Looking after the pennies

As part of our series looking into alternative sources of energy, we've examined micro-CHP, heat pumps, solar panels and heat networks. This week, we take a different view from Prof. Andrew Geens, who believes the cleanest unit of energy is the one you don't use...

Having pledged to join the ranks of countries to ratify the COP21 protocols, and having already signed into law the target to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by 57% relative to 1990 levels, the Government now finds itself facing a race against time to make some pretty substantial cuts to its emissions.

The #Build2Perform blog has featured several articles making the case for alternative methods of energy generation that are greener than our current crop of fossil fuelled power stations, but some of these are just less polluting, not pollution-free, and even wind turbines and solar panels aren’t 100% carbon neutral. They still need to be manufactured and assembled, then transported across the world and installed – all of which requires fossil fuels at present. There's also the problem of whole-life emissions: Even when installed, these technologies will require carbon-generating maintenance and spare parts from commissioning to de-commissioning, and then to be disposed of after their useful life is over.

Maintaining and replacing renewable technology adds to its whole-life carbon footprint
This will become an even more pronounced problem as renewables are deployed to developing countries without high-tech manufacturing industries of their own. The further from source and the more geographically remote the destination of the turbines or solar cells, the higher the carbon footprint to install and maintain them. But we can stop this problem before it begins by trying a new approach.

In reality, the best way to cut emissions isn’t to generate more clean energy, it’s to reduce our need for it in the first place. After all, the cleanest unit of power is one you don’t use. Industry loves infrastructure, so it’s not the most fashionable view, but it’s one that has been gathering pace because of one key advantage: Cost. Renewables may cut carbon, but we don't use less electricity, we just get it from a more responsible source. Efficiency measures cut use, boosting the bottom line. The fastest way to a businessman’s heart is through their wallet, and energy saving measures have the added bonus of requiring very little in the way of expensive extra equipment.

Renewable energy can be inefficient even though it's clean, which is bad for the books 
The numbers are striking: According to a study by US consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in 2009, Wind power cost about $38 per ton of CO2 saved; solar cost about $30. But replacing incandescent lights in a home with light-emitting diodes saved about $159 per ton of CO2, and using energy-efficient appliances saved about $108 per ton. So why is all the talk about infrastructure when efficiency is so important? Unfortunately, it’s mostly about perception. The Government is keen to invest in exciting, job creating infrastructure projects like wind farms, and the general public find efficiency too complicated or too fiddly to manage. The benefits of fitting a solar panel are more obvious than the benefits of getting higher-quality insulation.

Large infrastructure projects like Swansea Tidal Lagoon
are often preferred by politicians
However, hope is on the horizon, and it’s been gaining traction at an astonishing rate: the Energy Management System Standard, ISO 50001 has seen take-up in many European countries double, led by Germany and the UK, where it has increased by nearly four times between 2014 and 2015. So what makes it different? Primarily, an energy management system standard like ISO 50001 takes the uncertainty out of the process, and introduces a solid business case for energy efficiency.

ISO 50001 aims to put paid to that ‘fiddly’ stereotype that plagues energy efficiency, and make it the first choice technique for improving energy performance, including energy efficiency, use and consumption. This tackles one of the major weaknesses of efficiency as an energy policy against renewables, because it could often be difficult, uncertain and expensive to quantify the results – never a popular combination for businesses with an eye on their bottom line.

Instead, by using an energy management system approach, businesses can be confident in a systematic, quantifiable approach to improving energy performance.

It can also help to tackle one or more of many problems facing businesses in the coming years, whether that’s security of supply, rising bills, green credibility and compliance with Government targets. All this is put in place with constantly reviewed targets and measurable outcomes, including solutions to problems that are encountered, which remove the guesswork from the process.

It’s also very flexible – an energy management system requires a customised approach in order to be effective, and this means it is individually tailored to suit the behaviour and needs of a business. CIBSE Certification operate a register of individuals that they have assessed as competent to help organisations implement an energy management system and several of the ESOS Lead Assessors on their ESOS register have declared energy management systems as one of the areas of expertise.

Kingspan implemented ISO 50001 as part of their plan to become net zero
carbon by the year 2020
CIBSE Certification themselves are UKAS accredited to certify the conformity of energy management systems against the International Standard, ISO 50001.

Wasted energy costs UK businesses upwards of £12bn a year, but by enabling facilities managers to make a solid and attractive business case for energy efficiency, energy management systems have opened up a whole new door to lower energy usage. With uptake of ISO 50001 expected to continue to grow rapidly, expect to see the ‘less is more’ approach gain significant traction as the results start to speak for themselves.  


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