The streets have been deserted for weeks during the latest COVID lockdown. So why aren’t commercial and industrial facilities acting to conserve energy while it’s quiet? It may be because energy is viewed as a fixed cost, rather than a variable one you have direct control over. How can we make energy conservation easier? Data visibility could hold the key.
The chances are you’ve heard of the Lorax. That book published in 1971, written by Dr. Seuss that I read to my kids, then became a block buster film. And which I gave away when my kids were a bit older. Aghhh!
The classic line out of the Lorax is “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
So you might kind of see why this has something to do with energy conservation. The Lorax is trying to conserve resources and reduce pollution. Energy conservation has the same aim.
But what’s that got to do with COVID? And google ads???!
No energy conservation in this car park
It seems to me that in this period of COVID, with a lot of businesses shut down, that there is a lot of energy using plant and equipment left running needlessly. Like the lights and fans in the locked carpark in this video (it’s a 10 second video, turn the volume up to hear the fans running).
I occasionally do a night walk past this car park. 5 months on its still locked, still unused, and the lights and fans are still on.
Why? Because the building owners don’t care enough? Or maybe they just don’t know about it. So maybe I should, like the Lorax encourages me to do “care a whole awful lot”, figure out who the owner is, and contact them to tell them of the wastage. In fact writing this article makes me ashamed I haven’t, and I’ll now endeavour to do that.
Electricity consumption during COVID has barely changed
More broadly however, this car park I think represents many facilities during COVID. Here in Melbourne we are in “stage 4” lockdown, starting 8pm Wednesday 5 August. That means most business are closed, all schools are closed, you can only go to work if you work in essential services or health care, you can’t travel more than 5kms from your own home, there is a curfew from 8pm to 5am.
One would think that with so many buildings and facilities that use a lot of energy shut, electricity usage would be down. That there would be energy conservation measures implemented, like turning off fans, motors, pumps, air conditioners, air compressors, lights, boilers, etc.
Yet electricity usage remains stubbornly high. 80% of people in the state of Victoria live in Melbourne, yet its hard to see any real change in energy use in the first 11 days of August of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. So far in August electricity consumption is down just 2.08% compared with last year. To me it seems totally implausible that home usage is offsetting commercial and industrial shut downs. (My direct comparison isn’t a rigorous M&V method, but wouldn’t be far off “actual”).
So why aren’t commercial and industrial facilities, like that car park, implementing any energy conservation solutions during the shut down?
Advertising spend vs energy spend
This leads me to google ads. I’ve just paused a google ads campaign I was running because it wasn’t performing. In Australia advertising spending dropped 35% in the first full month of COVID. For the year the local ad market is expected to drop by 8.3%.
Business are willing to switch off their advertising during COVID, but not their electricity! Why? In broad terms its because energy is viewed as a fixed cost, not a variable cost you have control over.
With my GoogleAds account I can see down to the cent how much I’ve spent. And the performance metric is simple, cost per click. And I can see this data live. And when its not good, I turn it off. Like I just did. The campaign needs some tweaking. But with a business electricity account, such as the one shown below, its really hard to tell the cost per unit consumed. Straight away I’m feeling disempowered.
Energy Conservation means “caring a whole awful lot”
Electricity bills arrive well after the consumption has occurred. Most business haven’t gone to the effort of setting up real time visibility.
Also, taking action to save on my advertising costs is simple. It’s a click of the button. To cut electricity usage during COVID takes a lot more effort. In the case of the car park, someone has to physically turn the fans and lights off, at the switch, in the car park.
So to conserve energy, someone has to care a whole awful lot, because its not that easy to do.
What makes energy conservation easy?
So how can we make energy conservation easier? So that to save energy you just need to care a little bit, but you don’t have to “care a whole awful lot”. So that the next time we get a pandemic, electricity usage tracks advertising expenditure, because it’s a lot easier to “care a little” than to “care a whole awful lot”.
I’d love to get your ideas and thoughts on this. Share them in the comments below!