Digital transformation

As bills rise, smart businesses are saving with smart energy tech

Two business leaders explain how they’re applying smart energy tech to save big on energy bills and reduce emissions.

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Paul Sizer

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Alongside emissions reduction goals, energy prices have hoisted reducing energy consumption to the top of business agendas. In the UK, between 2022 and 2023, electricity prices rose 67 percent and gas prices 129 percent. In the US, energy prices are up as much as 40 percent.

It’s no longer a case of, should businesses cut their energy use, but how? Many organizations are looking for technologies that can help them better control their power use and use more renewable energy.

As I wrote in this primer on electricity’s history, a shocking 13 percent of the world’s population, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to electricity. Could more business investment in renewables help to bridge the gap?

Kaspersky’s new podcast, Insight Story, unpacks emerging tech trends with global specialists and businesses successfully using the tech. Episode 2 looks at smart energy. I speak with Feroz Koor, Group Head of Sustainability at Woolworths Holdings. South Africa and Singapore-based Nilesh Jadhav, Founder and CEO of BtrLyf creators Qi Square, and former Programme Director, EcoCampus initiative, Nanyang Technological University.

BtrLyf is an “AI-enabled assessment and marketplace platform to plan and achieve super-low energy, net zero and green certified buildings, quickly and at super-low costs.” It creates ‘digital twins‘ that let businesses model a range of energy conservation measures to find out what will work best.

Slashing grocery energy bills

Woolworths has some 1,400 stores in Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and New Zealand selling groceries, clothing, homeware and more.

“Retail food businesses have a large energy footprint,” says Feroz. Sustainability data science experts ESource says energy costs make up around 15 percent of food retail overheads.

Feroz’s company opted for smart tech to become more energy-efficient. “We’ve sub-metered all our stores with smart meters. There are different meters for lighting, refrigeration and air conditioning for example, so we can see what’s driving consumption.”

The tech isn’t cheap but paid for itself fast. Feroz recounts a huge discovery: “After metering one store in a new shopping center, we found we were being billed for other stores’ electricity – the meters paid for themselves on the first day by proving it. We often use smart meter data to challenge incorrect billing – you’d be surprised how common it is.”

Meanwhile, the meters helped identify small changes that could save a lot of power.

Feroz Koor

Feroz Koor, Group Head of Sustainability, Woolworths Holdings

In traditional grocery stores, you buy milk and cheese from open fridges. We retrofitted lightweight doors on our fridges, saving 25 to 40 percent and reducing the need to heat stores

Feroz Koor, Group Head of Sustainability, Woolworths Holdings

From smarter stores to smarter buildings

Nilesh Jadhav, Founder of Qi Square who created BtrLyf, says, “Our customers want to improve their energy efficiency and reduce reliance on imported energy. Our platform makes the data available. So far, we’ve made digital models of 20,000 buildings in Singapore.”

Modeling their buildings gives businesses an approachable window on a daunting task. “If businesses can do an initial assessment of how they could save energy today, then how they could go to net zero [greenhouse gas emissions,] they can see the bigger picture.”

Woolworths is approaching a similarly daunting task – to use 100 percent sustainable energy by 2030.

Feroz says, “We’ve made the commitment because it’s the right thing to do, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. We have several options, like self-generation at shopping center level or sourcing from independent bulk producers. We’re looking at wheeling, where you buy energy from a producer who then ‘wheels’ it through a distribution network. ”

From smarter buildings to smarter energy grids

Increasingly nations and energy companies are making electricity smarter at grid level, aiming to reduce emissions and improve energy security. Smart grids can detect and react to customer use patterns, empower consumers to be more energy efficient and encourage renewable energy production by buying excess. All this can maximize renewable energy use and minimize the use of fossil fuel to generate electricity.

Nilesh Jadhav

Nilesh Jadhav, Founder and CEO of BtrLyf’s makers, Qi Square

People are moving towards generating their own power. We say they’re ‘prosumers,’ meaning producers and consumers. You could produce and use electricity if you have solar panels or a wind turbine at home.

Nilesh Jadhav, Founder and CEO of BtrLyf's makers, Qi Square

Nilesh continues, “Microgrids take it to a system level using central energy management software and batteries to manage fluctuations.”

Smart grids also enable a market that incentivizes renewable energy production. Nilesh says, “If you can’t put solar panels on your roof but your neighbor can, you could make a power purchase agreement (PPA). Singapore also has a market for renewable energy credits: You can buy these credits instead of buying electricity directly. If I want renewable energy but can’t pay upfront for solar panels, buying renewable energy credits encourages third parties to invest, then sell the power.”

Securing smarter energy solutions

Fabio Assolini, Head of Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team for Latin America, advises companies and nations to approach smart energy tech with due caution. “We’ve seen destructive attacks on civilian energy infrastructure – not just power grids, but their systems too.”

Fabio says over the years, these kinds of attacks are increasing. In 2021, a ransomware attack shut down a major US fuel pipeline. The same year, IBM reported energy was the third most attacked sector.

Kaspersky threat predictions for 2023 foresee hacker groups carrying out high-profile cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure – such as energy grids and public broadcasting – using advanced persistent threats (APTs.) Critical infrastructure makes an attractive target for cybercriminals because of how much disruption successful attacks cause.

Fabio suggests businesses pay attention to the security of their in-house energy infrastructure, as it may be particularly vulnerable. “Corporate and personal power grids are not as well protected as national infrastructure. They’re often connected to the internet using older, more vulnerable hardware, and software not readily updated. Do a full security audit before launching a microgrid or smart grid.”

The future of smart energy for business

Nilesh sees smart energy tech evolving through user participation. “On the tech side, I hope it’ll go the same way as the smartphone: More resources for companies and innovators to make applications that sit on a central platform. Users could then adopt energy management tech faster. Over time, you’ll see more participation from consumers.”

On the energy side, he thinks peer-to-peer energy sales are the future. “More people will be ‘prosumers:’ Consuming and producing energy and being paid for excess. Everyone will have better energy-buying options.”

Feroz has simple advice for businesses wanting to reduce their energy footprint. “Start now. The sooner you start doing something, whether it’s just understanding your footprint or what your needs are, the better.”

Listen to the full Insight Story audio series on Podbean or your usual podcast provider.

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About authors

Susi O’Neill is the Editor-in-Chief of Secure Futures and host of business tech podcast Insight Story. She’s a seasoned creative who’s led business content programs for brands including EY, Mastercard and Unilever. Off the clock, she’s a musician and performer who gives international performances playing theremin, the world’s first electronic instrument.