How we can learn from innovation in energy intensive industries

For edie’s Business Leadership Month, Mitie’s managing director of energy and decarbonisation Pradyumna Pandit, explores how businesses can harness innovation to accelerate decarbonsiation.

How we can learn from innovation in energy intensive industries

With heavy industry accounting for 16% of the UK’s emissions, decarbonising these energy-intensive processes is key to achieving Britain’s net-zero targets. This is a considerable chunk of carbon to tackle, so the £12.4m funding announced by the newly formed Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, for 22 new innovative green projects is welcome news.

This funding will help deliver decarbonisation innovation with the development of technology that may not have previously made it past the cutting room. These projects can have wider real-world impact if we harness their learnings to create a cross-sector ripple effect to help tackle the remaining bulk of Britain’s emissions.

To think big, start small

The path to net zero is different for all organisations but it always starts by bringing it back to basics. The first thing we talk to any organisation about is efficiency. Simple everyday changes can speedily stack up and before you know it you’ve saved serious sums – both in carbon and cost.

That all begins with collecting meaningful data. Sensors and Building Management Systems are an efficient way of recording energy use which can be transformed into insight to change behaviours. This may include turning electrical equipment off at certain times of the day, such as not leaving lights and computer monitors on overnight, or identifying unused areas of buildings that are consuming energy unnecessarily. By embracing this technology, we can identify wastage areas and be smarter in how we use our buildings. In today’s energy environment, these savings can go a long way towards supporting self-generation projects to drive energy security.

Generating savings on site

Innovative technologies continue to be developed, but we must use what we already have now. Once buildings are optimised, we must ensure they self-generate as much power as possible by using existing technologies, such as solar and heat pumps. There has never been a better time to invest in solar, particularly for estates with large roof spaces. The cost of solar materials and installation has fallen by 82% over the last decade, with the average payback on investment for solar projects now just five years. This technology is ready to deploy now, to provide energy security for organisations and reduce emissions. This on-site capacity can also be used to power futureproofing projects, such as electric vehicle charging, creating a self-generation snowball effect.

Sharing is carbon caring

Heating and cooling accounts for substantial energy use for most industries, so decarbonising heat remains at the heart of Britain’s net zero ambitions. New innovations to capture waste heat and reuse it must be explored and maximised, alongside wide-spread heat pump roll out. But if we are to deliver these innovations at scale, we must share data, technological advancements, and process improvements.

There are many ways we can share learnings. Personally, I’d like to see decarbonisation providers, trade bodies, research professionals and energy intensive innovators come together in person more to share best practice. An open dialogue and shared expertise are key to confronting our shared net zero challenges.

No idea too big or too small

The public sector benefits from a larger decarbonisation funding pot via the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) but support is not infinite. This makes it even more important for learnings to be shared across public and private sectors.

Some industries still use steam to create heat, which is inefficient, carbon-intensive, and hard to electrify. Many hospitals have used PSDS funding to de-steam their decades-old steam processes, and private sector organisations can learn from these changes. Even if one part of an industrial process requires steam, individual heating circuits can be decoupled from the main circuit, with cleaner, more efficient heat pumps installed to heat water, building spaces, and other parts of industrial processes.

The private sector also needs more funding to support large net zero projects, particularly for heating and cooling, to encourage experimental innovation that could revolutionise the way we tackle emissions. We need more blue-sky thinking, and the private sector is ideally placed to lead this.

We all have a duty to address net zero and drive efficiencies whether that’s championing and deploying existing technologies or developing exciting new ones. The key lies in how we all collaborate on progress and ensure that cross-sector best practice is shared, from small process changes to massive carbon slashing strides. It’s not just down to the big industrial emitters to make changes – we’re all on this road to net zero together. That journey must start now.

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