Net Zero Week: Energy Efficiency is the First Step

As we approach Net Zero Week, it’s time to evaluate the UK’s progress on the path to net zero. The critical first step, often overlooked, is energy efficiency. 

The net zero challenge is a global one, affecting all of us as energy consumers, industries, nations, and as a planet. The potential consequences of failing to meet this challenge are becoming increasingly clear. 

The journey to net zero will necessitate a variety of strategies, sparking essential innovation and research. While there’s a significant role for ‘headline grabbing’ solutions like renewable energy generation, carbon capture, storage, and hydrogen fuels, we must not overlook the fundamental first step: drastically reducing our current emissions. 

The concept is simple: before we decarbonise various emission types, let’s first reduce our usage. This way, there will be less to decarbonise. This is the essence of energy efficiency, a principle that many energy managers, including myself, have been advocating for years. As the old saying goes, ‘the greenest unit of energy is the one that you don’t use’. 

For industries that rely heavily on gas for thermal energy, consider prioritising energy efficiency before exploring alternative fuels. This could reduce your need for alternative fuels. Similarly, businesses aiming to generate renewable electricity should first reduce their energy consumption, thereby reducing the need for solar panels. 

So, how can we achieve this? 

A comprehensive energy audit, including your transport fleet, is often a good starting point. This provides a prioritised list of opportunities to reduce demand, many of which involve operational and behavioural changes that cost nothing to implement! An energy audit can serve as a short, medium, and long-term energy reduction plan. An independent auditor won’t be biased towards any specific technology. When seeking energy audits, look for ISO 50002 and EN 16247 standards. 

Transport fleets, often significant energy consumers and emitters, should also be considered. Instead of immediately purchasing electric vehicles, consider reducing the energy used by your existing fleet through route planning, eco driver training, and load planning. These changes will still be beneficial when the transition to electric vehicles occurs. 

In the industry, we have another powerful tool: our staff. I’ve visited many industries where employees have no knowledge of the energy used, its cost, or the amount of carbon emitted. By engaging the workforce through energy awareness training, appointing energy champions, and running energy forums, we can instil a ‘switch-off culture’ among staff. 

Lastly, I strongly advocate for the installation of a high-quality energy monitoring system. This allows you to see exactly where and when energy is being used. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. With visibility of granular energy use, you can also identify and eliminate energy wastage. 

In conclusion, my mantra is simple: drastically reduce your existing energy use before embarking on the net zero journey. Don’t dive headfirst into the journey without first getting your own house in order! 

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