Should SMEs conduct an energy audit?

EIC explores the benefits that firms can reap from conducting an energy audit and how to maximise the value of its findings.

Information is power

Energy audits provide firms with a clearer picture of their energy consumption patterns. Also, they can highlight existing points of weakness where wastage may be occurring as well as provide a foundation of knowledge for negotiating new energy procurement contracts.

As we approach the 2050 net-zero deadline, clarity surrounding energy usage – the major driver behind office-based carbon emissions – will become increasingly valuable.

Small to medium enterprises in particular stand to benefit greatly from the help audits can provide. Especially in navigating information barriers that conceal opportunities to improve their energy efficiency.

While a review of an organisations energy portfolio can seem daunting, technology can help lighten the load. Smart meters can keep an ongoing, up-to-date record of energy usage across an entire site.

Employing one of these devices essentially automates the local data-finding necessary to perform an effective audit. Given how vulnerable long-term metering is to human error, this makes their installation a wise first step in the process.

Metering alone can provide average energy savings of 10% and comprehensive sub-metering can raise these savings by a further 30% according to the Carbon Trust.

An on-site walk around compliments the auditing process since it can identify sources of inefficiency missed by meter readings. Old equipment in need of replacement is one common example. Another being wholesale temperature regulation of buildings since this often does not reflect actual occupancy levels in individual rooms.

The fruits of an energy audit

mixed fruitWith the audit complete, realistic energy efficiency targets become foreseeable and have a baseline for comparison of progress. Such a foundation is crucial for effective engagement with carbon compliance schemes like SECR and CCA.

Firms might follow up by installing site-wide building management systems that can provide further clarity on utility consumption.

Such a system can remotely govern space occupancy, dynamic temperature regulation and air quality from a single platform. The latter of these also affects the health and productivity of those within. Thus, intelligent air quality management can represent a twofold investment.

EIC understands the potential of informed utility management, hence why it provides all these services under a single banner.

Whether it be by supporting data collation with expert metering guidance or exploiting the discoveries that an audit yields with a single-platform building management system, EIC can provide the technical expertise needed for enterprises to maximise the benefit of an energy audit.

 

The end of fixed term energy contracts?

EIC expands on recent comments from industry professionals concerning the viability of fixed-term energy contracts in an uncertain future.

The floodgates open

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt at all levels of commerce, whether it be the radical transition to remote working or exposing the fragility of the fossil fuel sector.

Many organisations have recognised the opportunity that remote communications technology like Zoom and Skype have presented. Building costs account for a huge portion of the average firms outgoings and by reducing the need for space, these costs can shrink as well.

‘The new normal’ it seems could be a boon for all businesses in terms of operation costs, not to mention time saved for their employees. However, as with any paradigm shift, this transition has a great deal of uncertainty attached to it.

A major challenge facing energy suppliers will be in predicting consumption patterns as more people start to work from home. Unpredictable fluctuation will make it more difficult for suppliers to mitigate risk on fixed term contracts. As a result, they will become greatly exposed to imbalance charges and ‘Take-or-pay’ penalties embedded in most standard fixed contracts.

Fixed vs flexible contracts

As a means to protect against these volatile shifts in the country’s energy demand, energy suppliers will increase the price of fixed energy contracts. Doing so will protect against uncertain consumption patterns. Suppliers may also begin to leverage the terms within those contracts to the cost of the firms they are supplying.

Chris Hurcombe, CEO of Catalyst Commercial Services, believes fixed-price contracts may ultimately disappear as suppliers struggle to predict consumption patterns and attempt to insulate themselves from risk.

Post-Covid, there are too many unknowns for suppliers to price them accurately, so they are doing everything possible to de-risk contracts. Credit requirements are going up and some suppliers are not pricing for certain industries without an upfront deposit or a significant price premium…”

Chris Hurcombe, CEO of Catalyst Commercial Services

Currently, fixed-price contracts levy a 10% price premium compared to their flexible counterparts. Additionally, Hurcombe has predicted a 15-17% rise in 2021,  continuing to 20% the following year.

Non-commodity costs, expected to climb in the near future, now represent the lion’s share of energy bills. As such, they represent the largest risk factor for end-users/client procurement budgets. These ‘fixed’ contracts, which allow suppliers to pass through additional energy charges, may hold a costly surprise for the firms taking part.

ballerina lying on grass doing the splits

Help on the inside

Fortunately, flexible contracts, which EIC specialises in procuring, offer means to reduce or avoid some of these charges. They also afford adaptability in a changing commercial landscape. As volume consumption forecast becomes difficult and budget certainty key for the survival of companies, flexibility will become crucial.

The UK commercial and industrial sectors consume 185TWh annually, approximately £27bn worth, so the potential savings here are gargantuan. Savings of such magnitude can’t be ignored in an economy approaching its deepest recession since 2008’s financial crisis.

EIC can secure you a flexible energy contract to take advantage of these savings. The key markers that EIC looks for when engaging suppliers include contract features and functionality, transparency around price-fixing mechanism and competitiveness of the supplier’s account management fee.

Using these criteria means EIC can effectively guide your market position despite the fluctuations that a post-COVID future promises.

Existing EIC clients were collectively under budget to the tune of £65.7m between 2014 and 2018 for electricity and gas. One pharmaceutical client enjoyed 78% in annual savings over a 36 month period.

Find out more about how to recruit EIC’s expertise into your negotiations.

 

The Hydrogen Age

EIC explores the potential of Hydrogen fuel to decarbonise the UK, its domestic supporters and success it has already enjoyed in the EU.

Hydrogen showing carbon the door

In the wake of COVID-19, economic recovery is now a top priority for the UK government. However, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have both staked their flag in making sure it is a ‘green’ economic recovery. As such, industry leaders – particularly within the energy sector – have reopened the conversation on the role of hydrogen in reaching net zero.

The CCC (Committee on Climate Change) published a report in 2018 summarising its recommendations for a UK hydrogen strategy. The hope is to utilise Hydrogen in the UK’s heating systems, specifically by blending it with natural gas, to reduce its carbon footprint.

UK buildings account for 40% of its energy consumption and 70% of industrial building energy is used on space heating and cooling. With these figures in mind, hydrogen’s value is clear to see provided it can get off the ground.

Unfortunately, there are several roadblocks to hydrogen use on a mass scale. The biggest of these is that it would require an infrastructural overall of current heating systems. Blended gas requires plastic pipes while the vast majority of those in the UK are iron.

In addition, the production of hydrogen fuel is highly carbon-intensive. Fortunately, this embedded carbon can be offset by CCS (carbon capture and storage) technology into its production.

However, these are costly caveats to making hydrogen a viable fuel replacement. Naturally, there are concerns that the government may opt for cheaper, quicker progress that, ironically, may prove unsustainable.

 “On the one hand, we need to put money where it has an immediate economic impact and in the most affected sectors. On the other, we need to keep in mind the long-term benefits of making our economy more resilient.”

Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for energy

Forest and low cloudsPrivate sector rescue

The EU Commission announced in June that it would provide €750 billion for its green recovery plan, reserving €1 billion for R&D into green hydrogen. Simson has stated that hydrogen has the potential to capture 10-16% of the EU’s energy market by 2050.

Following the EU’s lead, industry leaders in the UK approached the government and questioned the absence of hydrogen in both the spring budget COVID recovery plan.

Last month, a letter from the chiefs of four major unions implored the government to move forward on hydrogen development. The leaders of GMB, Prospect, Unison and Unite cited, in the letter, the massive reductions this could offer in the heat, transport and heavy industry sectors. Of course, the development of any new technology sector would also create thousands of jobs.

However, the letter was only one component of the “Hydrogen Strategy Now” campaign led by firms like EDF and Siemens. These companies, along with others supporting the campaign, have stated intentions to invest £1.5bn into hydrogen development.

The government must now seize the initiative and provide the necessary funding and support to make hydrogen happen. Firms that desire to adopt a long-term view of their energy and heat use might benefit from EICs services.

EIC’s combined heat and power solution have saved businesses up to 40% on energy costs. EIC can also provide a  carbon management team able to deliver a comprehensive net-zero strategy. Find out more about the services we offer.

 

EPBD: What you need to know

EIC unpacks Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), it’s origins, purpose and how firms can make sure they are compliant.

The Kyoto Protocol

Two years after the 1992 UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the Kyoto Protocol emerged as an extension to the conventions primary treaty.

The UNFCCC’s objective is to:

“Stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”

The extension took effect in 1997 and was as much political as it was scientific, viewing the climate crisis from a purely mathematical perspective. The consensus was that industrially developed nations were far greater contributors to climate change than rural and agricultural ones.

CO2 emissions would not be divided equally between the committed nations but rather based on their industrial activity. Subsequently, the EU and its member states committed to binding emission reduction targets which remain in effect today.

Following Kyoto, the EU established EPBD in January 2003 to ensure sufficient CO2 reductions from European buildings. The primary objective is to incentivise widespread improvement of their energy efficiency. The beauty of this that its criteria apply more to industrially developed nations due to their carbon intensity.

What legislative requirements are covered by EPBD?

The UK governments interpretation of embedding EPBD recognises 3 streams of certification, required by both the private and public sectors:

  • DECs (Display Energy Certificates) – required by publicly-owned or funded buildings on an annual basis
  • TM44 / Air Conditioning Inspections – required for all buildings with installed comfort cooling
  • EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) – required for both domestic and non-domestic new builds, majorly refurbished, sold or let out

The certificates are valid for 10 years from issue. EPCs underpin the MEES standard, whereby a building cannot be sold or let with an energy rating below E.

Building better

As lockdown restrictions ease, and the ‘Build Back Better’ initiative gains momentum, compliance with EPBD will only become more relevant.

The most recent recast of EPBD, in 2010, focuses on new builds and major renovations thereby adopting a long term view of the situation.

EPBD also protects consumers, it requires disclosure of efficiency measures within a property to buyers, to inform them of running costs.

The requirement led to the widespread introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), one of the major successes of EPBD to date. First introduced in 2007, the UK national database now contains energy performance information on a staggering 40% of homes.

Last year marked the EPBD deadline for all member states to have NZEBs – or Nearly Zero Energy Buildings. The criteria for an NZEB is simply that it has a very high energy performance, made possible by quality insulation and on-site renewable generation.

Since Zero Carbon Homes was scrapped in 2016, EPBD is one of the few legislations that targets the energy performance of buildings.

The fervour in reaching net-zero means that this legislation is here to stay and so firms should be asking how they could ensure they are taking part.

Upgrading for EPBD

Improving the energy performance of a structure needn’t be a complex process, however, it must be an informed one.

EIC’s approach to structural efficiency is twofold, assessing pre-existing assets using integrated metering and monitoring technology. Next, EIC adopts an end-to-end approach, carrying out initial certification, devising and implementing improvements. Finally undertaking a certificate review to demonstrate progress.

Depending on site limitations, EIC can consult on the installation of on-site generation, with a particular focus on solar generation. Thereby lessening a structure’s energy consumption, lowering your utility bills and improving its overall energy profile. View full details of these services, as well as testimonials from past clients.

Private investment, public gain: Green investment after lockdown

EIC discusses the Northvolt gigafactory, and how private funding is now flooding into green investment and sustainability projects.

Recharging capital

It began with grassroots environmentalism, then government mandate and finally, major financial institutions have started supporting a green future in earnest. Support in the form of loans and bonds for sustainable economic development and innovation, specifically solar storage options.

One such investment occurred last Thursday as the European Investment Bank (EIB) issued a €350 million loan to Northvolt for its lithium battery plant.

The site is based in Northern Sweden and is intended to produce the most environmentally-friendly battery storage packs to date. Using 100% renewable energy and locally-sourced materials, it will soften the characteristically high environmental cost of the Lithium-ion batteries it produces.

The cells will be used mainly in cars, which are responsible for 12% of the EU’s current carbon footprint.

Northvolt has already secured a €2bn supply contract with BMW and Volkswagen is interested in collaborating on a similar factory in Germany. The latter of these two is no surprise after VW unveiled plans to convert its Emden production plant to electric vehicle production.

birds eye view of land by the seaLofty ambitions

The gigafactory will have an initial production capacity of 16 GWh per year and be the first of its kind.

Both the investor and supplier share similarly ambitious intentions moving forward as well. Northvolt plans to scale capacity to 40GWh annually while, back in May, EIB stated its intention to increase green investment financing to over €1bn by the end of the year.

China still dominates the solar battery market, of course, producing more than five times that amount in 2019 alone. However, Northvolt and EIB have just set an important precedent and other banks are now joining the green investment fray.

“I believe that EIB financing support for Northvolt has been a textbook example of how our financial and technical due diligence can help crowd in private investors to visionary projects,”

Andrew McDowell, VP EIB

The COVID-19 lockdown has wrought chaos in several energy markets, most notably West Texas Intermediate – which went negative for the first time in April.

Projections show global growth shrinking to -3% after such dramatic losses in this market, as well as many others. Fortunately, the immediate crisis of COVID-19 has not blinkered business and political leaders to the looming threat of climate change.

Despite these losses, April saw a 272% increase of ESG (environmental, social, governance) bonds compared to April last year.

Green investment rush

Finally, investment in green infrastructure has become vogue among Europe’s financiers and firms should take notice. Last week Sadiq Khan promised £1.5bn to upgrade London’s water and gas networks and prepare for more electric vehicle use.

Beyond our shores, Danish investment bank, Saxo, is already making predictions about renewable technology taking over the global market.

“Governments will increase investments and subsidies for ‘green’ industries, starting a new mega trend in equity markets… We believe that these green stocks could, over time, become some of the world’s most valuable companies”

Peter Garnry, Saxo Bank Head of Equity Strategy

Renewable technology rewards boldness and expediency with huge ROI over time. However, the endorsement of institutions like BlackRock and EIB helps reduce risk profiles, making it more attractive to investors.

EIC have championed firms renewable interests for over 40 years, buying and managing approximately 12TWh of energy each year.

The EIC sustainability offering provides carbon compliance, utility management and procurement advice. Combining this expertise under one banner, you and your investors will have all your bases covered when outfitting your firm for a low carbon future.