Emerging greener: Thinking sustainably will create a prosperity pathway in a post-pandemic world

By Sanjay Neogi, Enzen

LED lighting: innovative street lighting solution has the potential to cut energy use by 46% over the course of a year
LED lighting: innovative street lighting solution has the potential to cut energy use by 46% over the course of a year (photo: Enzen)

For those looking to establish a roadmap to progress their business sustainability goals, now is the time to seize your share of the benefits of a green recovery. But what are the keys for success? Sanjay Neogi, Head of UK and Europe at Enzen, a global knowledge enterprise specialising in energy and water, explores the intelligent solutions that will deliver results.

The dust is settling on the flurry of energy and environmental announcements that rounded off 2020 and sent a strong signal that the UK is serious about tackling the climate crisis. “Building back better” will mean 250,000 green jobs and GBP 12 billion of government investment, including GBP 2.8 billion on electric infrastructure alone.

It therefore looks like talk of a green industrial revolution is anything but greenwash and the benefits of a green recovery are there for the taking. But the devil is in the detail – and this applies to businesses too. Having set decarbonisation targets, the challenge now for companies is how to move from good intentions to detailed implementation.

Charting the course
Enzen partners with utilities around the world to supply the life essentials of water and energy, and we’re already seeing smart organisations hit the accelerator on the road to net zero. They know, after all, that people want to do business with – and talent wants to work for – companies with sustainability goals at the heart of their business plans. It’s central to both a healthy planet and a healthy bottom line.

Investment in green technologies, digital solutions and operational efficiencies is increasing and carbon emissions and costs are going down. But companies need help, commonly with three specific things: spotting where the real potential lies, maximising those benefits, and staying the course when the decarbonisation journey gets bumpy.

Spotting opportunities
So, what are the obvious opportunities for businesses looking to go green? It helps by looking at the problem from a business perspective: the fundamental goal is to achieve the same or greater output with less. Whether you’re talking about carbon emissions or financial expenditure, the modes of thinking are similar, it’s simply a question of efficiency.

We can further specify two types of efficiency: straightforward substitution of a less efficient technology for a better one and improving the efficiency of processes (often using technology).

The prime example of the former is LED lighting: a straight swap of old technology for new that achieves the same outcome with lower energy use – and therefore both lower emissions and operating costs. One example of this is the innovative street lighting solution we designed and implemented at Blythe Valley Business Park which, through higher efficiency, has the potential to cut energy use by 46% over the course of a year.

As for processes, take remote monitoring and workflow as an example. We work with water utilities to use intelligent digital solutions to manage assets in remote countryside locations. By implementing new higher quality sensors to monitor equipment performance automatically at their large reservoirs and pumping stations, utilities can reduce unnecessary trips by engineers and improve capital replacement planning – once again cutting both carbon emissions and costs.

Efficiency should always be the starting point, but what about when the low-hanging fruit has been picked? Then it’s time to move on from looking for ways to do the same things better, and look for new ways to do things instead which make sense from an environmental and financial perspective. This could take many forms, but the simplest is investing in renewable generation. Local authorities, energy and water utilities are often some of the UK’s larger landowners with plenty of roof, field or floating space for the likes of solar arrays or wind turbines.

Making the most of green investments
With opportunities spotted, it’s important to invest in them in the most beneficial way to maximise returns and guard against premature obsolescence.

How? First, companies mustn’t place absolute faith in technology. Human expertise remains one of the most valuable parts of any decarbonisation effort, and things work best when tech augments human efforts rather than competes with them.

Four years ago, we supported a utility serving 6.7 million customers to move its entire control room, which monitors 36,000 km of pipeline, to the cloud – the first UK gas network to make such a transition. An emphasis on automation enabled the utility to reduce running costs while offering superior visibility and control, allowing engineers to be more proactive and add long-term value.

To protect against an investment quickly becoming obsolete, companies must look to the future. No one has a crystal ball, but it’s important to consider whether any emerging technologies may supplant the one in question before ROI is achieved.

Equally, make sure your initiatives are aligned with the known regulatory pipeline. Just last year we began work for the UK’s largest gas distribution network to deliver a safer, more resilient and more sustainable gas supply for future generations in the West Midlands.

We always want to drive efficiency, so we are taking a new approach on this contract with the use of advanced technology, AI and global best practices to manage their infrastructure investment programme, which includes the replacement of more than 300km of assets every year for the next decade. The solution will help the client meet growing regulatory requirements for sustainability and achieve long-term value for consumers in more than two million homes.

Breaking down barriers; mitigating challenges
Exciting solutions like these are putting society on the pathway to prosperity and a green recovery. They reveal what’s possible to businesses struggling to map out exactly which technologies, systems and innovations are right for them. Net zero business leaders shouldn’t be afraid to draw on tailored advice and insights from experts committed to driving positive change, challenging orthodox thinking or using modern technology to solve the modern problems of the energy transition. It’s encouraging to see that, just as the pandemic is accelerating sustainability, it is also reducing barriers to the adoption of new digital solutions.

And with the current economic uncertainties we are all facing, creating solutions that deliver cost savings in year one is central to taking out the short-term pain for business. Financial efficiencies will also become more important due to increased scrutiny of public expenditure on the large infrastructure projects needed in the UK.

The prizes from the green industrial revolution are many. If this is the year you really want your business to achieve its maximum potential, ensure that the golden threads of efficiency and sustainability run through everything – from maintaining assets to building new infrastructure. This will set you on the pathway to prosperity, delivering competitive advantage at a time of disruption and helping you and society emerge greener and stronger.

Sanjay Neogi, Enzen

Sanjay Neogi’s role encompasses Enzen’s services and solutions in the UK and Europe. During a career spanning more than 20 years, he has led major business transformation and consulting deliveries for large energy and water organisations across the globe. Neogi’s expertise lies in using digital technology to transform utilities’ operations, efficiency and customer experience, so the industry can help create a more sustainable, efficient and clean tomorrow.