Cutting energy usage for net zero – lessons from lockdown

SSE Energy Solutions experts talk about what we can learn from business energy usage during the pandemic to help you cut energy costs and carbon emissions

Net Hero Podcast

Over the last 18 months, our lives at home and work have changed dramatically. Lockdowns have brought significant environmental benefits, including lower air pollution and cleaner waterways. But can these positive trends be sustained as the country unlocks and the economy recovers?

At SSE Energy Solutions, we’re committed to helping businesses of all sizes decarbonise on their journey to net zero. As we prepare for the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, I talked to experts across SSE Energy Solutions about how lessons learnt from recent lockdowns can help us on our journey to net zero.

Smart energy management

Eunice Mabey, our Energy Optimisation and Platform Operations Director, has analysed energy usage data from our customers and found some surprising results – a drop of only 9% in average consumption in 2020. That extrapolates to just 4% across the UK as a whole.

So why haven’t we all saved much more energy? According to Kostas Papadopoulos, our Smart Energy Systems Director, UK businesses often lack the controls they need to regulate their energy consumption.

“That leads to significant wastage,” he said. “When people were off during the lockdowns, systems were still in operation because they couldn’t be turned off.”

As we “build back greener” after Covid-19, business energy customers are now looking to combine traceable 100% green energy with more control over consumption and costs.

“The key enabler in all of this – and it might just seem like a box on the wall – is smart metering,” said Senior Smart Project Manager Tom Ching.

Smart meters can help you take control of your energy usage, whether you have a small business or a portfolio of assets across multiples sites.

They’re particularly powerful when combined with an energy management platform like SSE Clarity, Eunice added.

“You can actually see where your wastage is,” Eunice said, “so are you using energy outside your operating hours, for instance. Are things still switched on?”

It also allows you to consider operating equipment at different times of day to take advantage of cheaper tariffs. “The smart meter feeds that information into our Clarity platform, and from that, you can really understand what you’re doing with your energy,” Eunice said.

“Public sector organisations in particular in the UK and also large businesses are very keen to invest in smart local energy systems,” said Kostas. “Having a plan for decarbonisation is key, and the plan should start with smart – with accurate and good data.”

That’s why you need reliable data collection and aggregation, especially if you’re a large energy user.

Energy solutions for net zero

Businesses are also looking to generate their own green electricity and heat to bounce back after Covid-19, redoubling efforts to hit tight net zero targets.

“So measures such as solar PV [photovoltaic panels] and batteries, heat pumps, controls, LED lighting, as well as now electric vehicle charging infrastructure, are absolutely at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds,” Kostas said.

Another critical challenge for businesses is how to return safely to the workplace. What impact does social distancing have on energy usage?

“If you have 20% of people in a space, 100% of the lights may have to be turned on,” Kostas said.

Small changes to how you control your lighting or other high-consumption equipment can add up to significant savings.

That includes changing behaviour – encouraging your employees to take simple steps to save energy. At SSE, we’re embedding behavioural change by making personal pledges to cut carbon, Eunice said.

“Those things can make a huge difference globally,” she said, “so we all need to pull together [for net zero] as we did for the pandemic.”