Getting the most out of ESOS – why ‘wait and see' won't cut it

The clock is ticking on ESOS, and overcoming widespread industry inertia is important if UK companies are to get the best out of the scheme, advises the ESOS Info Hub team…

The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) is now in full swing, following the finalisation of the legislation in June. The introduction of mandatory energy audits for large enterprises means that it's now a matter of law to scrutinise energy consumption across a company's buildings, transport fleet and industrial processes. Such audits have the potential to unlock real energy savings for participants, but the tight timescale of the legislation means that things may not go as planned.

Tight timescales

The deadlines for ESOS may seem a long way off – the initial compliance paperwork must be filed by the end of this year and the audit must be done and dusted by December 2015 – but, make no mistake, the timescales are demanding. In order to show that the UK is leading the EU in terms of energy efficiency, and to make cuts to emissions that will count towards 2020 targets, things are moving quickly.

This means the business world will need to run (rather than walk) towards compliance – and there may be a genuine crisis brewing. It's likely that there won't be the market capacity available to deliver a high level of energy auditing to all 7,260 of the scheme's participants. With only approximately 500 good-quality energy consultants in the UK (all of whom have other work to do besides ESOS audits), there will almost certainly be a shortage of assessors available. In fact, by our calculations, if every ESOS participant waits until January 2015 to begin the auditing process, it would take 132% of current market capacity to bring all firms up to compliance.

A shortfall in market capacity

Unless the number of energy consultants magically grows by 32% – or unless every participant begins the ESOS process much earlier – there's likely to be a problem. It's probable that the shortfall will be filled by assessors decamping from other initiatives (such as the Green Deal) and gaining accreditation for ESOS. However, here we reach the crux of the matter. Namely, that there's a difference between simple compliance with ESOS and actually getting good value out of the process.

The great danger with ESOS is that it could devolve into a tick-box exercise. This is a waste of time and money for the scheme's participants and it's a huge missed opportunity for cutting the UK's CO2 emissions. A Green-Deal-Assessor-turned-ESOS-Assessor may be able to help an organisation comply, but it's unlikely they'll be able to uncover the depth of energy savings that could make the process genuinely worthwhile. What's more, given that the ESOS submission needs to be signed off by one the organisation's Statutory Directors, there's increased pressure to do a quality job, rather than simply comply.

Beyond simple compliance

If the right emphasis is devoted to the process, an ESOS audit can easily pay for itself 13.5 times over (DECC's estimate) or even more. It's easy to assume that the energy auditing process will be straightforward – perfunctory, even. After all, who needs someone to traipse around your site and tell you to install energy-efficient lighting or put in place a behaviour change programme (as the government guidance suggests)? Yet, if done properly, an ESOS audit could be a genuine opportunity to find (and remove) hidden sources of energy waste that have been overlooked.

Even more importantly, it could also be a chance to approach energy use in a more strategic, high-level manner – unlocking a depth of energy savings that were previously inaccessible.

Finding the deepest savings

For many organisations, ESOS will be the first time that transport energy use is considered alongside building and industrial energy use. In many cases, it will also be the first opportunity to compare buildings across a whole estate. The greatest savings from ESOS can be accrued through standardising metrics, in order to provide a baseline for league tabling – and attaining a real means of comparison across similar buildings.

This type of big picture thinking is where the true value of ESOS lies. But it's also clear that these deep, strategic savings can only be accomplished with the right support. ESOS auditing isn't a job for just anyone – the level of potential energy savings will differ site by site, and the way to secure the fastest paybacks and biggest returns is to identify the right sites to survey.

Here at the ESOS Info Hub, we are well aware that ESOS can only be successful in driving down the UK's emissions if a rational and well-informed approach is taken. For this reason, we've made a commitment to helping ESOS participants to understand the intricacies of the legislation by creating an independent, online ESOS Hub. Armed with strong knowledge and the right support, ESOS could represent a genuine transformation in how UK companies view energy efficiency.

Learn more about ESOS by visiting the ESOS Hub:

Author: Anthony Mayall is Managing Director of NIFES (part of Inenco Group), a specialist in energy reduction.

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