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Economy, not ecology influences energy consumers the most

13 October 2010

Despite the government’s attempts to influence the UK’s energy usage with targets, legislation, regulations and schemes, fuel prices and shortages are the real key drivers for future progress, according to a new report seeking to identify trends in building energy management. Commissioned by Schneider Electric, ‘The Future of Energy Management in the UK’ reveals that these current attempts will fail because there aren’t sufficient resources to police compliance. Instead the agenda for energy management will be dictated by urgency. More than nine out of ten (92%) businesses polled as part of the research consider energy prices an important driver for energy efficiency investment, with more than half (58%) saying concerns about fuel shortages are of significant influence.

Findings from the report also highlighted the potential for the global warming message to wane as climate change is not considered an important influencer; indeed, decision makers within businesses are unconvinced of the scientific evidence [see a recent comment in this column]. In addition, climate change is considered too big, too abstract and too remote to be an effective driver for energy efficiency. Instead the report predicts that in the future, the issues of price and availability will start to impinge more seriously on the country’s consciousness.

The report senses a chasm beginning to opening up between policy and implementation, with weak interpretation of policies, lack of enforcement and a shortfall in those wanting to comply. This is demonstrated by the fact that only 20% of organisations are aware of Part L2 of the Building Regulations and less than half (42%) recognise the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Furthermore meeting legislation ranked only fourth out of nine very important drivers for energy saving programmes, after reducing costs, lowering carbon emissions and CSR benefits.

In addition, two thirds (62%) feel that the time taken to comply with regulations could be better spent elsewhere. On this issue, the report concluded that businesses are not compelled to spend time proactively dealing with energy management issues with 98% saying they would focus on other areas such as procurement and facilities management duties.

The report proposed that fifteen to twenty years could see an era of supply constraint, which will be a powerful spur to action. The likelihood of this scenario is heightened by the recession and its implications for public spending, as poor enforcement of regulations is likely to get worse as a result of government spending cuts, and investment in the supply infrastructure could be deemed inadequate.

At the moment, 70% of businesses say they regularly monitor their energy use; however, only a quarter (26%) currently have an energy saving programme in place, emphasising the disparity between real action and ‘playing’ at energy management. It also suggests that it’s going to take a drastic situation to encourage energy users to be more proactive and detailed in their approach to energy management.

While the government may continue to pursue its emissions agenda, the report predicts people will re-engage with cost reduction. Two thirds (62%) of businesses already believe they can do more to reduce energy costs and of those that do have a strategy, more than half (58%) have been able to identify financial savings. Stephen Coop, Schneider Electric’s president for the UK and Ireland, believes that despite the government’s efforts to heighten energy management activity, research shows that energy management in the UK has actually been in decline for fifteen years.

“The report highlights that organisations acknowledge they can do better when it comes to their energy responsibilities but more needs to be done to tap into the issues that motivate them to embrace energy management,” says Mr Coop, who also asserts that investing in energy saving is not essential to sustaining a business. “Companies are more concerned about conserving cash; steps such as behavioural changes offer a short-term win. The reality is that we will end up consuming less energy, triggered by the need to save money and expected crises over the deteriorating energy scene.”

The report’s main author, Vilnis Vesma, has been active in energy management for many years and is unimpressed by government pronouncements and interventions. “They mean well,” he says, “but they are not, and never will be, effective agents for change. The sooner energy users and solution providers realise this and just get on with it, the better.”

Meanwhile, some of the world’s leading sustainability experts and funds will present a full programme of workshops at the European Future Energy Forum at London’s ExCeL centre throughout the coming week. Siemens, Masdar Capital (an investment offshoot of the Abu Dhabi government) and the Schneider Electric Energy Access sustainable investment fund are among those participating in presentation theatres, which will be open to all visitors attending the event free-of-charge.

Bolstered by the findings of its recent research into business attitudes to building energy management, Schneider Electric will offer a full programme of workshops at its Energy Efficiency Theatre, where the company will look at the core issues of business and poverty and how to save and share energy through sustainable development, investment, knowledge transfer and technological innovation.

Sessions include an in-depth look at the Schneider Electric Energy Access sustainable investment fund (Tuesday October 19) followed by a programme (Wednesday October 20) covering the ‘challenges of a smarter grid’, including demand response management, integration of renewables, distribution automation and the Carbon Reduction Commitment. On Thursday October 21, the programme will focus on Schneider’s ‘EcoStruxure solution for Green Buildings’, which looks at integrated methods in building, options for financing upgrades, regulations and legislation, and energy efficiency.

Siemens will gather its experts to host the Siemens Green Technology Theatre over the three days of the event. Seminars will present current views and thinking on key future energy topics, with subjects ranging from Smart Grid to the new emerging renewable technologies. The programme includes ‘Energy saving lighting solutions’ by Dave Ellis, ‘Carbon Capture Storage’ by Dr Hermann Kremer, ‘Sustainable Cities: European Green City Index’ by Stefan Denig, ‘The Desertec Industrial Initiative’ by Dr Juckenack and ‘Marine Power’ by Dr Tony Lewis.

The UK government organisation, UKTI, will be hosting three days of presentations in the UKTI ‘Energy Igloo’. It will look at the global transition to a low carbon economy and opportunities presented by carbon capture and storage (CCS), offshore wind energy and sustainable infrastructure. Sessions will include ‘financing a clean tech deal’, ‘CCS- opportunities in an emerging market’ and ‘Offshore wind - the business opportunities for UK and overseas businesses’.

For further information and a copy of Schneider’s report, click here or call 0870 608 8608. If you would like to register for a free pass to this week’s European Energy Forum in London, just click here and follow the links.

Les Hunt

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