A time for doubling-down … not giving up!

Cutting bills before they become more expensive. Whatever the future holds, it is vital to reduce overheads as swiftly as possible. And that often means setting time aside to become energy-efficient and change bad and expensive energy-related behaviour and habits.

During a crisis it isn’t always easy to know what to do. But it is important to do something! Which is where the Chamber Low Carbon Programme (CLC) expert team can help.

The programme created four years ago helps Lancashire companies to minimise their fossil-fuel use. Today it shows firms how moving to renewable energy and improving energy-related behaviour can lower soaring bills and help meet net-zero goals.

Survival route map

The first priority for almost all businesses must be ‘to reduce the size of bills now’, as East Lancashire Chamber CEO, Miranda Barker OBE explains in a moment. Many now have plans that are so unprovable they are cannot even generate quotes.

A second is to develop technologies and technical products world markets need urgently. Ged Heffernan runs innovative Lancashire green technology businesses. He looks this month at how RedCAT (https://www.red-cat.uk/) – of which he is a co-founder – closes the gap that market forces alone can’t in commercialising the new technologies really needed by businesses and communities.

The key role of energy-efficiency

However, a third goal is to increase energy-efficiency rapidly, particularly in buildings accounting for a major part of the UK’s carbon footprint.

Because energy-efficiency is both a major problem and potential ‘low-hanging fruit’ solution, we focus on it in detail later. Before that, two bits of news help to put the subject into context.

– Behavioural change

The Energy Transitions Commission says the Government is missing ‘no-brainer’ energy price and emissions solutions by focusing on energy generation and not higher energy-efficiency in its April Energy Security Strategy (https://www.energy-transitions.org/new-insights-briefing-to-build-energy-security-through-accelerated-energy-transition/).

Specifically, it questions whether the October 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy is already out of date

– Supercharging energy-efficiency

In parallel, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says fast-tracking energy-efficiency improvements by 2030 could deliver 33% of the reductions needed to reach net-zero by 2050 (https://www.iea.org/reports/the-value-of-urgent-action-on-energy-efficiency).

It adds that the measures it recommends are ‘already cost-effective and pay for themselves’.

Also as shown later, many SMEs with rising operating costs can cut energy bills by 18% to 25% through Energy Saving Trust energy-efficiency and behavioural change tips.

Business action this day

The dilemma of many companies caught in slowly rising crises is knowing where and when to start, or even that this is a crisis they need to address. “It’s the boiling frog syndrome,” explains Miranda.

The idea is that a frog put into boiling water will jump out immediately. But a frog placed in tepid water slowly brought to a boil will not perceive danger and be cooked to death. This metaphor highlights to risk of ignoring sinister threats rising gradually rather than suddenly.

“When times are tough there is a tendency to hope things will improve by themselves,” says Miranda. “Our advice is that this is definitely not the best option. Reduce bills swiftly, with no more excuses about Brexit, Covid-19 or Ukraine. Businesses must act now to help themselves.”

The Programme

Stephen Sykes, programme manager and Chamber Director of Sustainability, has similar advice.

“Since 2018, we have helped circa 300 companies. Our experts now offer specialisations that include solar PV, voltage optimisation of National Grid power supplies, LED lighting, the Internet of Things (IoT), data in the circular economy, and electric vehicles (EVs).

“It is tempting when conditions are bad to focus on activities you control directly. But delays mean cutting carbon will cost ten-times more in three years’ time. Giving up a good thing is not a good idea!

“Now is the time to double-down and improve energy-efficiency throughout working businesses rather than waiting for better times.”

Two bonuses

The benefits are twofold. “Time and effort invested now will pay future dividends during the economic recovery,” says Stephen.

“The other advantage is that the Government still has an urgent public procurement agenda. Companies can generate green credentials now they will need to qualify as suppliers.”

However, this is just the starting point; the aim is to think creatively, progressively hunting down other opportunities to save energy directly and indirectly.

RedCAT boost

As a self-confessed former petrol-head with a passion for ‘interesting’ vehicles who once worked in the Formula One and gas turbine industries, Ged Heffernan now finds the sound of stationery vehicles with running engines ‘incredulous’ because of the avoidable waste and environmental impact.

This is now particularly important as ‘dinosaur juice’ users worry increasingly about escalating fuel prices. With modern engines, alternators and batteries, there are fewer valid reasons for “… burning stuff when it’s not being used to propel vehicles or run essential systems,” he says.

Closing the commercialisation gap

Having worked at a Whitehall-level on plans to maximise the use of UK marine green energy with goals of the Government of the day (‘Marine Energy Action Plan 2010’ – http://www.policyandinnovationedinburgh.org/meap.html), he knows that even well-meaning markets and governments struggle to optimise green tech’s potential.

He also recognises that what may be perceived as inappropriate, uncertain or changeable incentives can potentially encourage conflicting decisions and behaviours. Political, economic and commercial goals alone can by-pass much-needed investments in vital green technologies.

Hence, the formation of RedCAT!

Lancashire innovation for the world

As shown in 2010, Ged believes conventional markets often fail to close a young company’s commercialisation funding gap. This may also be because industry frameworks are unclear or immature. Early-stage green tech funding is also not necessarily the preferred cost choice for many investors.

RedCAT was founded at the height of the pandemic to redress this and support key regional goals: – Restart, Recovery; Sustainable and Resilient Growth. However, it also wants to make a sustainable difference not only to the Northwest but the wider UK and beyond – as we will examine next month.

Ged will also show why RedCAT supports the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals), and how helping the Global South is in the direct interest of the Global North.

RedCAT, with other regional stakeholders, also wants to highlight regional capability ‘gaps’ to provide a framework for guiding/informing both government funding and private investment.

RedCAT’s five main drivers encapsulate all this: –

  • Low carbon: real reduction, innovation, adoption and application
  • ‘Made in Lancashire’: support for developing regional manufacturing capabilities
  • STEM skills: joined-up skills development and life-long learning
  • Resilience: anticipating risks, augmented by adaptability and flexibility to withstand shocks
  • Global South: support for developing technologies that have a positive local impact

“It isn’t just about funding, in fact RedCAT may provide no finance at all. Our clients are looking for that essential ‘Investment Plus’, where ‘Plus’ taps into our team and support network to enhance their full potential,” Ged adds.

The ‘dirty secret’ of buildings

The Economist magazine recently said buildings have a ‘dirty secret’ and are ‘among the planet’s worst climate offenders’ because of their energy-inefficiency.

Heating, cooling and powering building generates some 27% of global energy-related carbon emissions; demolition adds another 10%. Construction uses huge amounts of steel and cement; Demolition debris is 33% of the EU’s waste by weight.

The three-part solution it says is to, firstly, incentivise owners to make existing properties more energy-efficient, and secondly, encourage more rational decisions about retrofitting, demolition and new building.

The final goal is to make construction far cleaner than in the past. Methods like prefabrication are more energy- and carbon-efficient but under-used; fresh thinking will improve the industry’s ‘dire record on productivity growth’, says The Economist.

Building regs go net-zero

New building regulations to improve energy-efficiency which came into effect in June have set new standards for ventilation and heating, plus installing EV charge points in new residential buildings.

However, the major change that applies to home upgrades and extensions will push up prices at a time of material shortages and high labour costs, making greater efficiency even more important.

The aim to drive down heating bills in the long-term – even though in the short-term costs will rise.

New heating and insulation requirements will affect how much glazing can be used; to stop heat losses the total area of windows, glass doors and roof-lights must be no more than 25% of floor spaces. New windows and doors must be highly-insulated too.

Room spaces may shrink as external walls become circa 7cm thicker. With properties more airtight, measures like double-glazed window ‘trickle vents’ will ensure airflow. Ventilation will also stop solar over-heating and reduce condensation.

New heating systems will depend on the size of builds and must use lower temperature water to deliver the same heat through better insulated pipes.

Checklist to improve energy-efficiency

The Energy Saving Trust advises the following (https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/a-guide-energy-efficiency-in-the-workplace/): –

Heating – in non-domestic buildings heating can use up to 40% of workplace energy. Topping up insulation reduces losses; blocking draughts can force costs down.

The trust recommends checking: – when heaters or boilers were last serviced; plus whether heating and air conditioning systems are used together; hot water tanks, boilers and pipes are insulated; heating reflectors installed; you have smart heating controls; who is responsible for changing heating times through the year; and if windows are open when heating is on?

Tips – adjust timers to daylight savings, weekends, and bank holidays, with office thermostats set to heat at 19°C and cooling at 24°C; turn air conditioning off when people leave – or to manufacturer recommendations in IT server rooms; ensure desks are not too close or far from unobstructed radiators and air conditioning units.

Draughts – stop cold air from entering and warm air from escaping; fit draught-proofing; ensure employees know the cost of wasted heat and air conditioning; seal unused doors and windows – except emergency exits); tell staff thermostats must be turned down before opening windows.

Lighting – meeting rooms, storage areas and corridors are often lit unnecessarily. Remind employees and cleaners to switch lights off when leaving; use LEDs and motion sensors; replace dim lights.

Natural light is important. Windows should not be blocked or desks hidden in corners. Use light coloured or reflective paints; vertical window blinds let in more light in when open and closed.

Lighting sensors and controls are low-cost; timer switches can turn lights off outside working hours.

Equipment – office and work equipment can be high energy users; standby wastes energy. Laptop computers use less energy than desktops – set monitors to optimise brightness and switch both off at the plug; use power saving settings; set printers to automatic power down.

Kitchen equipment is also often overlooked. Unplug unused devices. Keep fridges not too full, and defrost regularly. Check seals and energy ratings; part-filling kettles; upgrade microwaves/kettles.

Production/manufacturing equipment – ensure maintenance; switch motors off during breaks – and fans and pumps at the end of the day; optimise speeds; listen for compressed air pipe leaks; change air filters regularly.

Webbed-footnote

In case you are worried about the frog’s fate, although some 19th-century experiments suggested they stay put if heated very gradual, modern biologists confirm they will jump clear.

Changing location is a natural thermoregulation strategy for the survival of frogs and other ectotherms (cold-blooded animals) in the wild.

No amphibians were harmed in writing this article.

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