World Energy Efficiency Day: Central England Co-operative adopts machine learning to help drive carbon neutrality

World Energy Efficiency Day: Central England Co-operative adopts machine learning to help drive carbon neutrality

One of Britain’s best known retail brands is turning to machine learning to help optimise energy efficiency and reduce emissions across its portfolio of stores.

Central England Co-operative (CEC), which holds three Carbon Trust Standards for meeting carbon, waste and water targets, is now focused on achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 – and sees artificial intelligence (AI) as a key weapon in its armoury. 

In step with this objective, CEC is partnering with AMR DNA, an Energy Assets service, to optimise energy performance across its entire building estate through the application of machine learning.

This AI-based approach provides Rob Godson, CEC’s Energy and Environment Lead, with both near-real time consumption data and a smart tool that progressively learns what best energy efficiency looks like in each building.

“What AMR DNA gives us is a granular understanding of how our entire estate is performing from an energy perspective,” says Rob. “The software automatically overlays half-hourly metered consumption data with unusual energy spikes and their root causes. Issues that would previously have taken many hours of manual intervention to analyse can now be identified automatically – and quickly resolved.”

Enabling carbon neutrality through data

CEC adopted the approach having generated a 206% return on investment in a pilot project that identified and eradicated energy waste. Today, it’s a process helping CEC to continue its impressive track record of energy efficiency, having reduced electricity usage by 51% and gas consumption by 58% since 2010.

“Using AMR DNA, we’re able to monitor energy performance site by site and benchmark efficiency and carbon emissions on a like-for-like basis, whether it’s a convenience outlet, large store or funeral service. As our datasets grow, these insights will become increasingly valuable in helping us frame the science-based targets that will underpin our journey to carbon neutrality and Net Zero.”

CEC operates more than 400 trading sites in 20 counties in the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. In keeping with its historic community values, the organisation continuously invests in technologies linked to sustainability, whether it’s energy efficient refrigeration, LED lighting, solar power…. or machine learning.

Driving sustainability through smart analytics

In the case of AMR DNA, developed by kWIQly, the system interprets consumption data relative to site operation and defined variables, such as weather and trading hours. This informs an intuitive workflow tool that identifies patterns of usage and spots and resolves exception events. These can result from something as simple as lights being left on overnight or incorrect heating turndown – easy to resolve but difficult to spot without pinpoint data insights.

The software also takes account of changes in store operations, for example when new freezer equipment is installed or if a site moves to 24-hour opening. This means that only exceptional events outside the new ‘normal’ are flagged. It’s also possible to model multiple building operation scenarios to inform better consumption forecasting and strategic planning.

Says Rob: “Our goal as a cooperative society is carbon neutrality by 2030, to be achieved through a mix of energy efficiency actions, waste reduction and capital investment.

“While there are clearly business and productivity drivers for efficiency gains, we also want to be contributors to the culture shift we see in our communities towards more sustainable operations. Thanks to the granular data now at our disposal, we’re better placed than ever before both to bear down on direct carbon emissions and to shape the science-based targets that will guide CEC to a carbon neutral future.”

About Central England Co-operative

Central England Co-operative is one of the largest independent retail co-operative societies in the UK with interests in food, funeral, floral and property investment.

Owned by hundreds of thousands of members, its over 8,000 colleagues serve customers

Its purpose is to inspire communities to create a sustainable Society for all.

It actively campaigns for the Government to increase sentencing for violent attacks on retail workers and works with FareShare Midlands and hundreds of food banks, generating enough food donations to create over 2.1 million meals for people in need.

The Society embraces inclusivity and equality and is a signed-up member to the Business in the Community (BITC) Race at Work Charter, while it is also fully committed to addressing the impact of climate change and is on track to be Carbon Neutral by 2030.

It invests a percentage of its trading profit into local communities through its Community Dividend Fund scheme which has seen over £175,000 shared out between 116 good causes over the past 12 months.

Central England Co-op was named Leading Co-op of the Year by Co-operatives UK in 2021.

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