In 2015 it was widely reported that the National Grid was operating at a minimal spare capacity of just two per cent. The failing of just one major power supplier could quite easily have led to blackouts across the country – halting business operations in their tracks. This in turn might have had grave consequences for the UK economy. The problem was by no means a one-off, and lead to the National Grid requesting businesses to turn off their power last November.
The recent failure of Didcot Power Station should serve as a constant reminder that power supplies can fail at any time, and the additional surge in demand that this creates from elsewhere can quite easily lead to brownouts: all because we rely far too heavily on an ageing and heavily constrained energy infrastructure.
Our heightened demand for energy has led to a clear need for businesses to be more proactive about energy management, and to plan ahead for appropriate action in the future.
Businesses account for a large proportion of our total energy consumption, and with premises and machinery to run they must treat energy management as a serious component of their business models. Many bosses may see these considerations as a challenge or a burden, but they should instead be viewed as an opportunity to become more sustainable – both economically and environmentally.
A holistic energy strategy considers energy requirements – both now and in the future – the introduction of energy efficiency measures, together with onsite energy generation and storage.
The first stage of the energy strategy is to take a full survey of the company’s site, and identifying the energy needs and consumption of the business based on the available natural resources, landscape and demographics. Once this is completed, it should then delve into what the energy requirements could look like in years to come. These two essential steps ensure that efficiency measures take into account both the present and future, and energy consumption can be minimised as a result.
Implementing internal energy efficiency measures will help to tackle both the company’s and also the National Grid’s electricity consumption, but smarter businesses can go further still, by looking to generate their own energy. Forward-thinking organisations are combining the implementation of energy efficiency measures with onsite generation, minimising reliance on constrained grid supplies.
A comprehensive review of resources to implement the most appropriate technologies for low-carbon energy generation is part of the holistic energy strategy; this includes installing intermittent renewables like wind turbines and solar panels, but also renewable technologies for continuous energy production, such as energy from waste, where waste that would normally go to landfill is used to produce heat and power.
The sun will not always shine and the wind will not always blow. Energy storage is therefore critical in our attempts to maximise its benefits. Since businesses and manufacturers tend to consume less energy over weekends during downtime, their energy demands typically drop; this means that energy created by solar panels and wind turbines may be exported straight back to the grid and reduces the commercial benefits to onsite energy generation. However, if a business is able to successfully store off-peak generated energy, they can use this for power during busy periods when demand is high. This is cheaper than Grid power and can offset Triad charges that are incurred by peak time energy usage.
The development of energy strategies is bringing positive opportunities for reduced energy consumption and onsite generation of energy, which all contributes to a low-carbon economy.
Within the next five years, an increasing number of businesses will embrace the challenges of an ageing energy infrastructure, and realise the excellent opportunities that implementing dedicated energy strategies can bring to reduce their reliance on the National Grid.
The energy landscape is constantly evolving, meaning that businesses have to keep looking for ways to improve energy consumption and efficiency. Future-proof energy strategies are becoming a necessity for smart businesses in order to prepare for the probable challenges of rising costs and power outages. Organisations must adopt a forward-thinking approach and look upon energy management as a priority – doing so will transform the associated challenges into major opportunities.
Graham Waring is director at engineering consultancy Rolton Group.
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