Building an energy efficient business

Energy efficiency is an overriding concern for organisations of all sizes and across every sector. Ahead of NEMEX 2014, Sustainability Live's David Copeland examines the factors driving demand for energy management and looks at some of the British companies driving technology innovation and energy e

The constant rise in energy prices has placed energy efficiency high on the agenda for businesses. Key drivers also include the EU's Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), under which all Member States must establish long-term strategies (or Roadmaps) for mobilising investment in the refurbishment of their national building stock (public and private, residential and commercial) by April 2014, as well as other Directives, regulation and government incentives designed to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and ensure security of supply.

Mandates aside, better energy management can help firms reduce their energy bills and enable them to future-proof their business against long-term price rises and volatility. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) believes that business activity on the ground can translate to a material impact on UK growth and jobs, supporting a domestic market worth £17.6bn and employing 136,000 people across the country.

However, the CBI believes there remains a lot of untapped potential in the UK, with both technological and behavioural changes being overlooked. This was confirmed recently in a report published by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum and Carbon Connect, which warns that energy efficiency measures are still not being implemented to the extent they should be. As a result, businesses are collectively missing out on a cost-saving opportunity of up to £1.6 billion.

The report identified a lack of understanding across the UK commercial sector concerning the benefits of improved energy efficiency, and the ways in which companies can finance and engage in improvements. Further issues highlighted were a lack of available upfront capital to invest, energy efficiency improvements not being aligned with strategic goals, a lack of the right skills to implement energy efficiency investment, and lack of communication and buy-in.

Sustainable energy and carbon neutrality

Nevertheless, a fresh wave of clean tech investment across Europe is anticipated, with a new package of climate and energy policies unveiled by the European Commission in January this year. Designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 40 per cent against 1990 levels by 2030, the proposed framework includes a binding target for EU member states to source at least 27 per cent of their energy from renewable sources by the same date, as well as a non-binding target designed to encourage countries to improve their energy efficiency by 25 per cent through the 2020s.

Commercial buildings such as offices, shops and hotels, public sector and industrial facilities are critical in the move to a low carbon economy. Accounting for an estimated 18 per cent of the UK's total carbon emissions, the Carbon Trust believes that the carbon footprint of non-domestic buildings can be reduced by more than one third by 2020 to deliver a net benefit of £4billion to the UK economy through energy savings.

Central to this strategy is the roll out of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and Advisory Reports (ARs) to all non-domestic buildings by 2015. These are mandated as part of the EU's European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and are intended to provide transparency of energy performance across the sector. Introduced in the UK in 2008, EPCs and DECs can only be produced by an accredited assessor.
NEMEX exhibitor UPL for example, is fully approved and accredited to provide and maintain EPCs, DECs and accompanying Advisory Reports, and has successfully fulfilled all of South Wales Police's DEC and EPC requirements. UPL also compiled an energy consumption data report providing a baseline allowing it to profile the force's gas and electricity consumption over a 12-month period in order to forecast its future energy use and establish more precise energy budgets.

As part of the project, UPL also recommended a number of cost-saving measures that could be introduced in order to improve the energy efficiency ratings of the force's 130 buildings. The recommendations included reducing reliance upon artificial lighting, replacing windows, improving insulation and installing flow restrictors on taps to reduce the force's costs and maximise energy efficiency throughout their site portfolio.

Action imperative

A further scheme in the UK impacting on larger organisations is the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. Formerly known as the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), this is a mandatory carbon emissions reporting and pricing scheme that came into effect in October last year and covers all organisations in the UK (excluding state funded schools in England) using more than 6,000MWh per year of electricity.
Organisations that meet the qualification threshold for the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme have to comply legally or face financial and other penalties. They are required to monitor their energy use, and report their energy supplies annually to the Environment Agency. They must also purchase and surrender allowances to offset their emissions.

Certainly, the combination of commercial, environmental, regulatory and political drivers in the UK has meant that for medium and large organisations, energy efficiency and low-carbon policies are no longer a question of corporate social sustainability, but a commercial imperative. As such, a wide range of utility infrastructure, smart metering and energy management and renewable generation solutions are now available that provide innovative and cost-effective ways to meet the dual challenge of increasing energy efficiency and realising carbon reduction.

Building automation and controls for example, are cost-efficient, have short pay-back times (between 3 and 5 years) and offer substantial potential for reducing thermal and electrical energy consumption. These technologies can be applied to manage the operation of all types of building services, such as heating and hot water, ventilation (through the use of fans and ductwork), cooling and air conditioning, lighting, and windows and shading devices.
Fitting a full set of controls to an older heating system that previously had none for example, can save over 15 per cent on energy bills, according to the Carbon Trust, while premises fitted with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) building control systems can benefit from heating bills between 15-35 per cent lower than in poorly-controlled buildings. Making use of daylight can reduce lighting costs by 19 per cent in a typical office. In conjunction with staff action, the use of automatic controls can ensure these savings are achieved.

Smarter energy management

Many of the controls and functions available for buildings can be integrated into a single Building Energy Management System (BEMS). This technology is recommended for larger buildings with an energy bill in excess of £10,000, and offers closer control and monitoring of building services performance by displaying data on a computer screen in real time. Intelligent controllers monitor conditions throughout the building and determine the operation of boilers, pumps, fans, motors and lighting in response to changing conditions such as time, temperature and light levels.

Another technology seeing increased uptake is automated meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Current deployments mostly focus around the smart meter, but as the smart metering rollout continues and the need to process real-time information grows, the next area of focus will be meter data management.
Businesses with multiple sites can have thousands of meter points for measuring electricity, gas, and water consumption, creating vast volumes of data. Advanced energy management systems have therefore evolved to combine, standardise and analyse this data in a user-friendly way. Energy dashboards can mine information enabling users to view and track energy performance at asset, site or estate level.
NEMEX exhibitor t-mac Technologies for example provides energy dashboards and reports continued growth in the market driven by the necessity to monitor, manage and control energy usage. Using wireless and web-based technology, t-mac's intelligent systems enable remote online monitoring and control of assets such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration as well as consumables such as water, air, gas and electricity.

Meeting the efficiency challenge

Further examples of UK-based companies driving innovation in energy efficiency include Vickers Electronics and Open Energi (both of which are also showcasing their latest developments at NEMEX). Vickers Electronics specialises in technology systems that cut energy bills and carbon emissions by controlling heating in commercial or industrial buildings.

The company has recently enabled electronics and maintenance products distributor RS Components to cut its energy consumption across ten UK warehouses by almost 40 per cent. Vickers' solution connects to the heating system and models where heaters can be turned on or off to ensure optimum heating across each warehouse while stock is delivered. The solution collates data on the heating consumption of a warehouse and automatically adjusts heaters depending on which doors are open to make the process more efficient.

Open Energi is a pioneer in Dynamic Demand' technology – which is a form of Demand Response (DR). The latter is part of the smart grid evolution, and means reducing demand at times when supply is also constrained, and shifts the timing of a user's energy consumption, or temporarily reduces it, to match the available supply. Energy users who offer this service receive a payment from the National Grid.
Open Energi has been working with Aggregate Industries, a construction firm committed to creating a better built environment through sustainable approaches, to develop and install a Dynamic Demand solution that turns bitumen tanks into smart devices' able to adjust their demand for electricity in response to fluctuations in grid system frequency. The project is expected to reduce UK CO2 emissions by almost 50,000 tonnes over the next five years.

Building an energy efficient business

The rapidly evolving market for energy management and efficiency comprises a vast array of technologies and solutions. Ultimately however, there are three core pillars to building an energy efficient business: staff behaviour, technology, and services. Only by addressing all three can a business build an effective and sustainable model for improving its energy efficiency and business performance while lowering its carbon footprint.

The Energy Saving Trust recommends implementing a communication strategy designed to influence employee behaviour change; measuring and benchmarking results and communicating these across the organisation and its employees; and planning and delivering activities that will embed a sustainability culture, encourage positive behaviours and green the workplace' to boost resource efficiency, save energy and carbon.

Ideally, firms should be working towards accreditation to the ISO 14001 standard, which has proved hugely popular and been adopted by more than 285,000 organisations globally. ISO is currently looking to publish a revised version of ISO 14001 as a draft international standard (DIS), paving the way for sustainable management best practices to play an even more central role in corporate decision making. Best practices will be one of the central themes discussed during the keynote and seminar programme at this year's NEMEX.

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