What’s it really like to be an energy efficiency engineer?

A day in the life: Tom Brennan, Energy Efficiency Engineer, Energy Services, B2B at EDF Energy

My time is split between working in the office and visiting customers’ sites. If I’m in the office I’ll typically be writing a report, analysing customer data, or providing technical input into a proposal. If I’m visiting a customer site it’s a case of fitting in with them, but it will typically involve spending a whole day there.

Our aim is to help organisations manage their energy, reduce carbon emissions and ultimately make them more sustainable. We tend to work with more energy intensive customers as energy is a bigger cost to them and optimising their use of energy, improves their profitability. A lot of the time we find ourselves working with clients in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, but it could be any type of business, an office building, a hotel, a university, anyone that needs help with energy efficiency.

My role as an engineer is to help evaluate and implement the technical solutions, whether these are existing solutions or require innovation. This involves sitting down with the customer - often the facilities manager - and building up an understanding of what they want to achieve, what they need and what their key drivers for improvement are.

We do quite a bit of pre-analysis before we go to a site, requesting things such as consumption data and information about the site so that we can get some background knowledge and hit the ground running. After the sit down meeting with the client we’ll typically do a tour around the facilities looking at the plant and the Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) systems to build up an idea of what’s there and to start to think about potential options.

I went to a site recently that uses injection moulding to make plastic parts for cars. It’s fascinating, I went expecting to see just a production line but the number of different machines and the amount of different activities they had going on at one time was a real eye opener.

Every part of my job is about solving a problem. I did mechanical engineering at the University of Leeds and those core engineering skills are essential, but the job also requires good communication and the ability to project manage. Within the Energy Services team at EDF Energy there is a lot of experience and cross-sector knowledge so we can help clients think out of the box and provide up to date best practice or insights into technologies and can suggest measures they might not have thought of.

Another thing we can bring to the table is our relationship with EDF Research & Development (R&D). They are always working to come up with new ways to conserve energy so we have knowledge of what they are developing before they hit the market. For example we recently worked with a large retailer to come up with a better way to optimize the control of their chillers with no adverse impact on their operations. It was a solution that could then be scaled across their sites.

In general, energy costs are going up and this is likely to continue and so we’re finding organisations are looking more closely at their energy usage. There is a drive to carry out energy audits and the introduction of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) is adding to this.

ESOS is still in its early days and there is still some confusion; often organisations in scope don’t realise that there are other routes to compliance, through work they may have already undertaken, such as following ISO 50001.

It’s difficult to judge if the scheme will achieve what it’s set out to do (ultimately encourage implementation of energy efficiency improvements) as there is no obligation to implement the measures. However, a number of companies have come to us for advice and we are getting indications that they are intending to carry out the energy efficiency measures that come out of the audits, so hopefully it will work.

I think it could also drive other companies not within the scope of the scheme to take action, just because they can learn a lot from those companies that do; smaller companies can benefit from the best practice it creates and can have a much more streamlined route to achieving energy efficiency.

A challenge we face is getting organisations to consider long-term strategic energy efficiency planning. At the end of the day those making decisions want to know the figures involved and I understand why they want to get a return on investment as quickly as possible. If one measure takes two years to repay and another two months obviously they will pick the shorter one first.

One of the things we do with our customers is take time to understand their energy strategy if they have one, and help them progress it or build one. As part of this process we try to raise awareness on the impact of taking only the low hanging fruits first. It erodes the long term energy efficiency potential because if you do all the short payback initiatives first you will not be able to convince a Finance Director to invest in something that will have a return on investment of 20 years. If you can bundle everything together and get a five year payback you’re more likely to get sign off and ultimately it will benefit the business more.

Another part of our job is to translate the reduction in energy consumption into something that is tangible. If someone says you can save 1MW of energy, most people would give you a blank look. We work with our customers to transform the energy saving into something related to their business. For example, the car parts manufacturer I mentioned, their sole driver was cost per unit of production, so when we presented the raft of measures that could be implemented we gave the energy saving in terms of how it would affect their cost of unit of production. That way you’ve got a much better chance of engaging them.

 More information

EDF Energy - ESOS - www.edfenergy.com/large-business/esos

EDF Energy - Energy Services - www.edfenergy.com/energy-services

EDF Energy - Energy Services careers website - www.edfenergy.com/careers/current-opportunities/engineering

Bio

Posted by Thomas Brennan, Energy Efficiency Engineer

Tom is a member of the Energy Services Engineering team at EDF Energy. He is responsible for identifying energy efficiency measures and providing technical advice to business customers, thereby helping them to reduce, optimise and generate their energy more effectively.

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