It’s smart to use energy efficiently

From mining to agriculture, every business emits carbon. However, the optimisation of energy use can save energy and cut costs, writes Celestine Cheong


The Department of Energy and Climate Change reported that business accounts for 15 per cent of all UK carbon emissions in 2011. It’s generally understood that managing energy can save money, but as yet there are many businesses which have failed to implement a strategy.

“Not all businesses see energy as a large cost,” says Nigel Hughes of Itron, a company that helps utilities measure and monitor energy and water. A key reason for this is that many businesses do not know their energy consumption or the proportional breakdown of that expenditure.

According to British Gas, 46 per cent of business electricity is used outside the traditional business hours of 8am to 6pm, on areas such as lighting and heating in unoccupied spaces. And in the UK, energy used for heating or cooling space, ventilation, lighting, heating water and for electrical appliances accounts for almost 40 per cent of all carbon emissions.

A 2010 study by IBM showed that buildings face an “intelligence gap” compared with automobiles and the electricity grid, both of which are being modernised. The deployment of building management systems (BMS) to control heating, cooling and lighting can have a major impact on consumption. But it’s not just empty spaces within buildings that consume large quantities of energy.

Smart metering can provide a cost saving of £18 billion and a net benefit to the UK of £7 billion by 2019

In 2008, the information and communications (ICT) industry accounted for 2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute. This is higher than the aviation industry, frequently under attack for its emissions impact, which only accounts for 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In today’s connected world, vast amounts of data is stored to be made instantly available upon request. This requires data centres – buildings that house servers, storage devices, network equipment, power supplies, fans and other cooling machinery. Data centres currently account for 1.3 per cent of global electricity consumption. And by 2020 the number of servers is expected to grow from more than 20 million to 122 million, according to The Climate Group.

Virtualisation is one way of reducing the cost and emissions impact of ICT. Cetus Solutions says that most servers run at about 15 to 18 per cent efficiency, which is a significant waste of both server space and money, and by splitting one server across multiple virtual servers, organisations can make savings rather than purchasing more physical servers.

Another form of technology with immediate impact is smart metering. Smart meters measure energy consumption and provide information on a user-friendly display in real time. The more advanced smart meters offer voltage quality measurements providing the energy distributor with information to ensure efficient grid operation, as peak periods can be identified.

“Smart metering can provide a cost saving of £18 billion and a net benefit to the UK of £7 billion,” says David Green, of SmartReach, a consortium that aims to provide 30 million homes and small businesses with smart meters by 2019.

The remaining challenge is human behaviour. Richard Tapper, founder of Ecometrica, warns: “Businesses can make improvements, such as energy efficiency, reduced air travel, better logistics, less refrigeration and more recycling. But many options have limits and, once you do the easy wins, it is all too common to ‘hit a wall’ imposed by the cost of new technologies and the fact your existing assets are expensive to replace.”

Nonetheless, there is a growing demand for “ITility” engineers. As Chris Smith, director of on365, a specialist provider of energy-efficient data centres, says: “This new breed of engineers understand the necessary changes needed across the board.”