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. In addition, 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

With 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.

 

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 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.

Lofty 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.

 

 

 

EIC’s Utility Belt: Tips for more effective utility management

EIC outlines its best advice for intelligent energy management, minor changes that can yield significant savings and the importance of consistency in establishing new workplace cultures.

Technology vs culture 

The majority of your utility belt will be focused on the technology that you are currently using or could utilise in future however there is also a short section on the culture within your business and how that can factor into your success.

Heating and Ventilation 

Comfortable ambient temperature has become something of an assumption, commercially speaking, however the technology behind it often remains unexplored except to establish its basic controls for the user. Given that air conditioning alone can account for up to 30% of a site’s energy consumption, this is a significant oversight that, sadly can be solved very simply.

Sealing off or switching on 

A common method of controlling indoor temperatures is by sealing buildings, preventing windows being left open, however this can actually exacerbate the overall costs trying to be mitigated. It means air conditioning will be working overtime during hotter periods but also that air circulation may take a dip, meaning higher concentrations of CO2 and dampened performance from staff as a result.

IoT connectivity across sites can use occupancy monitoring and responsive temperature and air quality control to mitigate these issues. The provision of real-time data streams means that you can control individual spaces across large sites, maintaining utility usages that are responsive to demand and need.

Casual is smart 

Enstating a casual dress code during acutely hot or cold weather conditions means that staff will be able to offset their own demand on heating or cooling, not to mention be more comfortable in their work. 

Dig for victory

Planting trees is also a relatively cheap and environmentally friendly way to offset heating costs, since they provide shade and fresh oxygen as well as absorbing latent humidity in the air.

Lighting 

Intelligent lighting control can save 30-50% on energy costs automating this utility according to occupancy and respective demand means that you will not have spaces unnecessarily drawing power that isn’t being utilised. 

Let the sunshine in 

Not always an option depending on how sites are initially designed, however by using automated lighting, you can schedule lights to power down during daylight hours and reactivate once night falls. 

Using what you have 

The installation of LED bulbs for better efficiency and a longer lifespan can be an added boost to light use efficiency without being disruptive to pre-installed equipment, motion sensors are another low-impact option that help ensure that light is never wasted.

Professional culture 

As social creatures, culture is effectively the software that our communities run on, understanding this means that you can leverage your professional culture to become more energy efficient with a minimum of cost.

Empowering your team 

The use of environmental posters can help remind team members that their actions have weight in something larger than themselves. Small adjustments like the use of power strips also make it easier for them to adopt the positive habits that will be the foundation of your new professional culture. 

Communicate that computers should be shut down at the end of the day rather than left in standby, especially before the weekend. It has been estimated that a company with 200 PCs could save £12,000 annually this way. 

Breaking ranks 

2020 has demonstrated many things, among them our ability to work remotely and effectively and how doing so can help foster trust between managers and staff members. Encouraging this way of business means you can reduce or re-purpose the amount you are spending on office space and its attached utility costs. The same can be said of meetings that might’ve taken place on-site, by using video technology to bridge these physical gaps you reduce the occupancy on your own sites and the utility usage along with it.

Measure for measure 

Meters and sub-meters are essential tools in understanding the energy needs of a site as well as what areas have the highest concentration of usage. Armed with this information you are better equipped to make policy decisions pertaining to both technology and culture within your utility management. The Carbon Trust has found that a site meter can save 10% in energy costs while sub-metres, which allow you to pinpoint areas where demand is highest, can offer a further saving of 30%.

Going the extra mile

There are a number of additional features that can be added to the design of many sites to both off-set and reduce utility costs including on-site solar generation & storage, combined heat and power and demand side response schemes.

EIC can create a comprehensive and all-inclusive package for your business that oversees all aspects of utility management from metering & monitoring to IoT empowered devices that keep you connected to site data 24/7.

Open architecture technology affords access to all your vital business systems, meaning EIC can communicate with, control and report on any aspect of any site including heating, lighting and ventilation. Our services page contains full details of our offerings.

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity of vision: Intelligent buildings

EIC explores the potential benefits to productivity that can be generated by effective and responsive environmental control, as well as the boon to cost saving and compliance processes it can provide.

Setting the scene

The percentage of the labour market now working from home (WFH), due to the lockdown imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19, is unprecedented with Finder estimating that 60% of the UK’s 33.7 million labourers are now working remotely.

Most commercial enterprises are being forced to reevaluate the way their staff perform their roles and the limitations imposed by location and direct proximity to colleagues and management. 

While WFH has demonstrated some obvious benefits, time saved by cutting out commutes for example, there are still many roles that require working from site.

Additionally, many employers will choose to return to a state of normality for logistical reasons like communication and conferencing that suffer novel limitations when used remotely. 

One of the upsides of COVID-19 will be an increased awareness and respect for the effect of working environment on productivity as well as on employee health.

Making informed decisions

Air quality, temperature and humidity are fluctuating qualities of an internal environment while lighting is more static.  However, they can each be directed according to need, tracked for data analysis and there is evidence that all of them affect productivity in the workplace.

“System design and the deployment of correctly implemented controls are the single biggest components to ensuring environmental conditions are correctly maintained.”

-Mark Longley, Head of Operations Solutions, t-mac

silhouette of trees near calm body of water at night panoramic photography

Air quality

The widespread attraction of commercial air conditioning is that it can provide a stable and consistent utility cost to weigh against air quality control, meaning that windows can be ‘sealed’ to prevent costly and unpredictable heat loss. 

Unfortunately, a lack of CO2 monitoring can lead to saturation in the internal environment which, in turn, can impair the cognitive functions of your team and lead to a drop in productivity. 

A 2015 report from Harvard University, titled “Economic, Environmental, and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings”, demonstrated that:

The public health benefits of enhanced ventilation far exceed the per occupant economic costs… Even with conservative estimates, the increased productivity of an employee is over 150 times greater than the resulting energy costs.”

Ironically too much CO2 can often trick the brain into thinking that temperatures are uncomfortably high-meaning that air conditioning can actually be counterproductive to its original purpose if it is unable to respond dynamically to your needs.

“I don’t think our field has done a good job of reaching out to the real estate developers, managers, and owners of businesses that can make this change… I don’t think it’s acknowledged that changing these factors can make a difference.”

-Piers MacNaughton, Harvard

Temperature control

A discussion on air quality control necessitates one on temperature regulation since the two are often confused with one another. System-wide temperature control has been a standard in modern work and living space for decades, however its adaptability leaves something to be desired. 

The current fluctuations in British weather are an expected side effect of climate change however the thermal regulation of most offices isn’t equipped to respond to wide swings in temperature or humidity ranges-both of which affect our perception of temperature.

Additionally, recent reports have demonstrated human productivity is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature:

“The results show that performance increases with temperature up to 21-22 o C, and decreases with temperature above 23-24 o C. The highest productivity is at temperature of around 22 o C. For example, at the temperature of 30 o C the performance is only 91.1% of the maximum”

A collaboration between the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Helsinki University of technology, the report also stated:

“There is an obvious need to develop tools so that economic outcomes of health and productivity can be integrated into cost-benefit calculations with initial, energy and maintenance costs.”

Lighting

Finally, the internal lighting systems a business utilises can have a dramatic affect on productivity since they have a direct relationship with their staff’s circadian rhythms, the aspect of our biology that tells us when it is time to be engaged and time to rest.

Psychological studies have also shown that people’s mood and productivity can be affected by the ‘temperature’ of light as well i.e. whether light feels warm or cold to look at.

“There is growing evidence for a link between lighting conditions, shift-work and biological health conditions: an area likely to receive more attention from researchers in future.”

Lighting, Well-being and Performance at Work, by Professor Jo Silvester and Dr Efrosyni Konstantinou

Closing thoughts

All that being said, the key question is how to obtain the data and control necessary to make these systems work for you rather than just being extra columns on the expense report. 

Considering these elements as potential assets rather than liabilities might seem counter-intuitive but when the application of something has the power to affect productivity this dramatically, it is only a liability while it is not under our control.

As Jones Lang LaSalle’s 3-30-300 rule posits, for every dollar or pound spent on utilities like lighting and heat, you are likely to spend a hundred on people so why not make those costs go further by making what you spend on utilities count towards your people too.?

The recent SECR deadline also served as a sobering reminder of the importance of effective utilities management and regular reappraisal of existing practices. 

Intelligent building management will continue to grow more and more sophisticated, allowing greater adaptability to the needs of clients, staff and business owners, and EIC can help you to leverage this technology to increase both your staff’s productivity and your bottom line. To find out more click here.

COVID-19: Advice for Energy Professionals

EIC provides counsel to our corporate clients looking for information around to which formulate strategy for mitigating the fall out of COVID-19 within the energy field.

A battle of morale

Since it first began its initial spread, COVID-19 has subjected the planet to a level of disruption unrivalled since World War Two. However, the advantage to be claimed here lies in how much the pandemic has exposed our systemic fragility and the areas in direst need of adjustment and future development.

First of all, assurance should be prioritised both to customers and to shareholders, the UK is privileged in its possession one of the most robust energy supply services in the world and as such concerns for supply are minimal.

The National Grid have reported that in 2019, the majority of the UK’s annual electricity consumption broke down as 21% commercial, 30% domestic and 26% industrial. Obviously these will be subject to change over the coming weeks, as self-isolation and working from home become the norm, however the current estimation is that there is an “extremely small” chance of the grid becoming overwhelmed.

Using Italy as an example, electricity and gas use are actually expected to decrease rather than increase.

The economic uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought, means that staff as well as shareholders are worried, about job security, financial stability and their own health as well as that of loved ones.

Staff engagement during this crisis will be essential to maintain morale as well as to ensure that team members are receiving whatever added support they may need under the circumstances to continue to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Remote communication and conferencing have, thankfully, become increasingly commonplace in recent years and can now be leveraged to maintain employee relations. Consider which technologies, be they apps or direct software might best serve you and your team’s needs.

How EIC can help

Beyond staff logistics, there are also considerations to be made about site-bound resources, equipment may need to be powered down or put into stand by for quick reactivation when lock-down ends, lighting and lock timers may need to be adjusted etc.

Additionally, if you are already employing automatic utility data capture, perhaps the system you are using needs to be adjusted or paused to prevent inconsistent results being track and integrated in future analyses. Are staff periodically visiting site and will they have specific utility needs that must be accounted for?

EIC are specialists in providing thorough, accurate and applicable building management services that can be controlled entirely from a single, remote platform. The functions included in our bespoke packages range from lighting and ventilation control to critical systems like fire, security and CCTC.

The integration of these separate elements allows you to formulate a building-wide strategy that reflects all its needs without getting bogged down in a torrent of data. Further information about the solutions we offer can be found on our services page.

 

Consultation to improve MEES

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published a consultation to seek views on proposed targets for the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES). Currently MEES make it unlawful to grant new leases to properties with an Energy Performance Certificate rating of F and G.

The Government’s options

The Government has identified two potential trajectories for strengthening the PRS (Private Rented Sector) Regulations. These aim to unlock the economic opportunities of low carbon growth, and deliver important energy and carbon savings:

  • The Government’s preferred route is that all non-domestic privately rented buildings achieve a Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard of a B rating, by 1 April 2030. This is provided the measure (or package of measures) required to reach an EPC ‘B’ proves cost effective.
  • The alternative option is that all non-domestic privately rented buildings reach a ‘C’ rating by 1 April 2030, if cost effective.

In both cases, the Government recognises that not all buildings will be able to reach the required minimum standard. In this instance the Government proposes that landlords can continue to lease their building (from 2030) providing they can prove that the building has reached the highest EPC band that a cost-effective package of measures can deliver.

The impacts

BEIS estimates that using the ‘B’ rating EPC route, an investment of approximately £5 billion up to 2030 is required. The estimated average payback time would be 4-5 years. Their modelling suggests this will translate to £1 billion in bill savings for business in 2030. This would deliver an overall value of £6.1 billion to the UK economy. The annual benefit to businesses by using this option is projected to be approximately double that of the ‘C’ rating EPC.

Regardless of the option chosen, BEIS proposes that existing exemptions will continue to apply. This means that landlords will be required to carry out upgrades that are cost-effective, with an expected payback on energy savings of seven years or less. If the work cannot meet this criteria then landlords are able to register an exemption, valid for five years.

The proposed timescale

The Government has asked whether a single implementation date of 2030 is appropriate for landlords to meet the determined rating. As an alternative it has been suggested that incremental targets leading up to 2030 could be introduced. This would encourage landlords to improve the EPC rating of their buildings over time.

The consultation is expected to close on 7 January 2020.

Stay informed with EIC insights

Our Market Intelligence team keep a close eye on the energy markets and industry updates. For the timeliest updates you can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn. To find out more about our Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) solutions click here.

Net Zero UK

The action will require the UK to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to nothing over the next 30 years. This is a more ambitious target than the previous, which was at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

The decision follows the Net Zero report, by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was commissioned by the government to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets. The report recommended the 2050 net zero target for the UK, while issuing a 2045 target for Scotland and a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 for Wales.

Representatives of the Scottish and Welsh governments have already announced intentions for the nations to aim for these targets, with the Welsh government aiming to go further than the CCC advice; targeting net zero emissions no later than 2050.

Is this achievable?

The report by the Committee on Climate Change states that the net zero target is possible with known technologies, alongside behavioral and societal changes in people’s lives. The organisation has forecast that that the target is also within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when legislating the previous 2050 target under the Paris Agreement.

The report does come with the caveat that net zero is only possible if clear, sensible and well-designed policies to enable reductions in emissions are introduced across the country in a strict timeline. The CCC highlights that current policy would not meet even the previous target.

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