Six top tips for super-charging energy efficiency on the road to net-zero
Last week, edie hosted a 45-minute masterclass on energy efficiency, featuring expert speakers from BEIS, BAM Nuttall and the Carbon Trust. Here, we round up their key takeaways.
With industry responsible for around a fifth of UK greenhouse gas emissions, the deployment of innovative energy efficiency technologies and systems is critical to improving the energy intensity of industrial processes. And there are significant savings to be had in other sectors, too. It is estimated that 19% of energy purchased by the average office or warehouse in the UK each year will be wasted.
With this in mind, edie’s recent masterclass webinar on energy efficiency provided energy and sustainability professionals with the insights and inspiration they need to adopt best-practice on low-hanging fruit, and to go beyond this solid foundation, looking to new innovations and extended collaboration on the road to net-zero.
Hosted in association with the Carbon Trust and the BEIS Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA), the 45-minute session outlined the extent to which energy efficiency must be ramped up for the UK to meet its net-zero target, before exploring the key challenges and opportunities for businesses of all sizes and sectors – with a particular focus on high emitters.
Here, we round up X of the speakers’ key calls to action for those making key decisions on energy efficiency projects – whether they involve existing technologies or emerging innovations.
1) Explore multiple technology solutions and front-load action
Kicking off the webinar was BEIS’s head of industry and CCS Tony Allen. After providing a birds-eye view of the “unprecedented” action needed from all sectors to deliver net-zero – which will require improvements in energy efficiency all around – and describing some BEIS-funded case studies, Allen issued a call to action. He urged businesses to be aware that there is no “silver bullet”, while also being willing to take risks and be the first mover on emerging technologies.
He said: “Net-zero is here to stay. There is not a single answer and you need to get involved now… Innovation is developing real solutions grounded in good engineering principles, so now is the time to seek them out.”
Allen highlighted how the Net-Zero Innovation Portfolio announced at the 2021 Budget could assist with delivery. The Portfolio commits £1bn, to be spent over a five-year period, to sectors including advanced CCUS, smart energy and storage systems and hydrogen. Priority energy-efficiency-related innovations were largely aligned with those highlighted in BEIS’s 2019 Energy Innovation Needs Assessment. Many are not mature yet but Allen’s slides stated: “There is a first-mover advantage – including learning by going through the process.”
The Carbon Trust’s programme manager for the BEIS IEEA Paul McKinney elaborated: “Now is the time for leading industrial companies to get involved in various trials… It’s a bit difficult for industry to see, at this stage, whether it will be all about hydrogen or electrification, and there’s some caution about betting on just one [solution]. There’s probably a bit of a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, but with net-zero, we can’t afford to do this for too long.”
McKinney also spoke of the importance of tackling incremental energy efficiency, step-change energy efficiency and of going beyond energy efficiency – for example, by sourcing alternative fuels – depending on your organisation’s specific context.
2) Know that data challenges are not insurmountable
After Allen’s presentation, BAM Nuttall’s carbon reduction lead Sarah Joliffe took to the virtual stage. A significant portion of her exclusive presentation centred around the need for good energy data – both to baseline your organisation’s footprint in the first instance, develop ambitious but feasible targets and to track and report progress against them. She described best practice in this field as “a bit of a moving feast”.
Joliffe said: “There’s quite a significant challenge with data…and a myriad of different issues. These range from having the right baseline to start from… to lack of sufficient resources, because data management is often stapled onto the back of other professional roles that might not be confident enough.
“Transparency is also an issue. Across many sectors, people are quite precious about things they’ve done historically and the impact of that... but we are gradually getting a collective voice across industry so we can lift efficiency up a lot more readily.”
Aside from adequate resources and collaboration, Joliffe highlighted the importance of tracking operational energy use and emissions to ensure that claims made by technology, innovation or material suppliers are accurate for your specific context
3) Energy-saving innovations can be material
Joliffe’s presentation touched on many of the energy-related technologies that BAM Nuttall are using to improve efficiency and reduce GHGs, including renewable generation arrays and electrified technologies. But alternative materials, including those with a greater proportion of recycled or natural components, also featured heavily.
She outlined how a drainage solution made using twin-walled plastic rather than concrete had reduced energy use from material manufacturing and from installation while reducing delivery timelines. Another solution discussed was 3D-printed concrete, which enables off-site production of “leaner” pieces. Sections are lighter and easier to install.
Allen’s presentation also highlighted the importance of the circular economy in the transition to a more energy-efficient world. He described a case-study that enabled the recycling of industrial laundry wastewater thanks to the addition of new filtration technologies.
Think-tank Circle Economy’s annual Circularity Gap Report this year outlined how 39% of global annual emissions could be mitigated through circular solutions. Similarly, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has asserted that 45% of global annual emissions are tied, in some way, to material production and consumption.
4) Behaviour change still has its place
While presenting, Joliffe explained that, even with technology and automation, you probably still need to harness behaviour change from employees to realise the maximum potential for energy saving. Even in the most ‘hands-off’ scenarios, new training may be needed hearts and minds may need to be won.
She described the question of “should we focus on new technology or behaviour change” as “a bit of a chicken and egg scenario”, urging listeners not to let theorising and forecasting distract from action.
An example cited from the construction industry was the adoption of grid electricity connections. “Technologically speaking, this is quite easy to do; it may cost a bit of money but it will deliver efficiency benefits,” Joliffe said. “But what I’ve found is… that there is a behavioural trait in which people think ‘we tendered a job with a generator before, it worked well, we will do it again.' And so, the challenge ensues.”
5) Consider the full scope of your potential to make a difference
Joliffe’s presentation included a diagram illustrating the fact that, while building materials and construction account for around 11% of global annual emissions directly, the sector also contributes to carbon and energy use in other high-emitting sectors including building operations, heavy industry and transport systems. She explained that, while it is important to “get your house in order” by addressing direct energy use and emissions, true leadership also means influencing indirect energy use.
The question of accounting for indirect energy use and the related Scope 3 emissions was then raised during the Q&A portion of the masterclass. The Carbon Trust’s McKinney said: “Double counting is clearly a challenge and even a problem for a group of people in certain roles, but we have to be careful not to let this be an excuse for not doing things.”
Joliffe agreed, citing issues with data quality and overlapping accounting, particularly in the case of joint venture contracts on mega-projects. But she also highlighted the importance of “well-meaning” action and of scaling up investment in general, which can be achieved even when double-counting takes place.
6) Consider local funding opportunities
The Q&A session saw BEIS’s Allen asked whether there are any specific grant or incentive schemes for SMEs, as programmes like the IEEA, IETF and EEF have also involved arger firms.
Allen explained that, because of the Government’s overarching pledge to “level up” all regional economies and the growing uptake of pre-2050 net-zero targets by local authorities, Councils are often running their own dedicated schemes. Such schemes are particularly common in the South East, with schemes active now in Tandridge, Surrey; Adur and Worthing, Sussex, and London boroughs including Camden.