UK businesses set to spark smart tech revolution, PwC survey shows

The UK business community is showing a growing interest in smart technology, according to a new survey, which shows that a third of industrial firms intend to invest more than £1m in distributed energy solutions by 2022.

The findings were collated by professional services firm PwC in a survey of more than 500 businesses, the majority of which spend under £500k a year on energy needs.

The study also found that one in five commercial firms plan to spend more than £1m in the next five years on smart technologies such as on-site renewable generation, heat networks, biomass boilers and demand response measures.

While only 17% of industrial respondents said they aim to produce all or almost all of their own power by 2022, an additional 45% propose to offset grid reliance with some on-site power supply.

PwC’s power and utilities leader Steve Jennings said: “As to why customers may be moving away from the grid, there are a number of possible reasons from reducing their cost base or environmental footprint to taking control of their security of supply.  

“But while many will agree that technology innovation has the potential to change the B2B energy landscape, our survey shows that barriers remain.”

Main barriers

According to the study, one of the major barriers to a smart business revolution is cost, with three in five firms worried about pricing and the rise in associated taxes and levies over the next two years. This figure rises to 79% for commercial businesses, which PwC puts down to higher energy costs for industrial firms than many EU counterparts.

The survey highlights that the greatest obstacle facing firms is the concern that smart tech investments will not pay back in an acceptable timeframe, while reliability and security of supply also ranked highly as problems to be resolved.

“Unless addressed, these issues will continue to influence both the level and pace of smart energy adoption across the UK business community,” Jennings said.

Smart revolution

A smarter energy system centred around demand response and energy storage could create savings for the UK to the tune of £8bn by 2030, according to research. As companies and industries seek new economic opportunities through digitalisation and the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes commonplace, business leaders are starting to give their backing to the rollout of smart technology.

Retailer Pets at Home has recorded energy savings of 32% across its stores after a “game-changing” LED lighting project was embraced across the entire business, the firm’s energy manager James Kokiet told edie this week. Kokiet explained that the company is now looking at the potential to utilise more on-site solutions such as solar technology and battery storage.

Flexible energy generation is a route being “actively explored” by energy-intensive multinational firms Rolls-Royce and Nestlé, the energy managers of the respective companies confirmed last month. Meanwhile, delivery firm UPS last week told edie it is set to trial decentralised power generation and onsite storage systems at its London operating base.

PWC and sustainability megatrends

As part of edie’s series of thought-leadership articles on the global impact of megatrends, PwC’s sustainability and climate Change partner Celine Herweijer explored how green innovations and technological breakthroughs are driving the fourth Industrial Revolution. You can read that part in the series here.

The series will culminate with a high-level discussion focused on megatrends at the Strategy and Innovation conference at edie Live 2017 at the NEC Birmingham on 24 May. Find out more about edie Live 2017 and get your free two-day pass here

George Ogleby

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