The art of being future ready
Can you remember a time when you couldn’t ‘google’? Or when sending a text or using Facebook or Linked In wasn’t an option? I’m sure you can even though these developments have only been around for the past decade or so. And yet, it’s hard to imagine not using the internet, smart phones or social networking, such has been the rapid assimilation of these technologies into our day-to-day existence.
So where am I going with this, you may wonder, and what has this got to do with energy? Well looking to the past can help us better consider the future. And for those of us involved in energy management, being prepared for what’s to come is vital as the alternative could be detrimental to our businesses.
In the energy arena, we’ve seen some significant developments over the past decade – the growth in energy monitoring technology and automated meter reading, for example. Other trends, such as moving from fixed to flexible energy-buying contracts and demand-side management, have revolutionised the energy market for many typically high-volume businesses. In time, these will become the norm for a wider audience.
We are also pinning our hopes on breakthroughs in new technologies – the commercial application of Carbon Capture and Storage, for example, is key to the future energy-generating policies of many European countries. As is large-scale electricity storage, as a viable way to regulate continuity of supply from intermittent renewable generation.
I’m confident these technologies will become available – it’s just a question of when. But for energy managers wanting to do their best to help future-proof their organisations, there’s far more to consider.
I discussed this very topic this month at the MEUC Business Energy Conference in Birmingham. And it was an important subject to address, as so many energy managers have big jobs to do, so by the time they’ve covered off the many day-to-day demands, there’s often not much time left for thinking about the future.
Few would disagree that that the way we live and work is changing. According to the futurist Dr James Bellini, by 2020, our top-heavy demographic, where old people outnumber children, will mean we need a different kind of built environment with fewer schools, different healthcare facilities and a greater focus on access and mobility. Households are also changing, with single person occupiers now the fastest-growing group. Our housing stock therefore needs to adapt, which is most likely to stimulate a move towards high-density housing in new urban communities.
Flexible working is predicted to explode and many companies will move away from old-style fixed offices to make use of ‘free agent’ workers, who work independently. This will clearly have huge implications for office size and location, commuting patterns and associated energy use.
In the energy industry, regulation is set to increase, impacting energy prices. DECC, for example, forecasts that over the next decade, the cost of environmental policies for large users will increase substantially.
So how can energy managers prepare for this changing environment, higher energy prices and different ways to accommodate the workforce?
I think focusing on outcomes is always a good starting point. The idea being that you think about what your business might want to achieve in the future and how that’s going to look – then work backwards to see what solutions might support you. Marks & Spencer is a great example of how this can work in practice. The retailer came up with its impressive Plan A vision for environmental responsibility, then involved its whole business and partners such as npower to find the best ways to achieve its goals.
Another important step towards being future ready is having all the information you need to inform decisions – from accurate monitoring across your entire portfolio to insightful volume optimisation forecasting.
Embracing change is obviously vital. For example, large businesses need not be passive consumers any longer – renewable energy generation and demand-side management opportunities help to put some of the power (quite literally) back into your hands. You can become part of the solution to balancing the UK’s future energy needs, while at the same creating a revenue stream for your business.
I think keeping abreast of new technologies also helps to reveal possible future direction. From personal communication devices to electric vehicles and the latest low-energy lighting, the market for energy-saving innovations is growing all the time. The challenge is to isolate the best solutions for your business at the right time.
Finally, court serendipity. By this I mean trial new ideas, technology, techniques and more – because if you never try anything new, you won’t learn or acquire new skills for the future. You may just find that something you try will provide an ideal solution to a future need. And then you’ll be one step ahead on the path to being future ready.