This week the great and the good of the clean energy industry descended upon south west London for this year’s Clean Energy Summit, which took place at Twickenham Stadium.
Customers are expecting more from their favourite brands on efficiency
If service providers, retailers or any other business engaging in any way with the public was in doubt over awareness of environmental issues, they can think again. Arguably the most common theme from the conference was that energy efficiency was not only good for the bottom line, but the top line too.
Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for IKEA’s UK and Ireland operation, said during Tuesday’s keynote panel that customers were now not only more engaged with the efficiency challenge but expected the retailers they shop with to be on top of it. "Our customers do care. They want to live a cleaner lifestyle, they want to reduce their waste... and definitely there's a growing trend for more consumer interest in this and expectation that corporations will do their bit," she said.
But there is a fine line to be tread. Pushing the energy efficiency agenda and track record too far can, as Yarrow pointed out, lead to “green washing”, where companies protest their credentials to such an extent that they becoming jarring.
Renewables stands to be at the heart of CSR
Cuts to various subsidy support frameworks in the UK have perhaps dented broader confidence in renewables, particularly for SMEs that can’t access the economies of scale associated with large scale deployment programmes. That much was true of William Jackson Food Group, whose sustainability manager Gavin Milligan said that the company probably wouldn’t have pushed ahead with a solar rooftop scheme if the current rates had been in place last year.
Many companies are however still strongly committed to the various renewable technologies on offer. Coca Cola’s Joe Frances said on Tuesday that renewables “had to be at the heart of [the] transition” to less carbon-intensive business, a sentiment which was echoed by Yarrow. "We do it because we want to be a business that's thriving and surviving in decades to come,” she said, speaking of IKEA’s €500 million investment into renewables which has saved the company €133 million since 2010.
The number of companies committing to The Climate Group’s RE100 campaign is also expected to double before the turn of the year, adding yet more weight to the argument that renewables are the way forward.
Building management is crucial
But it’s far from a problem renewable energy can solve. Making buildings more efficient in their energy use is also a significant contributor. As the adage goes, the energy we don’t use is the cheapest of all.
This was especially prominent during Wednesday’s opening keynote on the urban and built environment, which saw Skanska’s head of sustainability Greg Chant-Hall comment that while UK buildings were generally quite good, there was still much to learn from other countries. Sweden in particular was noted for the appreciation of the environment present in actual building design.
Balfour Beatty head of sustainability Paul Toyne agreed, arguing that pension funds and other investors were simply no longer interested in taking on older, less efficient buildings, perhaps mindful of both the awareness within big corporates of CSR initiatives and how attractive more efficient premises can be to margin-chasing companies.
There’s more to transport than just electric vehicles
Electric vehicles will undoubtedly revolutionise the transport industry, and it’ll be an abrupt and unstoppable change once the technology becomes more pervasive. The pre-order book for Tesla Model 3s, not to mention the countless car manufacturers, technology majors and associated other companies looking to enter the market, should be testament to that.
But EVs, at least in their present form, are just not suited to some operations, particularly deliveries. Both Ocado and Abel & Cole, whose drivers conduct daily sorties that are calculated to the very minute, said this week that their own trials with electric vehicles had proven unsuccessful.
There are however ample efficiencies and savings to be made through transport and fleet management, and all it takes is a little clever thinking, some technological assistance and incentives for those involved. Meticulous planning of driving routes, rewarding drivers for efficient driving behaviours and the use of biofuels were all discussed at this week’s Summit.
C&I storage is the future, but not necessarily the present
Battery storage benefitted from its own day at this year’s event but was unsurprisingly a hot topic across the entire conference. Much like EVs, its potential to revolutionise the energy sector could bring about a tidal wave of change both behind and in front of the meter.
Lord Redesdale gave a quick summary of the potential he saw in storage technologies and ultimately concluded that facility managers could salvage an entirely new revenue stream through their widespread deployment. There are of course already companies dedicated to trading energy, but buying energy during off-peak periods to store and use during more expensive times – particularly with half-hourly metering on the horizon – is an opportunity too good to miss.
But some significant hurdles need to be overcome before this can happen. Baringa’s Ilesh Patel raised concerns over the bankability of C&I storage applications during a panel on Tuesday afternoon, subtly suggesting that financial institutions might not be prepared to lend the significant sums associated with battery storage at this early stage. Obsolescence is also a very real concern considering the rapid maturation of the technology in question.
However, growth is still expected in C&I no matter now slow. A poll conducted on the final day of the summit showed the majority of delegates in the room believed 50MW of storage would be installed in this market over the next 18 months, with an expert panel expecting between 50-100MW.