On the Journey Towards Carbon Neutral
Katie Burrows, energy services solutions manager for Haven Power, considers what the UK government's commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 really means for businesses.
A recent report from Energy Systems Catapult casts doubt on the UK’s goal of becoming carbon neutral within a 30-year time frame, suggesting the public are ill-prepared for measures which will have to be implemented on the road towards sustainability.
According to the report, several lifestyle and leadership challenges will need to be overcome if the country is to achieve carbon neutrality which, in turn, will require radical action from the government.
The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated - albeit at the cost of great tragedy, the impact of businesses on the environment, and the power of change, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) reporting that a global collapse in demand for fossil fuels may lead to an 8 per rcent reduction in omissions.
Whilst the circumstances surrounding the fall are extreme and will need to be amended once we start to exit lockdown, they have taught us that carbon neutral is an entirely realistic and attainable goal on both an individual and a national level. At the same time, the findings from the IAE further emphasise the need for all businesses to act on their responsibility to make positive changes for the sake of the planet. Simply put, we cannot return to previous carbon emission levels.
Companies that set carbon neutrality in their sights are not just aligning themselves with government requirements, there are a huge number of other benefits for those who actively put measures in place to combat the climate crisis. Creating new opportunities for clean growth will deliver not only for the environment, but for the economy and businesses too.
Many organisations are already aware of this, with half of UK businesses aiming to achieve carbon neutrality in just 10 years, by 2030, and just under one in ten claiming they’re already there.
Every business, regardless of industry, has a role to play in helping the UK to drastically cut its carbon emissions, by both leading by example and helping others to do the same. That’s why we have put together five steps that will help you kickstart your business’ journey to carbon neutral once we’re back to business as usual.
Investing in energy-efficient technology
There are a number of technologies available that can help a business better understand and actively lower its consumption levels, for example using LEDs, which consume around 11 times less electricity than traditional halogen lighting.
Within businesses, smart meters are often misunderstood. However, the benefits of investing in smart metering are numerous. Not only does the technology help to drive changes in behaviour, even without a direct impact on cutting emissions or consumptions, but those changes can in turn reflect results through reduced bills. Plus, as a smart meter sends readings directly to your energy supplier, they can help save resource within the organisation, freeing up time for more important tasks.
Smart meters will, ultimately, form the backbone for the smart grid of the future. The smart revolution will soon allow organisations to get real-time information about their energy, allowing teams to respond swiftly and appropriately. Wouldn’t you rather be able to make gradual improvements over time, than wait until a problem arises to fix it?
Asset optimisation is another service that could help you cut carbon emissions. The service involves the analysis of your business needs and energy usage, enabling your supplier to make the most realistic recommendations to help you on your journey to carbon neutral, as well as providing support when implementing those changes. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can further enhance this process, helping to maximise your energy efficiency.
Generating your own renewable electricity
Consuming only renewable electricity is a great place to start on your journey to carbon neutral, but why not go one step further and generate your own?
Solar panels, wind turbines and biomass technologies are all available to businesses with the aim of helping you achieve this. There are, of course, a number of variables that may have an impact on your organisations’ ability to self-generate, though, including the amount of land available and budget.
If your business can accommodate self-generation, why not consider selling your excess renewable energy back to the grid? You can do this by making a purchase power agreement with your energy supplier, which is a cost-effective way of reducing your energy consumption and boosting your bottom line at the same time.
Businesses from a huge number of different industries, even farming, can make a long-term investment in producing their own renewable electricity. Take Home Farm in Northamptonshire for example. The farm’s low carbon pilot project involved the installation of solar panels on the cattle shed, and the business is now able to sell its excess electricity back to its supplier, helping them generate extra cash.
Considering energy storage
Protecting against uncertainty is a major objective for many businesses. It’s important to consider this in all aspects, including energy generation. If you’re able to generate your own renewable energy on site, it’s worth really thinking about energy storage, and what benefits it could yield within your company.
Retaining your own renewable energy means that businesses can reduce their dependence on the grid, therefore decreasing the risk of supply disruption to the organisation, and ensuring that you and your customers don’t end up feeling disgruntled and inconvenienced.
Energy storage also gives you the flexibility to shift your usage to times when electricity costs less. Shifting in this way means using the energy in your battery to reduce your demand on the grid when electricity is at its most expensive, like those cold winter evenings.
Electrifying your vehicle fleet
Not only are businesses able to sell their unused electricity back to the grid, but soon vehicle-to-grid services will enable EV fleet batteries to upload power back to the grid, too. While they may not be a priority amid the coronavirus pandemic, electric vehicles are fast becoming more and more attractive, especially for organisations with a large fleet as vehicle range is constantly improving.
There are a few important questions to consider before you adopt an EV fleet though, as preparation really is key. What area are you based in? Do you need cars or vans? And how will you be recharging your fleet?
Thankfully, now that there are over 270,000 electric vehicles on our roads and over 30,000 charging points across the UK, we have a much better understanding of the benefits of EVs to businesses. With government grants available, increasing numbers of ultra-low emission zones and a number of leasing options out there, many businesses can both save the planet and some money by adopting an EV fleet.
Offsetting remaining emissions
Whilst there are a huge number of practical measures we can take to tackle climate change and achieve carbon neutrality, this goal is a real stretch for some organisations. So, carbon offsetting can be a useful way for businesses to take responsibility for their emissions and make a difference.
Carbon offsetting essentially involves financing sustainable developments through purchasing carbon credits. This enables us to compensate for every tonne of CO2 emitted, helping to tackle the climate crisis by supporting reforestation and investing in renewable technologies. If you need any advice on carbon offsetting, do ask your energy provider if they have recommendations based on your specific business needs.
From carbon neutral to carbon negative
Achieving carbon neutral has an infinite number of benefits for businesses, from helping to save money and improving overall efficiency, to attracting and retaining top talent and improving customer loyalty. However, it is only the first step on a much longer journey. Over time, what we really should be aiming for is carbon negative – taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than we are emitting.
Haven Power’s parent company, Drax, has even declared a world-first ambition to become carbon negative by 2030. Using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology, Drax aims to reap the benefits of a companywide negative carbon footprint.