Adopting a Sustainable Stance on Energy

By Paul Sheffield, Chief Operating Officer, Haven Power

Energy cannot be created or destroyed — it can only be transferred from one form to another. This seems to fly in the face of everything that we know as energy is often being described as ‘wasted.’ However, the conservation of energy is absolute and once you embrace this fact you begin to understand what a precious commodity it really is.

Therefore, in order to protect this valuable resource, we need to be sustainable. While there is no agreed definition on its meaning, in energy terms it is about avoiding the depletion of natural resources and supporting the ecological balance long-term.

This is something which everyone is responsible for and there has been much debate about being a ‘responsible’ business or citizen to halt the effects of our energy consumption. The government’s Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) promotes growing our national income while ensuring an affordable energy supply for business and consumers, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. In fact, as a country, we have committed to reducing these emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels.

The public sector is leading the way and setting a good example. Indeed, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions in its own buildings according to 2017 greenhouse gas emission figures. But more importantly, as the government seeks to not only improve its own energy efficiencies but drive change within businesses, we will all benefit from a more sustainable future.

For instance, the government’s promotion of low carbon technologies and technological innovation is encouraging both domestic and business consumers to improve their energy efficiencies and decarbonise their energy supply. As Theresa May commits in her forward to the CSR, the government will help businesses seize opportunities such as electrical vehicles and offshore wind to help them achieve this.

But where should public sector organisations start?

Transforming the grid with technology

Technology has a significant role to play in optimising energy supply, helping organisations to capitalise on the opportunities of sustainable solutions in terms of supply and demand. A key element of this is integrating them within the grid. There are a number of options available:

Electric vehicles (EVs)

Improvements in battery storage are also benefitting EVs have become a much more viable solution for businesses as they can now operate over an increased range and take less time to charge. They also have double the sustainability benefits — they replace petrol and diesel fuel consumption as well as reducing emissions through the use of battery storage. They also have the potential to balance the grid; smart chargers make it possible to avoid peak periods for recharging and the batteries can also act as storage and place energy back into the grid when needed.

The public sector is leading the EV revolution — there are around 75,000 central and local government fleet vehicles and the government has committed to making 25% of its central vehicle fleet electric by 2022. Further to this, it has set ambitions to ensure that almost every car and van in the UK is a zero emissions vehicle by 2025, making the UK a leader in driving sustainability through EVs and battery technology.

Real-time energy monitoring

Smart meters can give accurate information about energy consumption as well as the time of consumption. This means that public sector estates can be monitored, with no disruption, to assess when and how electricity is consumed. This goes much further than the ‘switch of the lights’ mantra by allowing a full audit of energy costs and efficiencies. In turn, this information can be used to uncover potential financial, energy and emissions savings.

Machine learning and Demand Side Response

Balancing demand on the grid can be a very complex process. As we increase generation from renewable but intermittent sources such as solar and wind, new challenges arise in ensuring a secure power supply. Changing behaviours or installing technology (such as battery storage) to alter the times when energy is used can address these challenges and return significant financial and environmental benefits.

However, automating energy consumption and participating in demand side response programmes takes some significant intelligence. Machine learning achieves this as the decision to purchase energy at any given point is based on an accumulation of data —including site and grid data, demand and cost data for the same period the previous day, week, month or year and weather conditions Such technology can also be used to detect anomalies and identify when equipment is at fault or has been left switched on.

Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs)

Strictly an energy buying arrangement but underpinned by technology, a PPA exists either between an end user, energy supplier and generator or directly between a generator and a supplier. The first (tripartite) arrangement covers the purchase of renewable energy from a local source – such as a solar farm or wind farm. This type of PPA supports local renewable energy generation by providing financial stability for the generator while reducing overall UK emissions and supporting the public sector’s own CGS targets.

PPAs can link public sector organisations to the renewable power markets, helping to protect them from energy price shocks while lowering carbon footprints and supporting the addition of more renewable energy to the grid. Electricity suppliers who work with a range of generators, buying energy which has been exported to the grid at market prices, should be considered as they can offer longer-term price security, while also ensuring that the generated power is renewable.

Battery storage

Batteries are often regarded as expensive, large and with a limited lifecycle. This reputation is fair, but with developments in battery technology moving at quite a pace this is set to change. There are already developments in safer, more reliable batteries which can hold a greater amount of energy in a smaller footprint. And according to a survey from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the average price of a lithium-ion battery pack has already fallen to £158 /kilowatt-hour, with prices likely to fall below £75/kWh by 2025.

These points are important if battery storage is to influence the energy supply industry as predicted. Planning applications for battery storage capacity in the UK rose from just 2MW in 2012 to 6,874MW in 2018 according to renewableUK. Currently, just 4.8GW of battery storage has gained planning consent, but even if a fraction of the new applications gains approval, one thing is sure — battery storage on the grid could transform the UK energy market. But why is this important to the public sector?

Battery storage gives the means to reduce energy costs as well as carbon emissions. It is ideal for the public sector as it can be installed on a small site and used in combination with back-up generators — equipment that some public sector organisations already have. These batteries can be used to reduce energy costs by storing energy purchased at cheaper times for consumption when the price for electricity is its highest.

Additionally, from a sustainability point of view, battery storage can harness the potential of renewable energy generation. Wind and solar power can be intermittent, but batteries can be used to store the energy for later use. Thus, protecting the public sector from any fluctuations in supply while increasing the consumption of renewable energy.

Sustaining change for the future

With technology as diverse as battery storage, renewables, EVs, cutting edge monitoring equipment and energy efficiency measures, the public sector has many solutions to consider. Additionally, the convergence of technologies means that the benefits from one can be amplified by another. For instance, an EV fleet can be charged via solar panels. Stored energy can be released back at peak power usage times to avoid high grid costs, or alternatively used for DSR or PPA activity.

Public sector organisations are already starting to make significant cost savings and achieve sustainability goals using a combination of technology and flexible solutions.

But, with so much choice it can be difficult to select the best options, and this is where the energy industry comes in. Experts can run comprehensive audits and create bespoke energy strategies.

The next decade will be pivotal for UK sustainability, and energy consumption within a large establishment is a complex process. Choosing a supplier who understands the public sector’s need to reduce both energy-spend and emissions, as well as one which drives innovation forward to achieve a sustainable future, is key.