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Harnessing renewable energy solutions for the apparel sector

The fashion industry must put efforts to slash carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement which calls for “limiting average temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times”.

solar-energy solutions-bangladesh-apparel
Figure: Despite all odds, a big number of Bangladesh’s textile and apparel factories are going with solar investments to ensure clean energy. In picture, AKH Knitting & Dyeing 2.8MW rooftop solar project.

This is a popular line used mostly at seminars by industry insiders. The unpopular one is the absence of their concerted effort to make the line a reality. You may wonder why are we putting our fingers towards the fashion industry such blatantly.

The answer is pretty straightforward – 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for by the fashion industry, which is more than that of the combined total of international and maritime shipping.

With the majority of factories relying on fossil fuels to power their machines, the industry becomes one of the most energy-intensive industries. In fact, every stage of the industry is somewhat energy-intensive, from processing yarn, producing fabric, and fabricating textiles, to transporting and selling clothes to customers.

The industry maintains the record of holding one of the lowest positions in energy efficiency. In this industry, around 50% of the energy input is lost through the manufacturing line. Therefore, the development of responsible manufacturing processes which carefully consider energy efficiency and loss, is essential. This in turn will contribute to lowering the carbon footprint of the industry.

Thus, it appears the most compelling of all decisions whether to adopt eco-friendly methods in fashion technology. Inarguably, fashion is one of the most complex industries with complex machinery. If the machinery is upgraded with machines that rely on renewable sources of energy, it will be a boon for the industry.

It is encouraging to see that a number of renowned companies have invested in such machines to promote the use of renewable energy. With the machines, they are being able to increase the energy supply, improve their energy mix structure and act responsibly towards the environment.

As the traditional way of energy usage and sourcing in the industry is unsustainable, industries are evaluating whether the use of renewable energy has the potential to cut GHG emissions. Mandated through UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all), many are being urged to invest in renewable energy, such as wind and solar, moving away from coal and natural gas. Evidently, several companies are utilizing solar power instead of fossil fuels across the yarn preparation, fabric preparation, dyeing, finishing, and assembly process.

Globally, there are governmental policies in place aiming to reshape energy use in the fashion industry. For instance, in India, recently released a national framework for promoting decentralized renewable energy. Having decentralized renewable energy sources like rooftop solar panels, micro or mini-grids and rechargeable batteries would promote increased access to affordable, reliable and clean energy services in India, eliminating the reliance on diesel, particularly in rural settings, and supplementing the grid supply.

In Bangladesh, development partners and the private sector (e.g., ADB and Envoy Textiles) are making synergies to support and finance the purchase and installation of energy-efficient spinning machinery and other equipment to expand sustainable textile production and create local jobs. These are positive signs and will contribute to slashing electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of energy-efficient equipment.

The cost of installation of renewable energy sources can be capital-intensive at the beginning, but after installation, it is reported to decrease the cost of production. Thus, investors can see a payback from this within five years after investing. Companies are developing new machines to ensure that they can stop relying on expensive exhaustible sources of energy.

Ground-breaking research on using common algae to produce biofuel, hydrogen generation, wind power, microbes in bio-fuel production, and amplifying the efficiency of wind tribune blades are ongoing. Based on the outcome of the series of research, the fashion industry will see a paradigm shift in machinery leading to extensive use of renewable sources of energy to generate power, steam and fuel.

There are barriers in place preventing users from transitioning to renewables. These barriers mostly involve bureaucratic tangles like legislation, fossil fuel subsidies and the limitation of advanced technologies. In US and Europe, there are easily accessible bureaucratic ways that allow companies to switch to renewable power. However, in developing countries, this transition is quite complex in off-site power purchase agreements (PPAs), fossil fuel subsidies and legislative barriers.

Sabbir Rahman Khan
Sabbir Rahman Khan
The writer is a Knowledge Management, Communications and Advocacy Professional working for an international development organization.

Also, in some countries (e.g., Bangladesh), which is very much fossil-fuel dependent, is being restricted for the transition towards renewable energy because the renewable energy market here is yet to fully develop.

Given the barriers, there needs to be a financial incentive which overrides fossil fuel subsidies, and a convenient legal framework for independent power producers (IPPs) to supply renewable energy.

The next days will be driven by renewables, there’s no denying in this. If we are not ready to move towards renewable power, then we might lose the suppliers and manufacturing hubs that they need.

The fashion industry is part of the global change maker, and it has a long way to go as it is showing a desire to switch to renewables. The industry needs to take strong initiatives combining industry insiders and sector leaders to influence policies to back renewables and highlight why the benefits of renewables are attractive than traditional coal and natural gas energy sources.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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