How data is helping manufacturers achieve Net Zero

3 mins read

By Adam Hall, Director of Energy Services, Drax

If you were to chart direct industrial emissions by each sector on a heat map, manufacturing would be red hot. Accounting for more than 60% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, manufacturing is an energy-intensive industry which has an important role to play in the country’s efforts to reach net zero.

It’s an industry that’s been striving for decades to improve productivity and increase its carbon credentials, and with considerable success. Between 1990 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions where down more than 40% across the sector.

What’s more, research carried out by Drax found that two thirds of manufacturing companies have already committed to net zero. And more than two thirds (68%) have a formal strategy in place. So, when it comes to the fight against climate change, manufacturing has its stake firmly in the ground.

The trouble is, like most other industries manufacturing has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, as has its progress in reducing its emissions. As such, many companies have spent the last year making little headway, instead focussing their efforts on stabilising operations.

The last 18 months have shown this sector has a unique ability to adapt. We’ve seen local gin companies shifting gear to produce hand sanitiser, the Royal Mint adding plastic visors to its production line, and a global fashion brand making scrubs for NHS staff instead of its usual coats. The response from manufacturing companies to the pandemic has been one of great merit.

It’s this adaptability that will be the key to manufacturers decarbonising further and continuing to play their part in helping the global transition to net zero.

The unique challenges of the manufacturing sector

Companies are under increasing pressure from their customers and employees to become more sustainable. The manufacturers we speak to are aware of the reasons why they need to decarbonise, but the challenge they face is putting this into action.

What does “act now” mean for companies looking to take practical steps to become carbon neutral? Many have already switched to renewable energy providers, reduced their plastic usage, and added controls to machines that put them to sleep when they’re not being used. But the question now is, what can they do next?

The solution lies in good data analysis

The research carried out by Drax of key decision-makers in the manufacturing sector revealed 85% of respondents said they considered data analysis a top priority within the plan for net zero, but fewer than half (42%) cited a lack of data analysis knowledge within the business as a barrier to implementing change.

Data analysis is essential in the manufacturing sector and companies are becoming increasingly aware of its necessity. It’s part of the net zero puzzle.

By tapping into the rich goldmine of data that each company possesses, businesses can identify their strengths and blind spots. This will then help them to map an effective roadmap towards further decarbonisation.

The challenge is that without the necessary know-how to interpret data, there’s no way of unlocking its potential. With an apparent lack of data analysis knowledge within businesses, it’s natural to be concerned about the upskilling required to integrate data into net zero plans.

This requirement needn’t prevent businesses from making a change. Organisations should be focusing their efforts on the bigger picture of balancing sustainability with efficiency, and utilising partners to help manage processes that might seem alien.

This is where the role of an energy partner, like Drax, comes in. As a leading renewable energy company with a world leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, Drax is committed to supporting businesses to cut their carbon emission by changing the ways they manage their energy. Analysing half hourly meter data for example, can help to optimise a company’s energy usage, as well as cut costs. This is because it allows them to generate insights into their operational behaviour that stimulate intelligent conversations around energy consumption.

Data can tell companies whether to switch on machines or turn up usage when electricity is at its cheapest. And, similarly, whether it’s possible to turn machines off when prices peak. This can then be used to create a baseline for the guaranteed savings generated because of these behavioural changes.

“Don’t let data hold you back, let it drive you forward”

There are already many companies using data in innovative ways across the industry to drive forward their net zero initiatives. Take Innocent, for example, which will soon unveil a new carbon-neutral factory in The Port of Rotterdam, called the blender. The blender will rely on digital technology to streamline production lines, deliver in-depth data gathering and analytics on power usage, and offer new ways for them to monitor energy consumption, even from the firm’s London headquarters.

Data-driven insights have the power to drive down carbon emissions across the sector, from aerospace through to food and drink. And the best thing about using data to inform and drive forward a net zero strategy is that it’s all readily available. All that needs to happen is for someone with the right tools to unlock it.