From education to employment

The Green Revolution: How Colleges and Training Providers Can Become More Sustainable Businesses

Valpy Fitzgerald, Director of Green Markets, Opus Energy

2018 was a record-breaking year for the UK. We saw the greenest year on record for UK energy generation, with the UK’s renewable energy capacity exceeding that of fossil fuels, and new records set for wind and solar during the summer heatwave.

Both consumers and businesses are also becoming increasingly aware of how they can reverse the damage done to our planet by unsustainable practices.

But how can businesses make the most of these latest developments to not only become more sustainable, but to save money too?

Onsite generation and storage

With the growing demand for electric cars helping to drive the production of better batteries, prices are falling, and consumers are beginning to experiment with solar and energy storage solutions.

Storage is necessary for the consistent supply of energy to the grid and as renewable sources can be intermittent, saving the energy for when the weather isn’t favourable is important. Energy storage can help keep the grid balanced and this is something businesses can take an active role in supporting.

For businesses, energy storage offers more flexibility around their energy consumption, while making it easier to manage costs. It allows businesses to use the energy that’s been stored during cheaper periods at times of peak demand, saving them money.

Additionally, small-scale, onsite generation, like rooftop solar panels, means businesses can generate their own power and income by selling any excess back to the National Grid.

Opus Energy has signalled its intent to be a part of the storage revolution, and we’re currently running a trial to explore the benefits of battery storage for both our customers and our own organisation.

Community energy schemes

Community energy schemes, whereby a network of individuals or businesses club together to invest in renewable energy generation and share the benefits of the return, are becoming a popular way of purchasing green energy.

Companies like Low Carbon Hub in Oxford help to set up and manage these schemes, with the aim of creating more regionally owned community energy projects, putting power in the hands of local people.

The community of Gamlingay united to invest in a wind turbine, which has helped them fund equipment for their football pitch, LED lighting at the local church and conservation work at Gamlingay Wood.

Businesses can take advantage by adopting a low-cost carbon reduction plan, utilising on-site renewable energy. These schemes often mean businesses pay a cheaper rate for the use of their land and rooftops, so that they not only reduce their carbon emissions, but also boost their green credentials.

It may be worth talking to your energy provider to see if this something they are involved with for more information on how to set up a community energy project.

The continued drive towards energy efficiency

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Using energy efficiently and reducing energy use where possible is just as important as using cleaner energy sources. This is part of the logic behind the UK’s smart meter rollout, helping everyone to become more aware of their energy use and how using energy at different times can be both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

National Grid, the UK’s energy system operator, has created a carbon-intensity tool which forecasts how “clean” or “dirty” electricity will be a few days in advance. Similarly, Drax’s Electric Insights Tool provides a near real-time picture of the UK’s energy consumption and its sources.

According to the environmental organisation, Carbon Brief, reduced energy use and the rise of renewable energy sources have been the biggest contributors to the UK’s reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased efficiency, therefore, will be on the agenda for many businesses. Consumers are increasingly aware of the health of the planet and businesses have a leading role to play in reducing their own impact – and by extension, their customers’.

It’s extremely important that employers encourage a behavioural change amongst the workforce. From introducing a Cycle to Work scheme, encouraging remote working or introducing a recycling scheme, even the smallest of changes can, over time, have a big impact. 

Electric vehicles hitting the highways

As battery storage technology continues to improve, one of the most visible applications of the technology is in electric vehicles. In the UK, there are more than 130,000 registered EVs, which has a twofold benefit in terms of energy consumption.

Firstly, it reduces fossil fuel use in the transport sector, which reduces the use of fossil fuels overall. While this electrification places greater demand on the energy sector, the continued reduction in fossil fuel use (in the UK, in particular) means that the average emissions associated with EVs has fallen by 50%.

Secondly, it makes a difference to local air quality. Concerns are repeatedly raised about the effect of diesel and petrol vehicles and the potential dangers caused by their exhaust fumes.

Once again, businesses can play a leading role here. Road transport accounts for 20% of the EU’s emissions, by considering the switch to electric, those businesses that operate a fleet have the opportunity to save money in the long run, whilst improving air quality.

Making the switch to an electric fleet is a great way for businesses to lower their emissions and to tackle climate change. Offering EVs as an alternative to the traditional company car is also a great way to educate employees and get staff on board too.

Sustainability is one of the biggest issues of our time, and with growing awareness of the damage to our planet caused by unsustainable practices, those businesses that put environmental and ethical concerns at the top of their agendas, will be the ones which flourish.

Valpy Fitzgerald, Director of Green Markets, Opus Energy

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