The net-zero movement has expanded rapidly over the past 18 months, with 1,500+ businesses setting targets. But why is energy data optimisation so important to decarbonisation? And how best to do it?
These were the questions which edie sought to answer during its latest masterclass webinar, which was hosted on 6 October in association with Inspired Energy.
The 45-minute session was held in recognition of the fact that energy data optimisation is a complicated field to navigate – but one which all businesses must consider as we transition to a net-zero economy. It saw Inspired Energy’s optimisation manager Dan Crowe and client optimisation manager Emma Hird provide their best-practice advice, garnered from their work with public and private sector clients and their experience aligning their own organisation with a net-zero trajectory. Both the “why” and the “how” of energy data optimisation were covered at length.
Here, edie rounds up six of the speakers’ key takeaways, which should serve to inform and inspire businesses of all sizes and sectors to improve their approach to energy and emissions data on the road to net-zero.
1) Reframe the compliance conversation
Kicking off the masterclass was Dan, who outlined some common perceptions of compliance schemes with energy data requirements such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) and the Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme (ESOS). He told of how many clients have seen such schemes as complex and expensive, with no business benefits.
He argued that the data collected to comply with these schemes can prove “invaluable for setting baselines” – without which, businesses cannot track improvements or develop targets that are both ambitious and meaningful. Without these targets, businesses face physical, transition and reputational risk.
Moreover, while businesses often look at the time and money needed to collect data and submit to these schemes, Dan has noticed a tendency not to factor in the wider financial benefits in terms of saving energy and challenging incorrect bulls.
2) Invest in tech…
Good meters and sub-meters “enable the most granular breakdown of energy usage” and help identify key waste hotspots, Emma explained. They enable for much more accurate data than estimates.
Emma advised organisations which already have good meters to pair them with an energy management system, capable of automating data collection, and an accounting system capable or manually reporting. These technologies reduce the risk of human error or of using estimates, but can also help organisations identify problems as and when they arise and avoid a “mad scramble” around reporting time.
3) … But understand that engagement will always play a role
Of course, it is not always possible to install meters or submeters. Many businesses are tenants of buildings rather than owners – meaning that landlords need to play a role in energy management – or co-let or co-own along with other organisations.
And transport data is a particular bugbear for many clients, Emma and Dan agreed. Businesses will often need to collect different data streams in this area and, as such, may need to work with teams like fleet management and finance.
“Engagement through the business is key – data cannot be collected to the highest degree of accuracy without the support of key departments,” Emma said. “If you work with landlords to optimise the data they’re supplying you with … it pays dividends year-on-year to ensure that your data is optimised.”
Her advice for engagement is to take a “strategic approach to each section”. Dan’s is to “understand that it’s hard work” and to keep reminding people of their responsibilities.
4) Be honest, but never complacent
During the Q&A portion of the masterclass, the panel was asked how they would begin their energy data optimisation journey if they worked at an organisation which has only just started work in this space.
“Transparency is important – it’s better to say something than nothing,” Dan said. He advised organisations in this position to make it clear to compliance schemes and stakeholders how estimates have been calculated and to outline plans for improvement in the future.
A more fatal flaw than disclosing poor data or a high footprint, Emma added, is complacency. Without a “drive for continuous improvement”, any businesses will lack buy-in for accurate data collection and optimisation and, as such, will not change processes when needed.
5) Think both short-term and long-term
Another popular question concerned challenges with making data relevant by ensuring it is collected and reported at appropriate intervals.
Dan highlighted the importance of combining specific data that is “as close to real-time as possible” for responding to anomalies, particularly for buildings with a high energy footprint, with broader data at least every six months.
The former will help businesses take part in energy flexibility markets and fix issues leading to wastage promptly, while the latter will ensure they stay on-track to meet long-term climate commitments.
6) Plan ahead for the ‘new normal’
“While we wouldn’t say the pandemic has presented an opportunity to better manage energy, the combination of near-empty buildings and the pressing need to cut costs has led to much closer scrutiny of energy usage,” Dan explained.
Aside from adapting heating, cooling and lighting patterns in line with changing office schedules, businesses will also be dealing with decisions around measuring and reporting the emissions and energy use of remote employees.
Dan believes some businesses will begin considering emissions from remote workers in their Scope 3 calculations. He advised those which take this route to use estimates and to reimburse employees a token amount towards their utility bills – and to be aware that commuting by car is likely to be more expensive and more carbon-intense than switching the heating on in the average home.
Emma agreed. While she believes it “wouldn’t be a hard ask” to collect more accurate data via smart meters, businesses could face complications differentiating between the energy used for work and for leisure in homes.
For those seeking a deeper dive into this topic, edie has collaborated with Inspired Energy to host a free-to-download edie Explains Guide. You can access that guide here.