We kicked off our series of innovation events last Wednesday with a brilliant day at the Green Britain Centre in Norwich. Having lived in East Anglia for more than two decades, I was shocked to discover that I’d failed to appreciate the scale and importance of our region’s energy industry. Simon Gray, our keynote speaker from the East of England Energy Group, told us how he’d taken Vince Cable up in a helicopter to show him the scale and connections between the mainland and our offshore energy assets. That ‘helicopter view’ got me thinking. The Green Britain Centre is home to the only wind turbine in the UK that’s open to the public (or at least those who can brave 305 steps up a spiral staircase!) The trips many of us took up to the top on Wednesday were a good metaphor from the higher perspective I hope we have gained from looking at our two sectors and seeing them, maybe for the first time, as vital and inter-connected worlds. I trust that after coming down and returning to our day jobs we won’t lose that perspective.
This September will mark my 20th year in the water industry. In that time I have had many fantastic roles in engineering, operations and asset management but the role of Energy Manager that I took on five years ago of has been the most fulfilling. It’s a unique opportunity within the business, and one with a wide appeal. To those concerned with the bottom line, the cost savings associated with energy efficiency (and with generating our own energy) make for a compelling financial business case. As we all know, our use of energy also raises social and environmental issues so thankfully energy management also attracts the interest of those who want to see a sustainable return on investment.
I am also fortunate to work for an organisation that has made energy management a priority. In 2006, faced with growth, a changing climate and rising energy costs we launched our Energy Initiative. After four years, hundreds of energy projects and a fundamental change in the culture of the organisation we had already taken £11 million off our rising energy bill. After tackling energy – the source of the vast majority of our operational carbon emissions – our Director of Asset Management threw down the gauntlet for us to halve – within 5 years – the embodied carbon in the assets we built. The scale of this ambition required another fundamental change from us, and our supply chain. It was not enough to just do the same things more efficiently. We had to invent new ways of working and new products and solutions. After four years our embodied carbon reduction stands at 41% – an achievement that some (many!) thought near impossible. But better than these achievements themselves is the way we’ve got there.
This transformation is being achieved through innovation and collaboration. These are grand words, abstract even – so I’ll give you an example of what this all means on a day-to-day basis. Faced with halving our embodied carbon, we talked to our supply chain partners, who not only worked with us, but also with each other, to design, engineer and develop new solutions that used less carbon. Some of these companies had few or no previous connections and worked together independently of their shared relationship with Anglian Water. There is no doubt that many of the best low carbon innovations have come from collaboration with and within the supply chain. These innovations have not only put us on track to hit our ambitious carbon targets but they are also typically costing us less than our traditional solutions.
So, having seen the success of innovative, collaborative working, the Anglian Water board asked us to replicate that model, and to scale it up. To take that ethos and transfer it from company-level to sector-level, to start or get involved in conversations that have national and international resonance. Once we’ve delivered transformation in one area, the challenge is to deliver more transformation, across ever broader areas. And that’s where our innovation seminars come in.
So what’s next? One of the students from Thomas Deacon Academy who joined us for the day asked a simple, but pertinent, question. What are we actually going to do about all this? I can only speak for myself, although I hope others will feel similarly enthused by our discussions to take action. First things first, I plan to look over the plans we drew up in the workshop sessions and pull together a set of next steps that we can all use. We will form an innovation hub – or join an existing one if that works best. I am going to exchange ideas and best practice with Dr Jonathan Foot from EDF, who joined me on the panel, as our teams work together on water footprinting. I’m going to work with Paul McNeillis, Solutions Director from Anthesis, who has already worked with leading businesses to develop a five step process for tackling energy and carbon. I’m convinced that what I learn from Jonathan, Paul and others will be of huge benefit to Anglian Water and I hope that the experience I can share with them will help us all to achieve transformation in real terms – cost savings, carbon reductions and the kind of sustainable return on investment that is invaluable to our business and to our region. But before all that I am going to start by trusting the advice of a switching site and the energy supplier who is offering to save £300 on my home energy bill.
What’s your next step?