Stepping back to move forward

Sometimes what seems to be the best solution to a problem can turn out to be the worst, because it causes another problem elsewhere.

When we’re looking for ways to save energy, it’s dangerously easy to focus in too closely on individual processes or bits of equipment and “fix” them without thinking about the effect of the fix on other parts of the process or kit.

It’s a difficult thing to avoid. A 20% reduction in energy consumption from refrigeration, say, sounds like an impressive win for you and the business. Why sour the sweet smell of success by investigating the effect of the new refrigeration system on HVAC?

But if we want to deliver true, sustainably energy savings, we need to learn to step back – not just as individuals, but collectively, as a business.

At last year’s Talk Power conference, Phil Pearson from APS Salads, which grows tomatoes to sell in supermarkets, shared an experience of this kind. One day he was walking across one of his company’s sites. He passed a system that was heating water to use in irrigation and, a few minutes later, passed the pack house – the building where the tomatoes are packaged – where the HVAC system was blowing hot air out into the atmosphere to keep the produce inside cool.

Cue lightbulb moment for Phil. Now APS Salads uses the unwanted heat from the pack house to heat its irrigation water. The initiative cost £30,000 and reduced the electricity demand from the pack house HVAC system by 40%.

If Phil hadn’t happened to wander through, taking in the site as whole rather than the individual buildings and systems, and put two and two together, APS Salads would still be wasting all that energy.

He said at the conference that he’s now a big believer in sending everybody away from their usual workplace now and again to have a cuppa, look at things from a wider perspective, and come up with some ideas. Sounds like an initiative I could get on board with.

Posted by Daniel Bentham, Head of R&D Smart Customers at EDF Energy

Dan Bentham MEng CEng MEI Chartered Energy Engineer, has worked in the low carbon energy sector for over 10 years. He is currently responsible for the research and development of future energy systems and technologies such as Smart Cities, Smart Grids, Smart Businesses, Smart Metering, Connected Homes, Low Carbon Transport and Energy Storage for the UK market.