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How prosumers could speed up energy efficiency improvements

Michael Kenyon

Michael Kenyon

Technical Lead at Bureau Veritas
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Michael Kenyon, Technical Lead at Bureau Veritas, gives his expert advice on how companies can implement energy efficiency ‘prosumer’ initiatives that will not only help them meet their environmental obligations but also benefit from huge cost savings. 

In April, the UK government announced radical new climate change commitments which will put the nation on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 – bringing forward the current target by 15 years.

Unsurprisingly, this much more ambitious target comes at a time when the latest data shows reduced economic activity during the pandemic has inadvertently been a boon for the environment.

In fact, figures from The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) show that total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions were recorded at 48.8% lower than they were in 1990, effectively meaning that the UK is almost halfway to its net zero target for 2050.

Yet, the picture is wholly different when it comes to energy efficiency. According to the International Energy Agency, global progress towards energy efficiency has slowed to its lowest rate in 10 years due the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing a setback to efforts to curb climate change.

This adverse impact on energy efficiency is largely down to emptier flights and public transport, cheaper fuel, stalled retrofits for home and building insulation upgrades and smart meter installation, as well as slower car sales due to mobility restrictions.

However, with June 21 and the end of coronavirus restrictions fast approaching, energy efficiency should feature high on the list of business priorities – especially since energy efficiency delivers more than 40% of the reduction in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with the opportunity to ‘build back better’, for many businesses the end of the lockdown brings with it rising pressure to ramp up their sustainability goals, with a robust energy efficiency strategy that can deliver.

This is not just because of COP26, but also a growing expectation from consumers that businesses are invested in building a braver, better world.

So, how can businesses do this?

Rise of the ‘prosumer’

One increasingly fundamental aspect is the energy efficiency of electrical installations. Where traditionally electricians have abided by the IET wiring regulations in order to meet prevailing safety standards, the latest amendment – expected in March 2022 – is set to ensure energy efficiency is incorporated into electrical installation designs as a prerequisite.

While talk of a ‘prosumer’ world is nothing new – essentially businesses and individuals that both produce and consume energy – recent years have accelerated its role from individual stakeholders to creating a network working towards a more energy efficient future.

Indeed, Part 8 of the 2nd Amendment of the 18th Edition will do just that – set out the electrical industry’s vision for how visionary ‘prosumers’ will help to create and build Britain’s smart infrastructure. The new guidance will refer specifically to Prosumers Electrical Installations (PEI).

Within these ‘prosumer’ installations are things such as wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, solar collectors and heat pumps, areas where not only will businesses and individuals be able to use the energy to power their own homes and premises, but they will also be able to sell the surplus to others and back to the grid.

The proliferation of prosumers in this way will be key to the UK’s ambitions to build a smart grid that will be more reactive in controlling the generation, distribution, and storage of electricity within a connected system.

Why businesses should invest

This premise alone presents a clear case for why businesses that haven’t done so already should be investing in their own role as a ‘prosumer’. The incentives from energy companies are ten-fold, not to mention achieving true credibility among consumers for playing your part in the sustainability realm.

The other significant advantage for businesses is energy resilience. For example, if the electrical grid goes down prosumers may be able to go off grid and operate using battery storage systems – essentially allowing businesses to continue to produce/trade.

What’s more, ‘prosumers’ will also be at the heart of facilitating the transition to electric vehicles, which will undoubtedly put pressure on the electrical grid.

For instance, as it’s likely that the traditional evening peak of electricity demand in residential areas is between 6pm and 8pm, for offices and other premises it may be during working hours, when employees may want to plug in their EV cars to charge. Yet, providing sufficient infrastructure and energy for EVs as cheaply as possible will rely on that demand being spread throughout the day as much as possible using battery storage facilities.

Recently, the Government’s EV Energy Taskforce recommended that all future car chargers should be ‘smart by design’. This means that no matter what time you’re at work or come home and plug your car in, it will charge when you need it but will pause during peak times when energy is most expensive and demand on the grid is highest. This smart grid concept will be something businesses are likely to consider when managing their own energy consumption.

Giving energy efficiency the green light

While becoming a self-sufficient prosumer is the goal, for those that find this a daunting process, there’s a number of simpler ways of improving energy efficiency through regular inspection and maintenance of electrical installations.

These include solar panels, which is not simply about safety, but considering whether these are performing as they should and regular maintenance is key to this. As is power quality analysis, whereby an experienced engineer can help define a company’s energy efficiency strategy by checking whether installations have got poor power factor, higher voltages or damaging harmonic distortion and thus using more electricity.

If this is the case, independent third-party assessors can provide an impartial view on energy efficiency and advise if additional equipment will help save businesses, energy, power and money.

It’s a similar case for the increasing number of businesses installing electrical charging points – not only do these need to be regularly assessed for electrical safety but also performance. This is particularly important for fleet operators moving over to electric vehicles, where it’s of utmost importance to ensure a consistent and broad availability of charging points on any given route.

Brave new world

With the pandemic signalling a brave new world for energy efficiency, those businesses that truly take the time and effort to establish themselves as ‘prosumers’ will not only meet their sustainability goals, but will also be more resilient and ultimately help to create a brave new world that’s better for the planet and society.

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