Moving energy management forward

Dr Joanne Wade FEI

Dr Joanne Wade FEI

Energy efficiency is increasingly valued at all scales. ESOS has brought awareness, and possibly action, to large organisations. SMEs are increasingly aware of the benefits, from both a cost perspective and a reputational one of managing energy to achieve greater efficiency. The EI’s recently published Energy Barometer report revealed that energy professionals across sectors (on both the demand and supply side) and disciplines value energy efficiency and management and recognise its potential to transform the way energy is consumed.

Among the top concerns that EI members are grappling with in 2016 is of course the low oil price and its impact on investment and decarbonisation, drawing focus from energy demand and efficiency. Despite this competition from low crude oil and transport prices, commercial and domestic energy efficiency are seen as the only low-risk areas for investment across the energy value chain. Efficiency (in buildings, transport and industrial processes) also tops the list for where energy professionals believe investment should be increased. But energy professionals caution that policy stability is imperative to take advantage of this potential, enable investment, and develop the sector. Recent changes to the Green Deal and the Zero Carbon Homes policies are not the signals that are needed. Energy professionals expected a decision to leave the EU to have a negative effect across most of the energy sector, including on improving energy efficiency, and general market uncertainty following the vote on 23 June is indeed affecting investor confidence. This reinforces the need for a new, robust policy framework to encourage investment.

The EI has long been supporting the development of energy management as a profession, promoting good practice and recognising those at the top of their field. A new publication, released in May, is aimed at those who are new to energy management, of which there will be growing numbers as more organisations embed energy management in their strategy and operations. A guide to energy management gives a high-level introduction to the what, why and how of this practice, and is aimed at those considering a new career or anyone who has been asked to take on energy management alongside an existing role. It can also be a useful tool for consultants pitching to senior management teams, helping to make the case for and explain the basics of managing energy in an organisation.

The guide is part of the Energy Essentials series produced by the EI Knowledge Service – foundation-level documents which help to promote knowledge and understanding and make important topics understandable to non-experts. The documents in this series are reviewed extensively by qualified subject specialists under the guidance of the Energy Advisory Panel, which I chair. The guide to energy management serves an important purpose and I hope it makes this field more accessible and easily understood, particularly in those organisations with limited resources or for individuals with little technical background.

Both the Energy Barometer report and our new guide are examples of the EI’s efforts to promote knowledge, share information, and enable informed discussion about energy. Both are also only made possible by the generosity and expertise of our 23,000 members, who never hesitate to put their views and insights to good use. Thank you to the EI College and to our 60 peer-reviewers for your input, which is improving the quality of the debate and hopefully enabling the changes needed to move the industry forward.

Small is beautiful

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant FEI Immediate Past President

The book Small is Beautiful by economist E F Schumacher was originally published at the time of the 1973 oil crisis. To quote Wikipedia “It is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as bigger is better”.
I think these words could usefully be applied to the challenges facing the energy industry today when we are facing different challenges that may, with the benefit of hindsight, look like an energy crisis.

The last hundred and fifty or so years have seen the energy industry fixated with bigger is better. It has been about the larger power stations, heavier and deeper offshore platforms and bigger companies. I think this is, however, yesterday’s trend. The future is smaller, more distributed and local. Here are four illustrations.

  1. More and more homes, schools and offices are fitting small solar systems and now this is frequently being combined with local storage. You can now install lithium ion batteries that are smaller than conventional gas boilers which means that all of your solar produced power can be consumed on-site. These are small, personal decisions which are democratising and disrupting the big centralised electricity system.
  2. The rise of unconventional oil and gas has transformed the economics of the fossil fuel industry. Regardless of the controversy around fracking, one thing is clear. These wells are quicker and faster to develop than the pieces of giant industrial architecture that dominated the industry until recently and this is changing the nature of the commodity cycle and the politics of the energy industry.
  3. Even the nuclear industry is being affected. If the 1600MW Hinkley Point C ever gets built, I suspect it will mark the final death throes of the bigger is better mentality. The focus is now on so-called small modular nuclear reactors which may be a fifth to a quarter of the size of Hinkley and stand a sporting chance of being connected with words not normally associated with nuclear power; ‘on time and on budget’.
  4. The market share of the big energy suppliers has been in steep decline recently and we have seen the emergence of a range of smaller competitors with different business models as well as the growth of collective and mutual owned energy suppliers. I suspect that this trend is going to be a consistent feature of the market.

The challenge for the energy industry will be how it copes with the disruption that is bound to occur as we move from a bigger is better world to one where small is beautiful and diversity of scale is a strength.