The last decade or so has seen a variety of programmes and legislation that originally intended to save energy (either consumption or cost) and carbon, but have largely failed to achieve their intended outcome. Several new phrases have become a key part of an energy manager’s vocabulary – with perhaps carbon reduction commitment (CRC) the least popular of all – but just changing language doesn’t necessarily help to deliver savings.

Using the right tools is essential for energy managers to make a substantial difference to their energy costs and carbon emissions. However, the challenge is that decisions – often made at board level – are driven by policies and legislation, resulting in some companies investing in renewable energy systems with very long payback periods, rather than looking at obvious financial savings from energy efficiency.

A significant reduction in carbon emissions could be achieved by simply reducing consumption and demand; improving energy efficiency could provide as much as 50 % of the emissions reductions needed to prevent the Earth from warming by more than 2°C – the international consensus for a manageable level of climate change. We have frequently worked with organisations on their energy efficiency programmes, typically generating a 10-30% reduction in energy usage with minimal investment, just by concentrating on simple solutions. However, businesses tend to either take leader or laggard positions on these sea changes; while some see it as a great opportunity to improve their bottom line performance and, at the same time, boost their green credentials, others focus on compliance costs and wait for legislation to hit.

With minimal investment, companies can make immediate reductions in carbon emissions and long-term, year-on-year savings in energy costs. As energy prices start climbing again, these savings will only increase. Many energy-saving opportunities can generate a return on investment in a matter of months, while ‘step change’ projects typically make a return within 18 to 24 months. Often it is just the basics; frequently we find ‘switch-off’ routines have lapsed – four pumps are running when three can do the job, or cooled water is circulating when no one is using it.

To make a real, long-term difference, staff and stakeholders need to be engaged in energy reduction programmes; getting them involved with simple energy efficiency projects will cut costs and that, in itself, will justify investment in energy management.

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