A worrying number of boardroom members are unclear about what their energy bill pays for. That is the key finding of a report by The Daily Telegraph and YouGov, and the inspiration for a series of three timely E.ON-sponsored roundtable events held at Telegraph Media Group’s office in Victoria, central London.
“Future tech: energy supply and energy efficiency for business” kicked off the series last week, with a dozen experts gathering to debate what can be done to prioritise the huge savings available.
During the compelling two-hour session, chaired by The Daily Telegraph’s Heather Farmbrough, delegates from sustainable energy, smart cities, smart meters, green investment and civil engineering joined E.ON executives to discuss how business leaders should use the savings available to them as energy prices rise, how the energy market is evolving, and how government, industry and energy providers can help us reach a tipping point whereby greener, more efficient energy solutions are adopted en masse.
The challenge is alarmingly large. According to The Daily Telegraph’s research, of the 760 senior managers surveyed, two-thirds were in the dark about how their firm bought energy and 46 per cent were clueless about their business’s energy costs, despite almost one-fifth of those who did know admitting spending more than £250,000 a year. Moreover, 54 per cent had “no idea at all” who was responsible for their energy management.
From solar panels to LEDs and energy management systems, the lack of awareness and interest of C-suite executives in cutting those costs was a major concern for the whole assembly. “To break the deadlock on this available technology and penetrate at boardroom level it is about moving the conversation on to the best hook, and using the right language for each of the individual players,” said Dr Chris Horne, head of origination at E.ON UK B2B Solutions, who delivered the roundtable’s keynote address.
“We know that ultimately energy efficiency can increase productivity but what is going to make stakeholders understand why it is such an important investment?”
He explained that last year E.ON assisted ACC Liverpool by installing 925 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of its Exhibition Centre, generating 250,000kWh of renewable electricity each year – enough to power 78 UK homes. For the past eight years it has helped one leading British retailer achieve a 36 per cent energy saving via a range of on-site solutions, including remote-control management systems and waste-heat capture. While joining the dots between investment and reward remains a huge barrier to getting more businesses to pay attention to their energy costs, an interesting parallel may come from the way businesses have embraced the internet and cloud services – unthinkable initiatives 20 years ago.
“How can we make energy as interesting as the internet?” asked David Innes-Edwards, founder and managing director of Manchester-based Frontier Public Relations. The key, he said, was to emphasise its basic need and also the benefits for businesses that were willing to investigate further, such as the knock-on effects of having an electric fleet with reduced fuel costs and on-site generators that can sell back to the grid.
Frustratingly, larger efficiency investments continue to take substantially longer to pay off, and the group noted that until that changes, it will be hard to change many businesses’ approaches. “The CEO is under pressure to deliver returns and pick the low-hanging fruit – such as reducing energy costs by changing the lightbulbs – rather than taking a longer-term view on the results,” noted Cian O’Donnchadha, chief technology officer at MASP, a joint-venture firm between Mitsui and Arup. Ray Webster, business development manager, energy, at BAM Nuttall, agreed: “Cynically, it boils down to the bottom line: CEOs have to look at that.”
While the group was divided over the long-term message grants and rewards sent out over many innovations’ long- term viability, it can be useful for governments to offer financial incentives for early adopters of energy-efficient tech to supercharge their return on investment and encourage others to take up new tech (and continue to drive down its price).
With the UK amid a rollout in which 50 million smart meters will be installed in 26 million homes by 2020, nudging citizens and employees in the right direction was seen as one way to improve education and help build the data needed to prove the value in energy efficiency.
Indeed, smart meters are just one example of where technology and information will need to come together to make the business case for investment in efficiency. “Whether it is awareness and education, bringing things together and financing them properly, moving to energy as a service, or improving data through gamification and moment-by- moment interaction with the energy system, there is a huge amount to tackle, but that’s very exciting,” Dr Horne said.