Switch on to the energy agenda

The use of energy is a hot topic. With organisations having to comply with increasing levels of legislation, and society demanding more sustainable and transparent practices, it is vital that organisations are fully aware their energy usage and whether they are adopting best practice wherever possible.
A full energy audit is a methodical examination of energy use, and thus energy cost, and the procedures that impact on its use. Coupled with an energy policy, which can act as a driver for implementing and improving an organisation’s energy management system, you can demonstrate commitment to minimising energy use. This can be broken down in the six elements described below.

Top level commitment
It starts at the top. The energy policy should be endorsed by senior management, ideally at board level, in order to demonstrate their commitment and ensure that the organisation allocates the staff time to maintain and enhance its efforts to improve energy efficiency and adapt energy use to its needs. Without that support you are likely to see any initiatives lose momentum and fail to get the widespread behaviour change that these types of projects require.

Defining the strategy
In the quest to reduce energy use it can be tempting to rush into quick fix solutions. Bolt-on renewable and low to zero carbon technologies, such as photovoltaic arrays, wind turbines and solar thermal, are often seen as the answer, although the capital cost can often be seen as a barrier. Whilst these all have a part to play, there should be a consistent strategy running from the energy policy. The standard published ISO 50001, Energy Management Systems, provides a framework for integrating energy performance into management practices. This enables organisations to: develop a policy for more efficient use of energy and fix targets and objectives to meet that policy; use data to better understand and make decisions concerning energy use and consumption; measure the results; review the effectiveness of the policy; and continually improve energy management.

The first step is always to understand current energy use by carrying out energy use audits from an analysis of regular meter readings. This will show, for example, if electricity or gas use is dominant and where improvement efforts should be focused.

Defining the main objectives
A long-term target should be developed with a series of stepping stones to maintain progress. For example, if you have multiple buildings, consider initially restricting the policy objectives to a small number or even a single building. This will ensure that the project is manageable. It can be rolled out to cover all buildings later. This will also help you to understand the benefits of the policy at a smaller scale, helping inform the roll out across further buildings and informing target settings. It is important to define the area over which the policy applies at any particular time.

The objectives themselves should be simple and clear so that they can be understood by internal and external parties, such as employees, customers, public authorities and investors. They will form the basis for setting energy targets.
Cost and time resources
There are certainly long term benefits to be had through better managed energy but these will be no overnight fix. We must also ensure that we do not focus solely on the financial costs and also consider the human effort required.

Changes to the way in which we manage our energy requires behaviour change and for that you need to look at different techniques to build that movement from within the workforce.
One approach would be to form an energy working party to feed ideas into the policy. By acting as advocates they can help establish commitment throughout multiple areas of the organisation. Consulting with people from a variety of skill sets and department will broaden input. It is also a good idea to identify ‘energy champions’, people who can support initiatives on a daily basis in their usual working lives.

Target and review periods
To formulate the energy policy itself, once the scope is defined and a general picture of high level energy use understood, it is important to: set targets and goals; determine action plans; state time frames; and identify key personnel, including the sponsoring senior staff member. This will allow roles and responsibilities to be transparent and identify building lifecycle factors.
These steps will ensure that efforts are concentrated to optimum effect and that realistic targets and timeframes are set. It will also help you understand whether the project is working and where you may need to adapt approaches.

Continual improvement
The energy policy should be an official, publicly available statement. It should illustrate a commitment to achieve energy management objectives such as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to do this by continual improvement.
When formulating an energy policy, there is no simple solution to tackling this complex challenge. Each building is different, each organisation is different, and therefore the journey towards better energy management will be unique.

That said, the above provides a framework to take the first steps.
What is important is that full commitment is given to it from the start. Our work shows us that organisations are tackling the whole sustainability agenda either to comply with legislation or to enhance their public image. It is encouraging that organisations are reviewing their activity but doing it for these reasons threatens to undermine the benefits that can be realised.
A full and sustained approach to becoming a more sustainable business must be part of the DNA of an organisation; it cannot be a side project, it cannot be a short term goal. Increasingly organisations are becoming switched on to the topic, which is good news. I look forward to seeing how this important debate develops.

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