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Managing our energy use

Managing our energy use

Hear from Duncan Cockburn, Head of Energy, about how we're reducing our energy use.


What does your role as Head of Energy at Virgin Media involve?

My job is basically to reduce the amount of energy we use as a business. At the moment, we use enough energy to power around 52,000 homes.

That seems like a lot of energy! Where does that energy get used?

Virgin Media predominantly uses electricity (95%) with a little natural gas for heating and a little diesel for running stand-by generators should there be a power cut. Most of the energy we use (around 70%) is to deliver our content and services; it either powers the network or keeps the network operating, things like keeping the technical space cool and ensuring security of supply through uninterrupted services. The rest of the energy we use powers our offices and stores.

What are the main challenges we face in managing our energy use?

The greatest challenge is integrating efficiency into business decisions – we need to take a long-term view and consider the impact of our energy use over time. For example, a new server might be really expensive to buy now, but then it could run on half the power, so it’s a case of working out when the return on investment kicks in.

Legislation is also important. The Spending Review announcement by the Chancellor on the 20th October 2010 brought in significant changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC). The CRC brings carbon trading to the masses but with two incentives built in - all money spent on carbon allowances would be given back to participants and performance would be reported publically. While the detail is still unclear, what is certain is that from April 2014 no money will be recycled, effectively creating a carbon tax each year. On a positive, this makes the business case for energy efficient solutions much simpler and shortens payback times.

What is Virgin Media doing to reduce the amount of energy we consume?

Plenty - although we can always do more. Our long-term aspirations are currently still being discussed internally, along with the roadmap of how to reach our goals. However, we already have loads of projects to reduce our energy consumption underway, like improving the efficiency of heat recovery and air conditioning at our Poole site, and at our Mercury House site in Wythenshawe, we are focusing on upgrading our lighting.

What will energy management at Virgin Media look like in the future?

The priority is simply ‘using less’. However, as we get better at this we need to look at where our energy comes from. Traditionally we have bought electricity from whichever supplier is cheapest, with that energy coming from a power station either gas, coal or oil fired. Since 1st Oct 2010 we have changed the way we do this and are now buying electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind, biomass and landfill gas. So far, this represents 79% of our total electricity use and we’re hoping to reach around 90% in Jan 2011. We must also consider on-site renewable generation from the likes of wind and solar PV although the economics are complicated and criteria for a successful installation are narrow.

Does sourcing electricity from renewable sources mean that our carbon footprint has significantly reduced?

Unfortunately not, only on-site renewables will reduce our carbon footprint. UK energy companies are required to generate certain amounts of energy from renewable sources and they are incentivised to do so through a scheme called the Renewables Obligation. Here, certificates are issued which can be sold by those who over-generate from renewable sources to those who under generate, so in a nutshell, the UK will have a set level of electricity generated from renewable sources. So the energy companies we are buying from claim the certificate representing the energy we use and for us to also account for this energy as zero carbon would in effect be double-counting, so we must apply standard grid carbon factors.

You’re a new face around Virgin Media, what do you like about your job, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

There are a number of things that get me out of bed, but when it comes to work it’s got to be the chance to make a difference - be that improving the way we deal with suppliers or simply by delivering more while using less. My satisfaction comes from saying ‘I saved X today’ or ‘because of what I’ve done we don’t have to pay Y now’.