Comment: Why Net Zero needs Energy Managers

3 min read

PICTURE ALT TEXT HEREDavid Hughes, Country Managing Director for ABB in the UK, explores the importance of the energy manager role as organisations pursue net zero goals.

In the UK, Industry has a central role to play in the fight against climate change. This was brought into sharp focus last year with the launch of the Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. The first key milestone in this strategy is for emissions to be reduced by at least two-thirds by 2035. As stated by The Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth: “The 2020s will be crucial for us to lay the bedrock for industrial decarbonisation.”[1> In short: the clock is ticking.

More on Net Zero

The will to meet these ambitious targets can be keenly felt. It is evident in the proliferation of related career paths now available in the UK, particularly those of Energy or Environmental Managers. A quick search on LinkedIn reveals almost 4,000 vacancies with similar job titles, with typical responsibilities including ‘energy & carbon savings reporting’ and ‘reducing consumption’ or ‘implement energy efficiency measures.’ It is heartening progress but, it can mask deeper challenges faced by individuals in these roles in their fight to reduce carbon emissions. For example, a 2020 report by Edie[2> on the issues faced by Energy Managers identified behavioural change and engagement as one of their biggest challenges.

energy manager
(Credit: Matthew Henry on Unsplash)

This finding is certainly reflected in our experiences. Energy and Environmental Managers are still not being afforded the influence they need, despite the fact that their role is critical for helping companies to meet ambitious targets for 2035 and beyond.

The imperative for a change in culture

Even the job title can be indicative of the challenge ahead. An Environmental Manager, as the name suggests, has a wide-ranging role. Their remit is either so broad, or so focused on compliance, that the critical element of driving change is lost. Contrast this with the title of Energy Manager which places a greater focus on specifically addressing energy usage and costs.

The semantics of job titles aside, the Energy or Environmental Manager needs to be tasked with looking actively at short-, medium- and long-term commitments. They should also be placed on an equal level with Engineering and Procurement teams to empower them to challenge deep-seated habits. Ensuring that Energy Managers have this remit is, of course, down to the culture within an organisation. While carbon reduction and net zero commitments are being made at an executive level, the company culture is not necessarily responding to support them. Similarly, despite the obvious impact of the rising costs of energy, we are still not seeing companies readily and swiftly adopting energy-efficient measures. This is despite the dual benefit of carbon and cost savings.

A powerful example is that of electric motors. Up to 40 per cent of the electricity consumed by UK industry is via electric motors. Regardless, many organisations still have motors which are high in energy absorption and continue to install standard motors rather than considering the significant short-, medium- and longer-term financial benefits of high efficiency options. Industry and the environment would benefit greatly if that perspective were broadened beyond short-term CAPEX budget considerations to support strategies around future direction. Those companies who are already being proactive in starting to address their net zero commitments are moving to TOTEX approach to decision-making, away from historical OPEX and CAPEX.

energy manager
Electric motors make up a significant proportion of UK industrial energy use (Credit: ABB)

One illustration of this change can be found with a multinational company we are currently working with. Their Energy Manager saw the opportunity for us to help them identify significant energy and medium-to-long-term cost savings through the adoption of high-efficiency, IE5 motors. With the voice and position to advocate for these benefits, the Energy Manager is set to save their organisation several hundred thousand pounds in cost savings, alongside reducing carbon emissions.

A critical role in driving progress

A goal as significant as meeting zero carbon targets calls for real change at every organisational level. This cultural shift has to come from the boardroom.

Making that change may seem daunting but it is critical to take the first step. In our work with manufacturers, the first stage is often an on-site energy survey. This is a key instrument for identifying costs and potential return on investment.

In my view, the best energy is the energy that is not consumed. The more resources that we can save through energy-conscious approaches, the less we need to spend on building substantial energy infrastructure projects to support the energy that is needed. Empowered by the executives in the boardroom, and aligned with Engineering and Procurement teams, Energy and Environmental Managers can help to lead this charge. Organisations in the process of setting CAPEX and operational expenditure budgets will benefit greatly by bringing the Energy Manager into that spend profile and decision-making process.

Achieving ambitious goals within short timescales starts with a shift in culture and mindset. With the need for increased energy efficiency growing more urgent every day, now is the time for companies to look at doing things differently. That starts with giving Energy and Environmental Managers a seat at the boardroom table.

2035 is not far away we need to act now before it is too late for our next generations.