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Climate: achieving measures on energy consumption

2 June 2020: accountants have a crucial role to play in delivering a COVID-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment: one in particular heads up a company that tackles climate change through deployment of onsite renewable energy generation.

While addressing climate change has never been higher up the government agenda, turning policy into action is not easy – particularly during these turbulent times. Despite seeing little in the way of mandated government policy, encouragingly, there has been a great deal of action on the ground.

Chris Trigg, Managing Director of OnGen, and a member of ICAEW’s Energy and Natural Resources Community has been intimately involved in one such project 

Founded in 2014, OnGen provides a tool for accountants that for the first time assesses onsite renewable energy generation options at scale and at low cost, generating the business case with emphasis on the return on investment. The business has grown as the issue of energy supply/control and carbon reduction comes into ever sharper focus. 

With the UK among the first nations to enshrine a carbon reduction target in legislation – declaring net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Trigg explained to ICAEW Insights how his company is helping public sector organisations and businesses save money on energy costs, reduce their carbon footprint and secure their energy supply through onsite generation. 

As a chartered accountant, former finance director and founding shareholder of an energy supply business, Trigg knows only too well the role and responsibilities of the finance professional in driving the net zero agenda. 

“Accountants have a crucial role to play,” says Trigg. “We are by nature analytical with a good grasp of the numbers. We are also decision-makers, that often control the purse strings. Net zero targets and reducing energy costs are not mutually exclusive – low carbon does not mean more cost – and accountants can assess those metrics.” 

“We are living through extraordinary times but perhaps this is when bandwidth becomes available to focus on the major issue that existed before coronavirus and will be there in sharper relief after the current crisis – climate change.

“What’s very clear is that although there have been pockets of activity, people were largely using Excel models to try to quantify the benefit of generating onsite renewables,” continues Trigg. “When the feed-in-tariff was the main driver for deployment that was fine, models could be fairly basic but now that the subsidy mechanism has ended the process is far more complex, time-consuming, impossible to do at scale with Excel and in many cases inaccurate and inefficient’.

By offering a tool that assesses onsite renewable energy generation options at scale by intelligently assessing the energy demand profile, the OnGen Expert removes that initial barrier.

According to Trigg, solar power use in the UK increased very rapidly as a result of reductions in the cost of PV panels, and the introduction of a feed-in-tariff subsidy in April 2010. Although this came to an end in 2019, the solar PV culture was firmly entrenched in the UK business and residential psyche thereafter. The business case can and does stack up without the subsidy – the trick is to size appropriately. This is where OnGen comes in. 

“Our focus to start with was SMEs. We wanted to create a platform that would provide expert advice without the need to employ an expensive consultant,” he says, referring to himself among others. “We wanted to encourage the democratisation of renewable energy,” he adds, referring to the host of activity on this front in the big corporate world but less so in the supply chain. We wanted to remove those initial barriers and really drive the business case to do it, or not, but with minimal outlay and intelligent rationale.

“There were plenty of simple online tools that ignored energy consumption or very complex design tools for engineers, but what was missing when the subsidy mechanism disappeared was an easy to use option appraisal tool for a non-energy expert to use (be it an accountant or energy manager) to deliver a robust financial analysis,” he says. This is crucial to determine whether a technology is financially viable and indicate what system size would deliver the best return on investment”

OnGen works with organisations of all sizes and scales, including large government departments, local authorities, educational institutions and companies of all sizes, the more forward-thinking energy consultancies and brokers use The OnGen Expert to ensure they are providing the best possible mix of energy solutions.

But it is not only about achieving carbon neutrality. There is also a massive need to achieve substantive and sustainable cost savings by deploying renewables. If carbon reduction goes hand in hand with good economics, that is a fabulous outcome for consumers and the planet alike. 

“Of course, the drive is to reduce carbon, but we can’t wait until 2050,” says Trigg. “By then we could be underwater and if you can demonstrate a return on investment and control your supply there’s not a great deal to think about.”

The climate emergency is now a strategic priority for the ICAEW. Find resources, information and inspiration on the ICAEW Climate Hub.