Viewpoint | 24 Nov 2020

Do you want to lower your energy bills and help the planet?

We already know how to make our workplaces more energy efficient; what’s needed is the collective will to take advantage of the available technology, argues Anne Sheehan, Director, Vodafone Business UK.

It’s no secret that climate change is the gravest challenge facing the world; even greater than the coronavirus crisis in its ability to change every aspect of our lives. Much of the work on reducing carbon emissions has focused on homes and transportation, but a critical component of our built environment has often been overlooked in the fight against climate change – our workplaces.

Smart heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting systems can ensure that only spaces being used are heated, cooled or lit. These aren’t hypothetical benefits – Vodafone UK has already saved 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy, equivalent to 25,000 tonnes of CO2 and £10m in bills, over three years by optimising the heating and cooling systems at its offices and some of its technical sites. That’s equivalent to the energy usage of a 65,000-strong town.

That kind of tangible benefit is within reach of public sector organisations and private sector businesses alike. Using IoT, according to a report carried out by WPI Economics for Vodafone UK, the public sector could reduce its carbon emissions by 15% and save the taxpayer between £264m and £380m every year. The technology to achieve this is not only here, but mature and sophisticated.

Buildings are responsible for more than a third of the UK’s carbon emissions, but few of the energy efficiency initiatives to date have dealt with workplaces and have instead focused on homes.

Measures to improve the energy efficiency of new-build homes is welcome, especially as 65% of the building stock we’ll be using in 2060 has already been built. For existing homes, the Government’s Green Homes Grant has helped people retrofit their homes with insulation and double-glazing. Unfortunately, these measures can’t always be applied to non-residential buildings due to the way they were designed and built.

But homes have adopted something that all workplaces can take advantage of – technology. Many households have embraced Internet of Things (IoT) devices, from smart thermostats to connected lightbulbs, to cut their energy bills and carbon footprints. Similar IoT tech, when paired with Artificial Intelligence (AI), can prove just as transformative – if not more so – in workplaces, from offices to workshops and everything in between.

Choosing, designing and rolling out such IoT across one or more properties can sound daunting, especially for businesses that don’t have the necessary expertise in-house. But Vodafone can help with IoT.nxt, our new IoT platform. It’s much more than just a collection of devices and sensors in a box, it’s a complete end-to-end system, including management and analytics software and help with integrating legacy kit and other professional services.

We are confident that IoT.nxt can be adapted to suit the needs of any business and its buildings.

The obstacle to such wide-reaching benefits is therefore not the technology itself, but public awareness and standardisation. The Government can help with energy performance certificates (EPCs) that measure the actual energy efficiency of non-residential buildings, as opposed to the merely hypothetical, to help incentivise change.

Through the sheer size of its procurement, the public sector can lead the way in the trend towards greater standardisation in commercial IoT, especially in areas such as security. Grant or subsidy-based incentives could help drive adoption by organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes.

The next decade can be one of renewal, both for the environment and the UK’s businesses. The path forward is clear. All that’s needed is the will to take those vital first steps.