Energy security has understandably risen higher on the agenda in recent years, after successive political and economic pressures culminated in full scale global energy crisis. IES recently featured in the Times & Raconteur’s Future of Energy Report, which highlighted statistics showing the UK’s overreliance on fuel imports makes it particularly vulnerable to supply shortages and price inflation. And with 85% of the UK adult population now reporting to be concerned about the nation’s energy security, it is undoubtedly an issue that needs addressed.
Source: Future of Energy, Raconteur, 2023
However, it is crucial that solutions to address our energy security do not come at the cost of our net zero targets. This, of course, is a subject which has been hotly debated in the past week since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the government would issue more than 100 new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences under the guise of energy security. A reckless move that has been condemned by hundreds of scientists and environmental groups - our own CEO included - as being completely at odds with a zero carbon future.
Ultimately, only by taking steps to end our reliance on fossil fuels can we truly increase our energy security and ensure that we do not exacerbate the devastating impacts of climate change which we are already witnessing in the world today. Of course, as one of the most energy intensive and high emitting sectors, the built environment has a key role to play within both energy security and net zero strategies. So, how exactly can we make our buildings central to the solution? And what opportunities do digital technologies present to help us navigate the transition?
While it’s impossible to unpick this complex issue in a single blog, and there are many factors to consider, some initial thoughts on the subject are outlined below.
Using digital insights to balance energy security, affordability and net zero goals
It is now widely accepted that science-based targets demand significant emissions reductions by as soon as 2030. Building industry leaders have stated that, by 2030, 100% of new buildings must be net-zero carbon in operation, embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%, and by 2050, all new and existing assets must be net-zero across the whole lifecycle. However, with energy cost still a key issue for many organisations, and concerns around energy resilience and security on the rise, it can be hard to know how to tackle all of these problems at once.
Higher energy prices and lower technology costs are beginning to yield quicker paybacks on net zero building interventions, but challenges remain when it comes to de-risking these investments and calculating the long-term cost and carbon returns to build a fully informed business case for net zero.
Understanding areas of energy waste within our buildings is an important first step in reducing overall demand and can provide quick wins across all aspects of energy resilience, emissions reductions and costs. Advancements in building data infrastructure, combined with digital and analytical tools, such as our own digital twin technology suite, are making it possible to gain deeper insight into how our buildings actually perform and where operational improvements can be made for instant impact. These same tools can then be used to simulate and forecast the impact of future retrofit measures, renewables and other decarbonisation upgrades, making it possible to identify affordable net zero interventions that will help build resilience and futureproof your buildings for years to come.
At IES, we have developed a five-step process to help get a better handle on your building data to identify and cut energy waste, before delving into deeper analysis of interventions that can build energy resilience and create a clear path to net zero. You can read more on this approach at: https://www.iesve.com/net-zero-buildings
Buildings as prosumers
The concept of buildings as prosumers represents a paradigm shift in the way we think about energy consumption and production. Buildings have traditionally been passive consumers of energy, relying on external sources to meet their energy needs. However, with advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on sustainability, buildings are increasingly evolving into prosumers—entities that not only consume energy but also produce and contribute it back to the grid.
Through the integration of renewables and other technologies, such as heat pumps, buildings can start to generate their electricity and heat locally, reducing their reliance on the grid and in some cases becoming self-sufficient in meeting their energy demands. Surplus energy produced can be fed back into the grid and used to supply clean energy to the surrounding community, not only helping to significantly drive down carbon emissions, but also boosting energy resilience and decentralisation.
Energy storage systems are also allowing buildings to store excess energy generated during periods of high production so that it can be utilised it during times of high demand or when renewable energy sources are not actively generating. This not only enhances the reliability and stability of the building's energy supply but also enables it to provide energy to the grid during peak demand periods, supporting the overall energy infrastructure and minimising the risk of brownouts – unexpected drops in voltage – and blackouts in the case of extreme weather events.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to these solutions. Buildings are complex entities and there are many factors which will determine the extent to which different technologies will perform according to the specific parameters of each individual building.
At IES, we have worked with numerous communities to help them understand which interventions can be deployed to help their buildings become active elements within the energy system, building resilience and reducing their emissions in the process. You can check out a few of these examples at the links below:
Of course, this only scratches the surface of the wide scale action that is needed to decarbonise our building stock and increase energy security. However, it is reassuring to be reminded that technology does exist to support this transition and that many communities are already using these tools to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and make progress towards those all important net zero targets.
As more stringent regulations come into play, and organisations look to implement robust climate transition plans, we stand ready with the tools and services to help make better decisions for our buildings, build energy resilience and decarbonise in the most effective way possible.
For further insights on the technologies and innovations that are driving the global energy transition, download your copy of The Future of Energy, a free report delivered in association with The Times, C40 Cities and Raconteur, at: https://go.iesve.com/the-times-future-of-energy-report/discoveries