Achieving energy efficiency – whether in an office, school, factory, or in any type of facility – requires both the adaption of energy conserving practices, and the deployment of energy efficient technology.
When energy conserving practices become the standard way of doing business, whether in a private and government institution – energy savings result. When making such practices part of “business as usual” its imperative to address different social, cultural, and economic factors that affect a person’s level of effectiveness in controlling technology in an energy efficient manner.
Purchasing policies and regular equipment upgrades, along with process optimization, drive an increase in savings over time. Over a period of several years, this can lead to very large savings.
The Importance of Achieving Energy Efficiency
Using energy more efficiently provides various benefits for organizations and the environment. Here are some of the advantages:
- Environmental: Improving energy efficiency helps reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, thereby mitigating climate change. Cutting energy consumption leads to fewer fossil-fuel power plants. It also contributes to less water usage in electricity generation, leading to watershed and wildlife preservation.
- Economic: Increased efficiency creates jobs, reduces household energy bills, and stabilizes electricity price volatility. Moreover, consumers and businesses can reduce costs, making more funds available to spend elsewhere.
- Minimize Risks and Boost Well-Being: Energy efficiency is a form of protection against the uncertainties of volatile fuel prices. It also helps diversify utility resource portfolios.
The Challenges we Currently Face
Both private and government institutions face challenges in achieving energy efficiency.
|Common Challenges to Energy Efficiency Implementation|
|Insufficient insights into energy use and cost|
|Lack of skills in interpreting data to identify savings opportunities|
|Energy efficiency is not a business priority|
Insufficient Insights Into Energy Use and Costs
The lack of insight pertains to data access and granularity along with visualisation. Knowing how much energy is used is the first step in achieving energy efficiency. However, a utility bill only indicates the overall units used; it does not specify where the energy is used within the facility, making it more challenging to know where to focus efficiency efforts. Commonly facility managers don’t usually have easy access to data that shows either how energy use varies over time, or where it is used in a building. For instance, a company may be consuming electricity with no staff in the building because no one turned off the systems, but the facility manager often is unaware of this.
Data Access and Granularity of Data
Both data access, and collating and analyzing it can be time consuming and difficult. Whilst, in theory, larger facilities should be able to easily access time of use data (e.g. consumption at 15 or 30 minute intervals), utilities are not always able to supply this in a timely fashion. And whilst sub-meters may be installed, often the data is hard to access and data outages can greatly reduce its usefulness. Companies with multiple sites or branches, with multiple utilities, have even more difficulty consolidating data.
Data is not that useful when it is not shown in context, and in a way that makes it easy to see its relative importance. Context means understanding where the energy is used, and if the usage is demonstrating efficient, or inefficient operation. Relative importance involves understanding what are the major, or significant, energy uses. Energy meters don’t provide any of this contextual data; and where there are mountains of data, visualisation’s bring it to life so that trends and relative importance can be understood much more intuitively.
Addressing the Lack of Energy Efficiency Skills
A company could have access to the needed data, but it is virtually useless if no one in a responsible position for energy management is capable of analyzing the data and using it to identify energy saving opportunities. The skills needed are the ability to:
- Understand the energy using equipment in the building and to be able to interpret to data to see if a particular item of equipment is operating efficiently or not.
- The ability to understand the wider processes in the facility and how they use energy.
- The ability to be able to manipulate data in a way that provides insights.
These are specialist skills, not widely taught. The Sustainability Education Academy provides courses with the aim of addressing this skills gap.
Achieving Energy Efficiency is not a business priority.
When energy is inexpensive, by and large achieving energy efficiency is not a business priority. In many businesses, energy only represents a small percentage of business costs, often less than 2%. It may be viewed as an overhead which the company can do little about, other than trying to negotiate favourable energy supply contracts.
Additionally, businesses may be unsure about the investment risk involved in implementing energy efficiency improvements.
Shareholder concerns about the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performances of business become more prevalent, stock exchange listed companies, which are typically large, are gradually now seeing energy efficiency as more important.
However, for many mid-sized and smaller businesses, achieving energy efficiency is not a business priority, particularly when energy is only a relatively small percentage of operating costs.
Growing global interest in achieving energy efficiency
As sustainability concerns gain global momentum, both government and industry leaders are galvanizing their efforts towards energy efficiency at various levels. While the government crafts policies and programs, the business sector implements recommended measures and practices.
In the United States, multinational and local companies convene at the annual Energy Efficiency Global Forum (EE Global) to discuss various gaps, trends, and opportunities on achieving energy efficiency.
Localized forums and seminars in different countries allow industry leaders and stakeholders to engage in dialogue and craft timely and innovative interventions.
Who Makes it Possible?
The Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan is one of the pioneering industry leaders, mobilizing major corporate players to spur innovation in energy efficiency. During the 7th EE Global Forum, she shared the need to focus on energy productivity to craft policies and bolster multi-sectoral participation.
Another pioneering company when it comes to achieving energy efficiency is the Australian company, Buildings Alive, which is optimizing on an ongoing basis the performance of commercial buildings, using a combination of big data, machine learning, and in-depth technical knowledge of how buildings use energy.
Today, more and more enterprises are developing business units with an energy manager assigned to craft core strategies. Other companies are meanwhile employing energy auditors to handle collecting and analyzing the energy-related data. Along with the energy manager, the energy auditor creates recommendations for implementation.
Government agencies now recognize the need for a core team that focuses on energy efficiency with an assigned manager and auditor.
To achieve energy efficiency, businesses and governments need accurate and granular data, contracted or in-house skills, and to invest in improvement opportunities. This requires an upfront investment of time and money. However, in doing so the company aligns itself with the growing global trend of business stepping up to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The short-term costs are, however, surpassed by the long-term rewards, both in terms of reduced energy costs and enhanced reputation.