The power behind the energy transition?

There are no two-ways about it, climate change is the world’s greatest challenge. National and international publications and social media channels have all featured extensive coverage of David Attenborough’s recent documentary, the actions and messages from Extinction Rebellion and the powerful rhetoric of 16-year old climate campaigner, Greta Thunberg.

Individuals watching events unfold in the media may be dismayed to discover that our climate is actually balanced on a knife-edge with the tipping point just a few years away. For many, the problem may seem too huge to tackle at a personal level. Turning down the heating by a degree or two or cycling to work just doesn’t seem ‘big’ enough to make a difference, so it’s easy to put climate change in the ‘too hard box’ and opt to do nothing.

Collective impact is powerful

Individual actions may appear to be insignificant but when we act together our impact is remarkable. Take single-use plastic bags. Since the introduction of the 5p charge in 2015, the use of plastic bags in the 7 major supermarkets fell by 86% – that’s a decrease of nearly 300 million bags. An impressive outcome inspired by a relatively small shift in the rules governing shopping.

For a typical, gas-heated three-bedroom semi, turning the room thermostat down by just one degree will save around £80 on the energy bill and reduce carbon emissions by around 320kg annually, according to the Carbon Trust. A one-degree reduction in each of the UK’s 27 million homes, therefore, is going to save a lot of carbon and save a lot of bill-payers a few quid too.

So, small changes by individuals generate a significant impact when undertaken by large numbers. But relatively few people make changes just because it is the right thing to do for the environment. Most require cajoling to make changes to their well-established lives and businesses and reassurance that the changes are easy to manage. And nearly all need to appreciate the all-important financial benefit.

The role of technology companies

Individual behaviour changes have an impact, but more significant impacts can happen when supported by advances in technology.

As a CleanTech PR agency, we get very excited about working with companies that are pioneering different technologies to help transition to a zero-carbon energy system.

One of our clients, PassivSystems, is rapidly developing and bringing to market increasingly smart home heating controls. These can connect domestic generation assets, battery storage systems, hybrid-heating systems and smart appliances with the grid to deliver the very best value to the consumer in terms of improved comfort. They also optimise energy efficiency; reduce carbon; help facilitate greater uptake of renewable generation and ultimately have the potential to save consumers money.

And all facilitated by a technology that requires very little interaction from the individuals themselves beyond making the decision to install it.

Another client, Origami, is working to ensure that all distributed generation plant, including privately owned domestic installations, have the opportunity and technical capability to trade across multiple markets. This will help the grid to maintain stability and opens up opportunities for homeowners to earn revenue from their assets through a process called demand-side response (DSR). Not that homeowners need to know anything about DSR, because the technology is smart and integrated – it will do all the hard work. Once the decision to install the technology is made, homeowners sit back and reap the financial rewards.

Investing now

The world is at a tipping point environmentally, but our energy system is also at a technological tipping point.

Investment and innovation can be seen across the energy system in generation, distribution and usage. Government needs to be on its toes to keep up with the pace of change. Ministers must listen and act to ensure that legislation and policy keep pace with change to avoid stifling the growth of our low-carbon energy system.

But the ultimate power to change our energy usage lies in the hands of individuals. It is individuals who make decisions in companies and in homes. And one of the biggest challenges is to persuade individuals to invest in new technology, particularly when it is integrated into their homes.

Awareness of what is on the market, comprehension and ease of use are key factors but, as with most things, it comes down to price and the value of the long-term investment. And the over-riding message from the tech companies and the government must be loud and clear – an investment today will save money in the future. The fact that it may also help to reduce the impacts of climate change and save the planet might also be a useful aside…

If you need help communicating about your clean-tech to key stakeholders, then do get in touch. We’d be very happy to help.