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Energy awareness: it’s the little steps that count

07 January, 2020

In his first column since becoming Gambica’s new sector head for industrial automation, Nikesh Mistry* considers energy efficiency and climate change. Taking small steps, he believes, could help us achieve the goal of zero-carbon emissions.

Hello there! Before I delve into the main topic, I’d like to introduce myself. I am Nikesh Mistry, superseding Victoria Montag as the new sector head for industrial automation at Gambica. It’s a pleasure to get acquainted. 

Now that the formalities are out of the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you a question which has frequently arisen during my early days at Gambica with regards to carbon emissions: “Are you doing your bit?”. A rudimentary question indeed, but although we’re becoming increasingly conscious of the damage being done to our environment, we’re still light years away from achieving what we’d consider “best practice” for achieving zero-carbon emissions.

My attention was struck at Gambica’s recent annual lunch, during a thought-provoking panel discussion on climate change. I gathered that many manufacturing organisations are endeavouring to ensure that their factories and office buildings are cutting their carbon footprints. But does this extend beyond purchasing energy-efficient products?

Energy efficiency not only has a benefit to the environment, but substantial cost savings can also be made. The running cost of a motor easily outweighs its initial purchase costs. Ensuring that motors aren’t oversized is imperative, but there are also methods – such as switching a motor on or off, or controlling its speed – which can increase its lifespan. A 75kW motor turned off for just an hour a day could save over £2,000 per year! 

Many who are campaigning to reduce emissions aren’t necessarily following best practice. Lots of us still own diesel cars that we use for short journeys, leave lights on, use plastic pods in coffee machines, or boil more water than is necessary. If we’re not acting domestically, we’re even less inclined to make changes industrially.

I believe that simply buying a hybrid car is not enough. It’s how you drive it that determines whether you are improving energy efficiency. Studies by the Centre for Sustainable Systems in Michigan have shown that when driving at 50 mph or more, every 5 mph increase in speed results in paying approximately 15-30p more per gallon. It’s not merely buying or not buying something which is pertinent, but how we operate it, and the domino effects of our actions. 

Do we feel our small contribution won’t make any difference in the macrocosm we live in? Are we negligent to the greater effects of these issues?

If you’re familiar with the “butterfly effect”, you’ll know that tiny inputs could help to reach the net-zero emissions by 2050 goal set by the UK government. According to the government, for a company with a 5% profit margin over three years, a mere £500-a-year saving from energy efficiency could generate the same profit as £30,000 of extra sales.

Take, for example, the raised profile of the Extinction Rebellion protest group. While I’m not condoning their actions, their message to the world is crystal-clear: we need change. It’s fantastic that with the power of social media we can increase awareness, reaching out to a considerably wider audience. But raising awareness is not enough. 

We’re occasionally guilty of overlooking what’s on our doorsteps. How many Londoners have never been inside Buckingham Palace? This is parallel to how we need to act on emission reduction. We need to start with what is in front of us and then branch out to the wider world. We need to start acting yesterday.

As I sit here, typing this article on a plastic keyboard with a “to-do list” on Post-it notes, I pledge to recycle often, unplug all devices when not in use (including standby) and, most importantly, to say no to that 5p bag. If reducing a pump or fan’s speed by only 20% of its maximum can cut its energy consumption by half, what other seemingly trivial changes can have similarly large impacts? Automation and digitalisation will play a significant role in the areas of climate and energy. Our challenge is to convince everyone that they can always do more, and to anticipate, what is their next step? 

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