The importance of measuring 08 March 2024

Decarbonisation energy consumption

Industry faces mounting pressure to prioritise decarbonisation for the Government’s 2050 Net Zero targets. But how can businesses begin reducing energy consumption if they aren’t measuring?

The push for Net Zero amid rising competition compels companies to cut overheads, with sustainability concerns and regulatory changes adding to the pressure. Consequently, energy management is gaining prominence in the corporate agenda for potential savings and broader benefits. Organisations face the challenge of managing energy use while communicating efforts to environmentally conscious stakeholders and the public.

Despite this urgency, a recent government survey has revealed that over half of manufacturers, especially smaller companies, do not monitor energy usage or costs. This lack of awareness is significant, as those who improved efficiency were primarily driven by meter data analyses and energy bills. Increased awareness could motivate more manufacturers to prioritise efficiency, although it’s currently a small portion of their overall costs.

Colin Boughton-Smith, founder of Energy Metering Technology, says: “It all starts with the Government. I sat on an Ofgem working group for new metering technologies and, about 20 years ago, they wanted to put the subject to bed, because Ofgem is funded by the energy companies. I was the only one that was not a supplier and fought for them to wake up to the new metering technologies coming forward to help save energy. But they weren’t interested, they wanted more energy usage because they got more revenue.”

“Ofgem and Ofwat squashed the ability for industrial and commercial consumers to interface their own AMR (automatic meter reading) system to the meters by which they are charged,” he adds. “Even now, when my company goes in to provide AMR for gas, water or electricity, there’s tremendous difficulty getting access to the fiscal meters.”


“When you’re a relatively small business energy doesn’t necessarily represent as high a percentage of the cost base as it would in a larger manufacturing company, particularly those in energy intensive manufacturing such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals,” says George Richards, director, JRP Solutions. “Also, they don’t usually have in-house expertise or knowledge because of their size, and they can’t afford to pay for specialist consultants, such as us, to come in and advise them on making changes that are necessary.”

Both Richards and Boughton-Smith point out that things can be done that cost little or nothing at all. One is interfacing to high frequency AMR to their meters rather than taking and reporting their energy consumption from bills. “Anything that moves should have an AMR system,” explains Boughton-Smith. “Electricity is the most expensive utility but is the cheapest to measure and monitor. Taking a reading every 30 minutes is the generally recognised period in the UK. Then, you need automatic analysis – some of which, ever increasingly, incorporates AI, which learns a profile of consumption and alerts whenever sudden changes in consumption occur.”

Boughton-Smith says AI takes away the laborious, time-consuming manual logging tasks from workers, freeing them up to concentrate on the more process-oriented tasks where their knowledge and expertise is more valuable.

Having accurate, consistent and reliable data, is essential to finding out if a company is wasting energy needlessly. It’s also useful for validating the investment impacts of any changes or interventions that are made (technical or behavioural) on the business from energy usage, cost, and emissions perspectives. “A lot of people don’t understand behavioural change,” Richards states. “Or they think all you have to do is train people and your problems are solved, but that’s not the case. Behaviours start in the boardroom and go right down to the shop floor. It must be reflected in the culture and DNA of the business. Energy should always be a consideration.

“We worked with a large engineering manufacturer, having already spent 10 years implementing technical projects to reduce energy,” Richards recalls. “The data we gathered from certain behavioural changes demonstrated a 7.43% reduction in energy wastage, which increased to double figures in the second year. That’s, potentially, a lot of money saved without investing large sums – and behaviour changes realised an even greater return on investment than many of the technical projects.”


Despite limited information, most manufacturers have taken steps to improve energy efficiency, primarily through building investments. Businesses renting premises, however, may need additional support for energy efficiency improvements. “When you’re in a leased building, it depends on the length of the lease and the attitude and culture of the landlord but, ultimately, you do have a choice,” says Richards. “You can move and make that part of your longer-term strategy if the landlord isn’t going to invest in the building, or help you become more energy efficient and sustainable. The more businesses that do that, or threaten to, the more landlords will change.”

He suggests that small businesses collaborate with their landlords to point out the benefits of installing solar panels on roofs, for example, both from the perspective of the business and how it can benefit their building. It could make the business more attractive to customers or potential organisations looking to collaborate with sustainable companies, as well as saving on electrical energy. For the landlord it adds value when they’re looking for a prospective future tenant.

Boughton-Smith adds that, once again, metering together with separate, modern low-cost electronic controls where fine tuning can be applied easily, is usually a “low hanging fruit” savings measure. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s for the landlord or the tenant, there’s a major opportunity with today’s low-cost controls,” he reasons. “This interaction of measures means that you could identify a poorly insulated roof. That’s a capital investment measure, but the landlord should understand that the value of their assets will be enhanced when they work with the tenant on these things.”

The survey shows costs are the primary barrier to energy efficiency improvements in this sector. Few manufacturers explore financing options beyond internal funds, with many unaware of available government funding. “The government makes things far too complex – and that’s a big barrier to any industry,” claims Boughton-Smith. “Before we joined the EU, we had government schemes to help with capital investment, which were scrapped because of EU grant capital restrictions. The whole lot needs to be simplified and energy saving capital grants reintroduced to incentivise industries.”

In recent years surveys have shown that the sustainable performance of universities is one of the top three criteria for students choosing which university they want to study at. That culture will carry into the workplace because, when they enter the workforce, they will have similar concerns and considerations when choosing prospective employers.

“Some larger organisations such as the NHS, public sector organisations and large retailers are making [sustainability] part of their criteria to continue being – let alone become – a supplier within their supply chains. That’s where the bulk of their scope three emissions lie,” reveals Richards. “It will come all the way down to small SMEs who might not have to report to the same level of detail because their impacts are not as material, but they must have a net zero strategy and evidence that they are actually doing something with it.”

Tom Austin-Morgan

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Energy Metering Technology

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