Behind-the-metre: Renewable Energy Solutions for Commercial Organisations

In a world where the urgency for renewable energy is accelerating to meet the changes of a more sustainable future, Mumford Commercial Consulting (MCC) looks at the potential of behind-the-metre solutions for commercial organisations. Brace yourself as we explore the solutions to a sustainable future and navigate the challenges businesses face on their path to embracing renewable energy.

What does ‘behind the metre’ mean?

Firstly, let’s clarify the meaning of ‘behind the metre’. A ‘behind the metre’ generation system refers to a renewable energy facility and/or infrastructure, energy management system or distributed energy resource (DER) installed on the organisations premises where energy is consumed. Unlike traditional power generation that occurs at a centralised grid facility, behind the metre systems produce power on-site by the business itself, allowing them to directly utilise the generated energy without relying solely on the grid.

Here are some common elements found behind the metre in commercial settings:

  • Electrical Infrastructure: This includes the electrical panels, transformers, wiring, and distribution systems within the building. These components distribute electricity to different areas and equipment within the building.
  • Energy Management Systems (EMS): Commercial organisations often employ EMS to monitor and control energy usage. EMS can provide real-time energy data, analyse consumption patterns, and optimise energy usage to improve efficiency. These systems may include energy monitoring devices, smart metres, and software applications to track and manage energy consumption.
  • Distributed Energy Resources (DERs): Commercial entities may install DERs to generate electricity locally, reduce demand from the grid, and potentially generate revenue. Common DERs include solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat and power (CHP) systems, energy storage systems (batteries), and backup generators. These resources can help organisations reduce energy costs, manage load variations, improve resilience, and support sustainability initiatives.
  • Energy Efficiency Measures: Behind the metre, commercial organisations implement energy efficiency measures to reduce energy consumption and costs. This may involve upgrading lighting systems, improving HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) efficiency, implementing building automation systems, and adopting energy-efficient appliances and equipment.
  • Demand Response Systems: Commercial entities may participate in demand response programs where they agree to reduce their electricity usage during periods of high demand. Behind the metre, these organisations may have demand response systems in place to monitor grid conditions, receive signals from the utility, and automatically adjust their energy usage to support grid stability.

Why switch to ‘behind the metre’ solutions?

As we move towards net-zero 2050, many organisations are investigating options to identify the benefits of behind the metre solutions. The most significant reasons for commercial organisations to invest in a ‘behind-the-metre’ renewable energy solution are:

  • Cost Savings: Behind-the-metre solutions can help commercial organisations reduce their energy costs. Generating electricity on-site through renewable sources such as solar or wind can offset a significant portion of grid electricity consumption, leading to lower utility bills over time. Energy storage systems can also help optimise energy usage enabling load management to potentially reduce peak demand charges, further contributing to cost savings.
  • Energy Independence: By generating electricity on-site, commercial organisations can become more energy independent. They are less reliant on the grid and are better prepared to handle grid outages or disruptions. This can enhance business continuity and reduce the impact of power outages on operations.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Behind-the-metre solutions, particularly those utilising renewable energy sources, contribute to environmental sustainability. By reducing reliance on fossil fuel-based grid electricity, commercial organisations can decrease their carbon footprint and mitigate climate change impacts. This can align with sustainability goals and corporate social responsibility initiatives as well as enhance the reputation as an environmentally conscious entity.
  • Energy Resilience and Reliability: Behind-the-metre solutions, such as energy storage systems or backup generators, provide commercial organisations with enhanced resilience during power outages. They can ensure uninterrupted operations, maintain critical systems, and protect against financial losses due to downtime.
  • Regulatory Incentives and Policies: Many regions offer incentives, grants, or tax credits to encourage the adoption of behind-the-metre solutions. These incentives can offset the initial costs of installing renewable energy systems, energy storage, or energy efficiency upgrades, making them more financially attractive.
  • Demand Response Participation: Behind-the-metre solutions enable commercial organisations to participate in demand response programs. By reducing their electricity demand during peak periods, organisations can earn financial incentives or receive compensation from utilities. This can provide an additional revenue stream and contribute to grid stability.
  • Energy Management and Optimisation: Behind-the-metre solutions, including energy management systems and building automation systems, allow organisations to monitor and control their energy consumption in real-time. This visibility and control enable them to identify inefficiencies, optimise energy usage and peak load, and make informed decisions to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste.

Ultimately, adopting behind-the-metre solutions empowers commercial organisations to take control of their energy usage, save costs, reduce environmental impact, improve resilience, and align with sustainability objectives.

Common ‘behind the metre’ solutions

Let’s investigate common behind-the-metre solutions available to organisations in Australia and beyond. It is important to note that not all these solutions are viable for every organisation and it is recommended to seek guidance to assess your available options and the feasibility of implementation via independent assessment.

  • Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems: Installing solar panels on rooftops or open spaces allows commercial organisations to generate clean electricity on-site. Solar PV systems can help reduce reliance on the grid, lower energy costs, and decrease carbon emissions. In Australia, big chains such as Coles, Woolworths and IKEA have already installed rooftop solar systems and are enjoying the financial benefits.
  • Energy Storage Systems: Battery energy storage systems (BESS) enable commercial organisations to store excess electricity generated by renewable sources or during off-peak periods. This stored energy can be used during high-demand periods or when grid power is unavailable, providing backup power and load management capabilities.
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Systems: CHP, also known as cogeneration, simultaneously produces electricity and useful heat from a single energy source. CHP systems can be highly efficient, utilizing waste heat generated during electricity production for space heating, cooling, or hot water. This approach can significantly reduce energy waste and enhance overall energy efficiency.
  • Energy Management Systems (EMS): EMS technologies allow commercial organisations to monitor, analyse, and control energy usage. These systems provide real-time data on energy consumption, identify areas of inefficiency, and enable organisations to optimise their energy usage through automated controls, scheduling, and demand response capabilities.
  • Building Automation Systems (BAS): BAS integrates various building systems such as lighting, HVAC, and equipment controls into a centralised platform. This allows for centralized monitoring and control of energy-consuming devices, optimising their operation for energy efficiency and occupant comfort.
  • Demand Response (DR) Programs: Participating in demand response programs allows commercial organisations to reduce their electricity demand during peak periods or when the grid is stressed. By curtailing non-essential loads or using backup generation, organisations can earn incentives and contribute to grid stability.
  • Energy Efficiency Upgrades: Implementing energy-efficient measures like LED lighting, occupancy sensors, energy-efficient HVAC systems, high efficiency equipment, insulation, and smart thermostats can significantly reduce energy consumption and costs.
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Infrastructure: Installing EV charging stations on commercial premises promotes sustainable transportation and can attract EV-driving customers or employees. Organisations can also optimise EV charging schedules to avoid peak demand charges.

Problems faced by organisations

At Mumford Commercial Consulting, we often see the same challenges present themselves when organisations are considering the adoption of behind the metre energy solutions. The suitability and effectiveness of these solutions vary depending on factors such as:

  • Initial investment: The upfront cost of installing behind-the-metre renewable energy systems can be a barrier for some businesses. However, there are several government incentives available to help offset these costs.
  • Technical complexity: The installation and operation of behind-the-metre renewable energy systems can be complex. It is important to work with a qualified installer to ensure that the system is properly designed and installed.
  • Grid connection: Some behind-the-metre renewable energy systems, such as rooftop solar, require a connection to the grid. This can pose a challenge for businesses located in remote areas that lack access to the grid infrastructure. Also, systems that are connected to the grid may need to meet additional standards to ensure the integrity of the grid is not compromised.

Despite these challenges, there are viable pathways for organisations to implement renewable energy sources, including direct purchase and installation, Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), and entering community solar projects.

To discover which pathway may be best suited for your organisation, it’s crucial to assess your needs and develop a plan for implementation.

Mumford Commercial Consulting

Mumford Commercial Consulting is an independent consulting business specialising in providing bespoke commercial advice and support to the Australian & Global energy and resources sector including those transitioning to a new energies future.

MCC offers commercial strategy and advice on:

  • negotiation, due diligence and strategy;
  • project commercialisation and business development;
  • economic and market analysis;
  • project & risk management;
  • renewables & clean energy;
  • decarbonisation & sustainability.

We are a solution-based consulting business translating complex problems into simple solutions.