Senior Energy Management Consultant at SMS, Andy Bolitho, argues that a net-zero strategy needs to consider not only the demands and constraints of your business, but also its overall impact on the grid – particularly as we transition to the electrification of vehicles and heating.
As most energy managers will undoubtedly be aware, last June the UK Government announced a net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050, making Britain the first G7 country to legislate a commitment to remove its net contribution to climate change.
‘Net zero’ hasn’t been much out of the news since, and as a result, a lot has already been said about the huge challenge that stands in the way of achieving this grand ambition. It is a challenge, however, that cannot or should not be underestimated or underdiscussed. After all, the future of our planet will depend on how effectively we overcome it.
As an energy consultant, perhaps the most significant and intriguing aspect of the net-zero emissions debate is what it all means for energy users – particularly the business kind.
Our energy consumption and how we manage and adapt it will of course play a critical part in the UK’s net-zero strategy. Indeed, reviewing the way in which we source and use energy is essential to achieving the goal. It will require a significant shift away from traditional energy systems and a move towards much greater participation in the energy market through flexible, low, and zero-carbon generation and smarter controls. Collectively, we’ll need to change our role from that of a consumer to a ‘prosumer’, interacting with the market and even potentially providing balancing services to the grid to enable the necessary penetration of renewable power into our energy network.
All of this means that we’ll have to engage with energy in a much more detailed manner than we have ever done before. For businesses, it will mean avoiding unnecessary energy use, undertaking projects to reduce demand, investing in self-generation and other low-carbon assets like battery storage and electric vehicle charging, and compensating for those emissions that cannot be avoided through accredited offset schemes.
‘Net zero’, but is it sustainable?
The challenges and changes required are evidently massive, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, for some forward-looking organisations, many of the initial steps toward realising net zero have already been taken. At SMS, we work with a lot of businesses that have undertaken energy efficiency countermeasures, have installed on-site renewable generation, or entered into an onsite PPA and buy green tariff energy.
Any net-zero strategy however also needs to consider the impacts of its demand on the grid – particularly true in the context of the approaching transition to electric heating and the ongoing switch to electric vehicles. What plans we put in place now need to be serviceable for grid decarbonisation in the future, or the UK is unlikely to meet its targets. Considering this, the ways in which we approach a net-zero strategy hold the keys to unlocking our country’s decarbonisation to its fullest extent.
For instance, whilst buying green energy tariffs are often a simple way of beginning to embed sustainable decision making into an organisation, over-dependence on this method to ‘decarbonise’ would be to miss the point of the net-zero goal, as it does not directly lead to a decrease in energy consumption or demand. Though offsetting does undoubtedly have a place in any net-zero strategy to varying degrees, it should not be at the expense of action on energy and carbon, and should really only be addressing those emissions that cannot truly be avoided.
No one-size strategy that fits all
Clearly, and understandably in this regard, net zero may mean different things for different organisations depending upon their capacity for energy and carbon reduction, or the industries that they operate in. For energy-intensive industries, net zero might result in being heavily reliant upon grid decarbonisation or sourcing much of their energy consumption through self-generation or PPAs. Equally, for organisations with large and complex supply chains, or those with substantial fleets, net zero may see them working much more closely with suppliers to address Scope Three emissions.
Whatever the route to net zero, the journey ahead represents a golden opportunity for organisations and Government to come together to form a robust plan to combat climate change, and to plug the current policy gap that exists in order to deliver it. It also holds the potential to support our economy through unlocking investment in low and zero-carbon generation, as well as through the export of knowledge and expertise to other countries. While net zero is a big challenge for the UK, the considerable benefits that such a strong approach can bring are immeasurable in environmental and economic terms.
Working with a net-zero partner
It is incredibly encouraging to see organisations today adopt net-zero targets – many of them well in advance of our national targets. This sends a powerful message to the government and the general public on their intentions to address contribution to global warming, and to support the common goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Whilst we are already working with progressive organisations like these at SMS – and indeed many others who are only just embarking on their low-carbon strategies – we hope to be able to assist many more businesses with their own net-zero journeys going forward. As a strategic partner in energy decarbonisation, we build bespoke pathways to net-zero-carbon emissions, leveraging our data-driven services and deep energy industry knowledge to help our clients adapt to the changing energy system and embrace the opportunities of environmental sustainability.
By providing the innovative engineering solutions and expert advice to deliver turnkey energy projects, including the funding of low carbon energy assets, our aim is to unlock the transition to a net-zero world, supporting the transformation of our existing energy systems to, and building capability for, our smart energy systems of the future. https://www.sms-plc.com/