engineering course for a particular subject.

Author: Professor Susan Krumdieck -Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury

Director, Advanced Energy and Material Systems Lab (AEMSLab) -Global Association for Transition Engineering (GATE)

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