Building the evidence base


Increasingly, making the best decision relies on convincing decision makers that there is some evidence supporting a proposal, as ESTA’s Richard Hipkiss explains.


After the wettest winter on record, and as the flood waters recede agonisingly slowly, thoughts turn from managing the disruption to mitigation (and to a certain extent, to adaptation). Forecasting also comes into the equation. This winter was one of the warmest on record and the potential impact of climate change on temperatures and the frequency of severe weather events needs to be taken into consideration in future planning.

What has that to do with energy management then? Well, the connection with climate change and its mitigation is an obvious link but I want to draw attention to another aspect of this issue.

If the chosen options are not to be a waste of money, then they have to be properly evaluated for impact and efficacy. And the evidence to support the case for one option rather than another has to be presented at the time the proposal is made. Without any evidence, solutions are more akin to wishful thinking rather than sensible planning.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a significant shift in the direction of “evidence-based decision-making”, notably within government. It could be argued that the private sector has always used this yardstick but it too has had its share of spectacular exceptions!

A motto for many in the energy management industry over the years has been Lord Kelvin’s famous principle: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”. While that still holds true for energy management – and the industry’s reliance on classical techniques such as monitoring and targeting suggests the approach is as relevant today as it always was – there is now an added reason for such a focus.

The data amassed in this way can provide the evidence needed to convince senior managers of the robustness of a business case. In an evidence-based environment, a lack of evidence can fundamentally prejudice a proposal. As energy professionals we know that prudent investment in energy efficiency can save money for organisations and help protect the environment. So it is vital that we use the available evidence as a means of making the case for improved energy performance as strong as possible.

That is why ESTA has been championing the case for newer technologies such as automatic monitoring and targeting (aM&T) and for the incorporation of formal measurement and terification techniques within organisations. In this regard it was pleasing to see markedly increased interest (and registrations) for ESTA’s annual aM&T conference at the end of February. This is a very powerful tool in not just aggregating data but also analysing and interpreting it. And the message seems to be getting through.

In today’s world, evidence – and the data underlying it – is the preferred way of filtering options when considering what to do and where to invest. Sometimes all the data is not there, or is not conclusive – the continuing arguments about climate change are witness to that – but in general, a proposal backed by evidence has a much better chance of success than one without that underpinning.

Energy management has always analysed data in order to improve performance. Now it needs to apply the same data to win greater investment.

Richard Hipkiss is chairman of the Energy Services and Technology Association. ESTA represents more than 100 major providers of energy management equipment and services across the UK


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