Energy management: Good for business and the environment

In an age where we are becoming accustomed to instant information, just-in-time deliveries and ever-increasing pressures on our daily routine, it is perhaps easy to understand why businesses find it difficult to invest, upgrade and install all but the simplest energy efficiency measures. The thought of making the right choices, employing the right experts, selling the idea internally, gaining possible external funding and initiating on-site disruption before measuring and verifying the results post-install can daunt those wishing to stick their head above the parapet with anything other than short to medium term payback opportunities.
Coupled with a lack of direct representation or interest at board level – energy is still low on the agenda in some businesses – this makes it nigh on impossible for even the most enthusiastic Energy Manager to engage others and implement the best options to reduce energy in the medium to long term. The problem is not new; in fact, those engaged with the energy industry have been trying to find a solution to the problem for longer than can be remembered. Government also understands something needs to be done and frequently intervenes with incentives, opportunities and actions that try and raise awareness across both public and private sector organisations.

Changing behaviour
The issue is becoming increasingly complex and energy use can be affected by everyone within a business. Whilst automatic monitoring and targeting (aM&T) systems across an energy infrastructure is vital in gaining the detail of a sites energy consumption and building energy management systems (bems) provide the necessary tools and interfaces to reduce and control that, human intervention can still be the biggest factor affecting systems in place. Opening windows in a managed environment allowing radiator heat to escape or inadequately using controls is costing thousands in wasted energy in public sector estates every year.
Whilst we cannot put energy needs before staff and public needs, behavioural change can have a substantial and positive effect on the overall outcome. However, for that to happen, energy use needs a central strategy that considers the needs of all users within buildings, and this requires the right skills to develop and integrate a solution into an overarching strategy. Do we have the appetite for such a coherent approach? And do those responsible for energy use have the remit or the support to consider such a holistic view?

The power of legislation
Government energy policy and legislation may at times seem to achieve nothing more than introducing new taxes and reporting on targets to the European Commission, but all provide the opportunity to further energy efficiency programmes. Display Energy Certificates (DECs) in public buildings (an efficiency rating of the buildings energy use and visible as a colour-coded chart in entrances) and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) provide a reminder that more can be done and serve as a driver for efficiency improvements. Similarly, in private sector companies the Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme (ESOS) will over the next year or so initiate a board-level report on possible efficiency solutions through a mandatory audit.
This type of legislation is there to force energy onto the boardroom agenda, but without action or internal concern about the possible outcomes nothing gets done. In some buildings DECs regularly lapse, are out-of-date, backed on cardboard and propped up against the wall at floor level and are not treated seriously. Then for ESOS how many audits will see the light of day and have recommendations implemented? Such apathy and nonplussed attitudes towards the forwarding of an energy strategy at home or in business creates many lost opportunities that could harm the UK energy scene. The demand-side marketplace has the ability to contribute reductions in excess of 20 per cent through cost-effective energy saving measures. More needs to be done to engage boardroom members, provide support for in-house Energy Managers and step away from seeing policy from a compliance standpoint.
Continued failure by organisations to address the energy efficiency opportunities available to them, will leave the UK tinkering around the edges of energy management. If only the engaged and pro-active energy champions within businesses are making a difference we will lose ground on reducing stress on a tightening and aging energy network.  
The old adage that ‘the cheapest kW is the one that you don’t use’ is very apt in the market we find ourselves in. With low-carbon initiatives hitting the headlines and the source of energy becoming as important as energy efficiency itself, does that mean we should still be worried about efficiency targets? After all, if we are using solar power to run something should we consider its efficiency? The answer is always a resounding yes.
The UK’s power consumption is increasing and with smart grids and further reliance on electricity in whichever future scenario you view. The need to maximise efficiencies to get the most from our electricity network could be a real game changer.  With 20 per cent reductions in energy use there will be a marked increase in available generation capacity as well as physical network capacity at local levels. A triple win just through using what we have more efficiently. This promise of financial savings, greater business efficiency and a better environmental record is motivating more and more people to take action, so why is it that there are so many organisations not taking advantage of these opportunities?
Research into this apparent contradiction has identified some of the barriers that businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, face. Two of the major hurdles are access to knowledge and access to finance.

Making use of knowledge
In difficult economic circumstances, businesses will think twice before investing capital funds (or public money) in what may be seen as non-core activities. There is however much light at the end of the tunnel, many energy-efficiency improvements require little or no expenditure and businesses should look seriously at these as a priority before considering the benefits of larger scale investments and roll outs.
Concern about knowledge should not be an issue because the UK energy industry has class leading experts, innovative companies and technological solutions that can assist any business squeeze the most out of their energy use.
From the Independent Energy Consultants Group and the Register of Professional Energy Consultants (RPEC) to automatic monitoring and targeting (aM&T) and metering companies and from Certified Measurement and Verification Professionals to lighting and building controls specialists; industry associations such as ESTA can point Energy Managers and end users in the right direction to cover all aspects of their energy efficiency strategy. Whatever the advice, solutions suggested or trial sites started, implementation is the key to unlocking the potential efficiency savings available from a good energy strategy.
International Standards such as ISO50001 based on the same framework as the established ISO14001 and ISO9000 series has been enabling managers to build long-term strategic programmes. This standard supports organisations to use energy more efficiently through the development of an energy management system (EnMS). Hands-on businesses in this way have been keeping ahead of the market and using legislation to enhance their energy strategy, pushing the boundaries of what they can achieve.
Technological advances in the energy market are slowly maturing, and a new generation of managers are seeing past ring-fenced engineering solutions and towards integrated savings opportunities, using more and more detailed analysis of site performance data and profiling. Better modelling of opportunities is at hand and with efficiency measures being linked to performance contracts where funding is required, verified savings, true return on investment figures and lifecycle costs are now being seen.

A positive outlook
Professional energy management will deliver year-on-year savings by progressing and optimising an organisations energy output. It will provide best practice solutions and engage and focus staff at all levels on realising those outcomes.
In order for the UK to have a positive outlook and the hope of attaining the tough energy reduction and emissions targets that have been set, consumers, service providers, associations and government need to work together on a coherent, far-reaching policy that encourages a professional energy management strategy. Energy Management is good for your business, good for the environment and good for the UK’s energy security and ESTA will continue to represent and be the voice of energy management to government.

Further information   

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