I was clearing out my cupboards the other day and came across an energy survey undertaken by yours truly in the late 1980’s. It was one of my first commercial energy surveys and it was part paid for by the Government’s extended energy scheme. If I remember correctly the scheme provided up to 50% of the cost of the survey, to a maximum of a few thousand pounds. I was working for a large engineering consultancy and we seemed to be churning these out quite frequently with half a dozen energy consultants. The scheme also seemed to be supporting the growth of a large number of new energy consultancies of varying quality as there was little oversight on the finished product (the host company just had to sign a form to claim the money). The scheme was abruptly cancelled by the government and there was a rapid shrinking of the new energy consultancies.

Deregulation Blues

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Move forward into the 1990’s and new initiatives with fully funded and part funded energy surveys evolved mainly directed through the government research arms (AEA and BRE) and the energy consultancies built up again, particularly those with energy brokering arms taking advantage of the deregulation in the utility industries.

Carbon Trust or Bust

We then come to the Carbon Trust, which had millions pumped into it and a new era of free energy surveys was upon us together with a corresponding rapid growth in energy consultants. After a while it was recognised that there should be some checks on the quality of consultants and their work and so this slowed things down –  but not before some consultancies were employing large telephone marketing departments to cold call hundreds of companies offering free surveys. Survey templates and software began to appear and attempts were made to do follow ups (again based on templates). I remember talking to one consultant who said he never did follow ups as he just wanted to keep churning out the higher value surveys. It couldn’t last, the Carbon Trust lost direct funding and it rapidly turned off the taps to its ‘accredited consultants’. Once again there was a rapid reduction in energy consultants.

ESOS Christmas Present

Then came ESOS. No funding this time but legislation that required companies to undertaken energy surveys or suffer large fines. Well that was music to the energy consultancy market (and to the training firms who would accredit Lead Assessors). As is the way, companies left it to the last minute, large utility companies and consultancies set up special marketing units to cream in fees (which went through the roof), standard templates were used and some of us had a very busy Christmas in 2015. What then rapidly followed was another shake out of staff (I know of one company that set up and disbanded its large ESOS division all in the same financial year).

So here we are in 2019 and ESOS phase 2 has been pinging its way into thousands of email accounts and the Lead Assessor training courses are in full swing. Is it going to be another rapid income generation exercise with brand new energy consultants being trained in less than a week and hundreds of generic reports that are signed off and left gathering dust on top of ESOS phase 1 reports? I hope not.

I put my hand up as someone who had benefitted from all the above schemes though I have always tried to make them more relevant to the client rather than the tick boxes (and had a number of arguments with the scheme administrators). I also know it isn’t just new entrants that are becoming ESOS Lead Assessors – there are a number of experienced energy consultants who have gone through the ignominy of being ‘trained’ in how to recognise energy opportunities in order to register as Lead Assessors. I also know that some have tried very hard to engage their ESOS clients to take action following their ESOS phase 1 audits. However, the fundamental problem with all these energy survey schemes is that they are being driven and controlled by the Government and its scheme administrators. And we only need to look at Brexit to see what that can lead to.

Grab the opportunity

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My hope is that something better emerges from this. Will organisations realise that they should be controlling this by demanding that their ESOS audits are made more bespoke to their requirements? Will they look at the experience of the people doing the work not just the marketing output of the company? Will they set up internal teams to push forward recommendations? Will they realise that their sustainability goals are achievable if they fully engage with this process over the next four years not just Christmas 2019? 

I might start the sprouts going now just in case.