Big data will drive consumer demand for sustainability, claims ScottishPower Renewables

EXCLUSIVE: The decarbonisation of Britain's energy sector will require greater innovation and consumer engagement levels to ignite an increased demand for low-carbon products, systems and infrastructure - with big data well-equipped to instigate the transformation.

That was a view put forward by ScottishPower Renewable’s chief operating officer Keith Anderson in a panel discussion during the opening sessin of edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum in London today (25 January).

Anderson was joined by Forum for the Future’s founding director Jonathon Porritt on stage, and both agreed in their panel discussion that the energy sector could no longer baulk at sustainability challenges.

“A lot of companies look upon sustainability as a cost, but we’ve been frequently trying to view it as an opportunity and create value out of that challenge,” Anderson said. “The challenge for the future is around getting people engaged and wanting the services that we’re offering.

“We will struggle to move forward if we can’t engage. Right now, two big challenges headed the UK’s way are transport and heat. You will not succeed in this transformation unless you get people to change. We need innovation that gets people asking and demanding for a change in what we offer and how we operate.”

Anderson used recent developments in the telecoms sector to support his viewpoint, pointing out that “no one pays for just a phonecall anymore” but consumers will instead demand a range of services from their phone, TV or broadband providors. Other sectors should now embrace innovation to create and adapt to new demands from consumers, Anderson said.

The ScottishPower Renewables COO did note that some new products and services exist within the energy sector to help ignite new demand. Specifically, Anderson claimed that the smart meter roll-out, which began in the UK last September, could change how consumers interact with businesses, and could encourage them to live more sustainably.

The smart meter rollout, which aims to put more than 53 million smart meters in 30 million buildings across the nation, with associated energy efficiency gains worth £17bn, by removing manual and estimated readings. Despite critics arguing that the rollout will come at an extremely high cost, Anderson noted that smart meters will provide half-hourly data that could be used to engage with consumers to enhance how they use energy.

“It can change everything about the industry and how it works, but also about how consumers and the community engage,” Anderson added. “You can change how people live their lives with that data, the problem at the moment is that the data is raw. We need to convert that data into something that people value.”

Neo-liberal globalisation

Porritt’s involvement in this morning’s panel discussion saw the Forum for the Future director criticise the energy sector for failing to develop “systematic community engagement strategies” that create value for local communities through the sustainability initiatives that incumbents introduce.

Porritt said that big energy companies had “screwed their own prospects” by failing to introduce Community Trust funds – which would have enhanced, improved and protected both the natural and built environment of regional areas.

Indeed, a survey carried out by Co-operative Energy revealed that more than three quarters of UK households would support renewable energy projects such as wind turbines and solar farms if the profits generated benefitted the local community.

M&S Energy is among those that are embracing community-based energy projects, having recently announced the 26 winners of a £350,000 Community Energy Fund, which supports a range of projects looking to install on-site clean technology systems.

Porritt also today warned that neo-liberal globalisation – which appeals to poorer households as a progressive spread of wealth – would create an environment where the cheapest companies, rather than the most enduring, would be the main benefactors.

“I’ve never been a great fan of full-on neo-liberal globalisation, it holds few delights to me in terms of the impact on the global economy,” Porritt said.

“When that kind of economy lets rip, the full-on outsourcing that we see with supply chains simply goes to the cheapest provider of a product or service. I don’t know how that would serve long-term sustainability benefits.”

edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum continues throughout today and tomorrow. Stay tuned to edie for exclusive stories and interview from the event, and follow @edie using #SusLeaders to follow it live.

Matt Mace

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