Points of View

Dr Elliott Finer, director general of the Chemical Industries Association

I first became involved in energy efficiency in 1981. As a civil servant in the Department of Energy, I was asked to carry out a study on how the Government handled energy conservation.

I recommended that the disparate threads of Government activity be brought together in an Energy Efficiency Office – which was set up in 1983 by Peter Walker, the then energy secretary. I worked in the EEO for several years, latterly as director general.

At the CIA, I now represent one of the country’s main energy consuming sectors. The chemical industry accounts for 14% of the UK’s industrial energy consumption and 3.5% of total consumption.

The chemical industry has a good record of improving energy efficiency. Energy consumption per unit of output is now only a third of what it was 30 years ago. The easy pickings have largely gone, but that does not mean we cannot continue to improve.

Energy efficiency is nowadays more than an issue of economic efficiency; it also relates to sustainable development, largely because of the relationship with CO2 emissions and global warming. The industry sees energy efficiency as an issue for its Responsible Care programme, adopted in 1989, under which we have a commitment to deliver safety, health and improved environmental performance. Central to Responsible Care is the measurement and reporting of safety, health and environmental activities.

The CIA’s first Indicators of Performance, including figures on energy efficiency, were published in 1993. We have published indicators each year since then. Our latest data, based on the energy consumption of 333 manufacturing sites in 1996, shows an energy efficiency improvement of 14% since 1990, with a 4% year-on-year improvement in 1996.

To focus further on energy management techniques, the CIA has run a Responsible Energy workshop jointly with the Government, and used the Energy Management Matrix initially developed by the Building Research Establishment, modified for the chemical sector by the Energy Technology Support Unit.

This self-assessment matrix covers six areas of energy management concern – policy, organising, training, performance measurement, communicating, and investment. Results for some 200 sites reveal a number of challenges for the association’s members: particularly the need to improve energy policy, training and communication.

The European chemical industry embarked in 1992 on a voluntary energy efficiency programme, aiming to improve energy efficiency by 15% between 1990 and 2000. This initiative has recently been extended till 2005 with a target of 20% improvement from 1992 levels.

We have been discussing with the Department of the Environment a voluntary agreement between the chemical industry and Government on energy efficiency. Talks have gone well, and we were encouraged when Angela Eagle, the new minister responsible for energy efficiency, asked her officials to seek industry proposals for a public commitment to a clear and demanding energy efficiency target.

In coming to an agreement, we are looking to Government to support our smaller member companies. The Government in turn is looking to the industry to ensure that performance is independently verified, and will cover a high percentage of the industry with a challenging target.

A good energy efficiency agreement between the chemical industry and Government will be a win-win. It will enable us to use optimal solutions – rather than respond to prescription – to help the Government meet its international CO2 commitments.

This voluntary agreement could show the way forward in many other areas.