Simon Potts, Managing Director of UK start-up Future Motors discusses why investment in green tech makes both good environmental and economic sense
The UK government’s stated aim is to get carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050, placing ‘clean growth’ – economic growth without greenhouse gas emissions, at the heart of its industrial strategy, to both play its part in reducing global warming and to put the country on a firm and sustainable economic footing for the future.
But with the stakes so high – environmentally and economically, why has the move towards net zero been so hard to achieve to date? And, why have businesses and industries in the UK been so slow to grab hold of the opportunity the green tech revolution offers? The answer is often remarkably simple – we do it, when we have to do it, and when the technology is there to truly enable us to do it: we do it when urgency meets opportunity and when the savings to be made are greater than the cost of investment; and for businesses in the UK, that time is now.
A crisis of global proportions and a failure of collective imagination
In many respects, and somewhat ironically, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought together many of the conditions needed for businesses to move towards a more rapid transition to a less carbon-intensive economy. Businesses and governments have always invested time and money in economic modelling to anticipate and plan for most eventualities, but few anticipated and prepared for the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic, in part, we believe, because the size and scale was simply beyond both our and our algorithms’ collective imaginations – the scale and scope was just too inconceivable for many.
But a global pandemic, a crisis at scale has now happened and it has given all of us – governments, industry and individuals a firm, first-hand example of what a truly global emergency looks like; how all-encompassing it can be, and perhaps most critically of all, how the actions of every single individual do matter and do make a genuine contribution to the spreading or containing of in this instance, a virus.
What the pandemic has also crucially taught us, is that many things we thought impossible just a few months ago: shutting down of large sections of the economy, governments paying the salaries of their citizens, global carbon dioxide emissions reportedly dropping by 17 per cent (and up to an estimated and, if true, staggering 30 per cent in the UK), clear waters in the canals of Venice, and so on, are actually possible if the will and the urgency are there. So, while the reason for the aforementioned examples is certainly negative – a global pandemic – the evidence of what we can all achieve when ‘needs must’ is astounding.
And, it is exactly this imagination and thought process that business people need to harness as we gradually come out of the pandemic and turn our collective attention, ambition and action back to the ‘original’ global crisis we continue to face – the environmental crisis.
Green with Energy
The pandemic has created the right conditions to the reset in thinking that is needed in business when it comes to the environment and our Net Zero targets. We now have:
- the urgency – a need for cost savings to mitigate the commercial impact of Covid-19
- the awareness – a truly global crisis can genuinely happen
- the responsibility – the actions of individuals can have huge collective impact, and
- the imagination – we can do anything if the will is there
Governments are increasingly also recognising that now is the ‘moment in time’ to weave green technologies and thinking deep into the fabric of their approach to recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding their economies more generally. The German government, so often a leader in this field, recently announced its plans for a €130bn economic stimulus package that includes around €40bn dedicated to climate-related initiatives across most sectors of the economy that included new hydrogen projects, public transport, property, green shipping, aviation, and auto innovations, EV charging and forest management, creating 100,000s of jobs and stimulating economic activity in the process.
A recent Report jointly published by the World Wildlife Fund and Vivid Economics also suggested that the UK alone “can unlock up to £90bn in annual benefits by spurring a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic by focusing on the net-zero transition” and potentially create in excess of 350,000 jobs by 2050. These are all huge figures and numbers that would clearly be warmly welcomed by the UK business community.
Seeing the wood and the trees
It’s clear, the outdated argument that ‘going green’ costs companies money is now completely redundant. Green technologies have evolved dramatically, the investment costs have reduced significantly and the incentives to adopt green tech across multiple areas of a business have increased substantially. The conditions are right, the technologies robust and the urgency clear.
At Future Motors, in our own conversations over the last 18 months with some of the largest retail, commercial property and infrastructure businesses in the UK, it is clear the desire for real positive change is there – these businesses do want to play their part as good corporate citizens by helping the UK to achieve Net Zero by 2050, as well as needing to continue to find cost savings across organisations that have already been forensically scanned for efficiencies over the last decade following the financial crisis in 2008. So, the desire is there; but the ‘how’ they firmly deliver on these business-critical requirements is not always as obvious.
Businesses are built on big ambitions, so when they are called upon to tackle a problem like climate change, sometimes the size of the ambition misses the heart of the opportunity – the solutions to big challenges are often more nuanced that the ambition that wants to solve them. So, while the determination is to be commended and definitely shouldn’t be limited or dampened, some of the ‘blue sky thinking’ that goes around it should be refocused – not figuratively, but literally.
The decision makers and strategic planners in business need to move their eyes down from the blue sky and focus them on the top of the very buildings they occupy for a hidden and highly inefficient user of energy – the induction motors that power the HVAC air conditioning units for their buildings. These legacy and largely uncontrollable induction motors are the profligate perpetrators of often £100,000’s worth of unnecessary electricity costs for a business each year, and each unnecessary unit of electricity wasted is also one small step in the wrong direction from Net Zero.
Future Motors was established to help businesses address exactly this issue and we are focused on changing the way businesses think about energy usage and maximise the commercial value from their investments in green technologies. Our SMC electric motor is recognised as the most efficient, reliable and innovative electric motor for HVAC systems on the market today. Using a patented Smart Switched Reluctance motor design, the SMC motor has combined a bespoke, intelligent IoT-driven software controller and driver to produce a solution that delivers a supremely controllable motor, at a much reduced lifetime cost when compared to alternative motors.
The motor’s built-in software and connectivity provides constant real-time monitoring of energy use, speed, torque, and temperature which allows automatic diagnosis of HVAC system issues. This connectivity also means remote controllability, maximising energy efficiency as well as enabling demand-side management to avoid higher energy tariffs and enjoy demand side response revenues. Trials with UK retail giant, Wilko, showed the average C02 saved per unit equated to 2.4 tonnes, with a kilowatt saving per unit of 7,780 KWhrs, when compared to the incumbent electric motor systems. When you scale these savings to take account of the total install base of electric motors across all of Wilko’s retail estate, the estimated savings are substantial – 918 tonnes of C02 and 2.97 gigawatt hours throughout the lifecycle of the SMC motors. On the back of the trial’s success, phase one of a national-wide roll out to replace all of Wilko’s incumbent HVAC electric motors with the Future Motors SMC Smart Switched Reluctance Motor begun in June 2020.
Initial results from Future Motor’s SMC Smart Switched Reluctance motor trials at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, also showed efficiency and cost savings of an incredible 50 per cent when compared to the airport’s incumbent motors. At a time when UK businesses need all the help they can get to ensure they both achieve greater operational efficiencies and adhere to their environmental commitments, results such as these provide a strong argument for them to consider the possibly less obvious but certainly not less impactful contributors to their over energy consumption and costs.
The Price is Right
The cost of investment in green / renewable technologies has long been the resistance point to wide spread adoption, but there is no wind left in this argument. It is outdated, redundant and reductionist in its principle. From the renewable generation of energy through to the use of it, green technologies are now consistently shown to be more cost-efficient than their fossil fuel competitors. However, while the economic argument for renewables is now undeniably compelling, what is equally so is that it is clear that post-pandemic, there is going to be, and needs to be, greater scrutiny than ever on businesses and business owners to play their part as good corporate citizens.
We have all witnessed brands falling into the ‘heroes and villains’ camps based on their response to the Covid-19 crisis over recent months, and I have no doubt, that governments and citizens/consumers will also be asking and expecting more of businesses when it comes to their commitment to the planet. Collectively, we all now know what can be achieved when the will and the urgency is there – in short: ‘anything is possible’. Consequently, excuses from businesses that hinge on the “it’s not possible because…” mantra when it comes to playing their role in averting the environmental crisis, will not be accepted at face value as it was in the past.
Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher said “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” As business women and men, we now have a distinct choice –we can make history or fall victim to it. Let’s do what we have to do.