Comment | How Keele can help businesses tackle energy challenges
By Julian Read, SEND Project Manager, Keele University. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel in December 2022.
On a daily basis, I invite representatives from business and the local community to attend a tour of Keele University’s smart energy network, where I open with an overview of the university’s achievements in energy sustainability. As a result of these visits and shared experiences, I have a greater understanding of the hardships that everyone is facing with their rising energy bills and the challenges to achieve net zero.
In the last month, I welcomed the British Ceramic Confederation to Keele University for their inaugural Delivering Net Zero for British Ceramics conference. For me, this event brought back early career memories of unloading and reloading intermittent kilns at Ashley Ceramics, my time at Blythe Colours and then at Johnson Matthey, manufacturing ceramic colours, frits and glazes. All of these manufacturing processes are heavy users of gas and electricity. I have also been fortunate enough to work in the historic regeneration sector in our city and have had the opportunity to listen to fascinating presentations from local historian Fred Hughes, where he described our manufacturing heritage which included more than 4,000 bottle kilns, firing coke and coal, until this was curtailed by the introduction of the Clean Air Act. The ceramic industry, in the majority, switched to natural gas in response to the Clean Air Act. Fast forward to the present, and industry once again faces the dual challenges of meeting environmental targets whilst also maintaining international market competitivity - it's a very, very fine balancing act. The escalating energy prices are pushing up inflation and directly increasing the price of material supplies, transport, heat, manufacturing and wages. The transition to clean, green energy requires investment and for highly energy intensive sectors, like the ceramics sector, support from the UK Government is likely needed.
The UK will continue to face energy challenges in 2023, as it seeks to achieve net zero whilst managing the rise in energy costs and the pressure of cost-push inflation. My experiences at Keele suggest that both energy price control and net zero can be delivered through inclusive projects. I have applied this learning to my own domestic environment in the management of our electricity with great success.
Many people in the Staffordshire communities are struggling with the current energy crisis. I'm sure that many are doing all they can to reduce and manage their own energy cost, however, I know of some people who are having to make a choice whether to heat their homes at all. Understanding your energy consumption is key to managing your spend and simple changes can help immensely. Metering at a very granular level enables you to understand your consumption and gives an indication of your main energy users.
The programmes we are delivering at Keele University have supported 270 Staffordshire businesses in smart energy related projects. At the heart of Keele University is a smart energy network operating both as the campus energy system and as an at scale demonstrator facility. The combination of the energy network with Keele’s low carbon generation project, which includes 12,300 solar panels, two wind turbines and a 1 mega watt battery, provides the opportunity for knowledge sharing and research. Our systems have been developed to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and it allows for new energy generation, distribution, monitoring and modelling technologies to be developed. Many of our projects with Staffordshire businesses have resulted in successful partnerships. At last count, five businesses we have worked with have achieved Queen's Awards, which is a high accolade for their achievements.
Support in understanding and tackling your energy challenges is available to Staffordshire business from Keele and we would welcome you on one of our open day tours.
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