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  • Nigel Hargreaves

Business resilience - if not now, when?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

The burgeoning impacts of climate change, as the drought rolls northwards from southern Europe and temperature records in the UK are broken (as part of a 21st century trend), are all too evident. This, in addition to unsustainable resource extraction is putting pressure on the supply of water and food supplies in countries closer to home. Here, following Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the disruption to markets and supply chains is adding to the strain, made worse by the recent war in Ukraine. These events are the perfect storm behind the cost of living crisis, driving rampant inflation that could as high as 18% in 2023 according to some analysts. Arguably, our continued dependence on a fossil fuel economy is proving to be a fools game as gas prices continue to rocket, driven by an international scramble to feed the demand from countries unaligned with Russia in the Ukraine conflict. Links between decarbonisation, climate change, energy security and cost of living now need to be re-emphasised as they become more clearly demonstrated.


Figure 1. Climate change costs triangle.

The inter-relationships between the costs of climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation have been presented by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be more costly the less action is taken to adapt or mitigate to its impacts. I have adapted their representation in the Third Assessment Report to summarise this in Figure 1. We are now in the red zone and could be facing less cost from the runaway price of gas had earlier action been taken to act on climate change. This would have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels, and developed greater energy security from investment in a distributed renewable energy system. Current exposure to international energy markets have left us vulnerable to this economic crisis and call for greater emphasis on the need for resilience, especially as we also face accelerating impacts from climate change.


Energy cuts across so many business and behavioural issues, the following advice for small businesses was written for the Business Climate Leaders initiative, part of the work by Norfolk Chamber of Commerce. With the rapid changes we are witnessing around us, businesses are being forced to ‘re-localise’, to reconsider global resourcing which has been the norm for the last 40-odd years. Other lenses exist through which business resilience can be viewed to form a detailed sustainability plan, including water, materials, skills, behavioural patterns and social welfare. However, energy is cross-cutting and carbon accounting is becoming the norm (in smaller businesses, following larger organisations), pointing to the heart of the ecological and economic challenges facing us.

Figure 2. Principles of sustainable energy behaviours

The following suggestions are deliberately pitched at a systems level and can be broken down into solutions from there. They follow a hierarchy as described in Figure 2 and are summarised in Figure 3, below.









Energy conservation forms the basis of actions in the hierarchy because avoiding energy usage is fundamental to sustainability and evidence of its conservation in practice can be observed everywhere in the natural world. For example, plants don’t waste energy in their growth and productivity and have had 4.5 billion years to evolve and develop, so they ought to be good teachers! Practical measures businesses can undertake for energy conservation, include:

  • In the case of heat and cooling, insulate to the maximum practical to reduce U-values [1].

  • Utilise waste and passive heat and cooling from nearby sources if available.

  • Invest in increasing the efficiency of appliances such as boilers and cooling systems, machinery, and lighting

  • Review process and product design, which should aim for simplicity and reusability to reduce material consumption and waste. Can service delivery be digitalised?

  • Plan for an integrated approach to materials acquisition, product or service delivery. Lifecycle analysis can be applied in helping to compare between different strategies.

  • Apply manual input to processes where feasible, reduce reliance on appliances. Simply fitting window blinds or shutters that keep heat in or out depending on the season will save on energy usage.

  • Consider market and supply chain localisation to reduce on transport energy use as well as create more immediate and therefore secure business networks.

  • Airtight buildings with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems reduce energy loss and are healthier to live and work in.

Promote active intervention in energy use. Develop energy usage ‘avoidance thinking’ – switch things off and don’t turn them on if unrequired. Champion the ‘waste not, want not’ message amongst colleagues.

  • Develop a ‘circular systems-thinking culture’ inhouse – it brings benefits ranging from greater supply chain resilience and lowering waste, to improving product and process economy. This can become the start of demanding a similarly aligned supply chain that will help to reduce Scope 2 and 3 emissions [2] in carbon accounting as well.

  • Reuse, repurpose, repair, redeploy and recycle wherever possible. This is sustainability ‘by design’ and reduces energy and resource impacts driving climate change and associated costs.

  • Take care to avoid the ‘rebound effect’, resulting in things being left on, or overused, which sometimes arises out of a ‘feel-good’ mindset after efficiency measures are deployed.

  • Aim for improvement by implementing standards such as ISO 50001 [3] and PAS 2060 [4].

  • Promote 'active travel'. Walk, run, cycle, or use any number of other personal mobility devices (such as electric scooters) that are available to get to work or shops, rather than habitually using the car. This could improve personal welfare at the same time! Implement car sharing where practical and encourage use of public transport.


Go renewable wherever possible. This actually applies not only to energy but also to materials consumed. Nature depends on renewability and so should businesses to limit their ecological impacts and become more sustainable. Minimising ecological impacts will assist in returning us to ‘one planet living’ [5] and help mitigate anthropogenic climate change. Measures to consider include:

  • Implement renewable generation and storage technologies such as PV, solar thermal, heat/cold stores and batteries on site, or close to it. These can help avoid the cost of importing energy if equipment is connected behind supply meters, while at the same time it will increase energy resilience in cases of network supply failure resulting in the requirement to shut down of operations.

  • With rising energy prices, the cost and benefit from these measures will pay back on investments faster. Sizing of generators to avoid surplus energy generation to demand should be considered because currently spilled or exported energy to the grid does not pay well in self-consumption scenarios compared to import tariffs.

  • Electric vehicles will cancel out their embodied and operational emissions sooner when compared with fossil fuel equivalent vehicles, if they are charged with renewable electricity, which can be factored into generator sizing. Consider an e-bike over an electric car, especially as most journeys people make in the UK are relatively short. [6]

Deploy responsive controls to become a smarter business. There is a vast range of devices such as desktop/mobile apps and remote sensors and actuators that can be retrofitted to help with situational awareness and control over energy and other resource usage. But that isn’t the limit of options immediately available.

  • Install smart meters to receive accurate billing and profiling from energy suppliers. ‘Consumer Access Devices’ can also be deployed to gain more detailed information on energy use and cost.

  • Install smart controls to manage heat and electricity usage that operate over a secure wifi, Ethernet or SCADA [7] networks, offering greater control and access to energy efficiency and conservation.

  • Integrate data on management platforms offering inputs from LoRaWAN IoT [8] and other publicly available networks such as from weather and public transport API channels [9].

  • Consider ‘vehicle-to-grid’ connection options for EVs and static battery discharge contracts if offered by your electricity or battery supplier. This can earn revenues by using your surplus stored energy in helping stabilise the electricity grid. Many battery suppliers offer deals of this nature by forming energy communities they can draw upon to sell energy to network companies, in effect creating virtual power plants (VPPs). Recent research shows that intelligent charging algorithms can not only save money on EV charging but can also extend their battery longevity by up to 12% [10].

  • Consider transferring to variable renewable electricity tariffs for electricity imports that are cheaper at times of lower demand and surplus renewable energy on the grid. This will mean demand from business processes will have to align with these off-peak and surplus generation times (known as ‘demand side response’) to receive beneficial tariffs.

Regenerative actions help to not only reach net zero but also to repay some of the environmental deficits that accumulated from following an essentially extractive economic system since the time of the industrial revolution. In a sense these actions give back more than is taken out over time. Carbon offsetting is not included here as regenerative, even though it may result in the planting of trees, because the aim is to theoretically balance our continuation to emit an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases. Regenerative actions businesses could consider include:

  • Invest in partnerships that operate regenerative practices such as rewilding, reforestation, soil remediation, processes and products designed around a circular economy can promote regeneration.

  • Procure locally, including foods. There are an increasing number of local organic food producers in Norfolk and elsewhere [11].

  • Planting screening vegetation and green infrastructure [12] around buildings to offer shade and reduce the energy demand from mechanical cooling systems in the summer time. It would also be attractive for enhancing biodiversity.

  • Actions that help to replenish energy from renewable sources – such as charging inter- seasonal heat stores with solar energy. These can form part of a heat network to reduce the impact of energy demand over the winter.

  • Heat pumps could be considered a regenerative solution because they can return, in heat, more energy than is input in electricity. However, the extra heat is still extracted from somewhere else in the environment (air, water, ground, etc.) and the materials that are used to make them may not be recycled.





References:

  1. For an explanation of U-values and examples for different materials see https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/what-is-a-u-value-heat-loss-thermal-mass-and-online-calculators-explained

  2. See the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Protocol or explained here - https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/what-are-scope-1-2-3-carbon-emissions

  3. One Planet Living is a term coined by Bioregional to describe living within the ecological capacity of the planet.

  4. In 2020 a survey by the Department for Transport found the average trip length in England was 5.9 miles.

  5. Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/SCADA- supervisory-control-and-data-acquisition

  6. For details on Norfolk’s public IoT network see - https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/news/2020/09/largest-of-its- kind-sensor-network-launched-in-norfolk

  7. To understand more about API channels - https://www.digitalml.com/what-api-channel/

  8. For example, Goodery operate in a hyperlocal market and deliver using electric vehicles.

  9. For further information see https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/ecosystems/index_en.htm

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