How many times have you driven through a commercial or industrial part of town only to see buildings completely lit up at night, despite the fact there are no occupants? It's actually commonplace in most major cities in the West. It is certainly commonplace in the UK. Businesses are large consumers of energy and, unfortunately, large wasters as well.
In order to do their part in reducing energy consumption businesses of all sizes need to change their mind-set. They need to adopt the idea of energy conservation in order to help their own bottom lines as well as being part of the overall solution in the fight against ever-increasing energy prices. Moreover, in order to make that happen, businesses need to plan and implement appropriate strategies.
Energy Waste in Business
According to online, energy-focused business journal Energy Forecaster, a typical business would have to generate £10 in sales to realise the same financial benefit of reducing energy costs by just £1. That's somewhat hard to believe on the surface; at least until you take one of those evening drives we mentioned at the start of this article.As it turns out, businesses waste far more energy than they need to because they don't take the time to step back and look at their consumption across the entire spectrum of their operations. This is obviously more prevalent in larger businesses with multiple buildings spanning several locations, but it is also not uncommon for small businesses.
Common ways businesses waste energy includes:
- Leaving Lights On - The most glaring example of wasted energy is leaving lights on throughout commercial buildings when no one is there. Although businesses have reasons for doing so, none of them are grounded in reality. Yet light bulbs continue to burn hour after hour to illuminate offices just so a cleaning crew or security officer does not have to flip a switch when entering and leaving.
- Leaving Computers Running - This is another big one fuelled by the misconception that it is better for the computer to leave it running at all times rather than shutting down the end of the day and restarting in the morning. Not only does this practice waste energy it actually reduces the life of a computer CPU in the same way leaving your car running constantly reduces the life of its engine.
- Inefficient Heating & Cooling - Many a business is wasting energy through inefficient heating and cooling simply because their systems are outdated or aged the point where they are no longer operating as they were designed to. Although investments in new systems are sizeable, they usually pay for themselves very quickly.
- Poor Planning - The lack of energy consumption planning is a big problem, especially for businesses involved in manufacturing or transportation. Proper planning in a manufacturing environment ensures efficient use of equipment and production lines, while in the transportation based business it streamlines the use of company vehicles and fuel allotments.
Energy Forecaster sums it up nicely by suggesting that it is illogical for a business to put effort into extensive business management while neglecting energy management at the same time. Energy consumption is part of business and should therefore be an integrated part of the overall business management.
Implementing an Energy Use Plan
Gaining control of energy consumption at the commercial level requires proper planning and implementation. The planning stage begins with an assessment of current power consumption and projected needs in the short and long-term. That assessment should look honestly at how power is being used, how consumption could be made more efficient, and where waste can be cut out.
PCM Switch, a green energy comparison website, provides a good example by discussing how modern garden centres are re-evaluating their energy consumption. According to their assessment, the garden centre industry has had to take a look at both energy efficiency and green energy in order to keep up with changing times.
This can be seen simply by observing how these retail operations use energy. Many are building new garden centres to take advantage of double glazed windows, better insulation, and heating lamps, timers, and building heaters tied into strictly controlled timing systems. By deploying the right equipment and a comprehensive plan, they are able to use their energy efficiently and achieve maximum results at the same time.
Where this gets complicated is in the implementation of the plan. For small businesses, implementation is somewhat easier, but for large corporations it can be a logistical nightmare. To be effective, implementation must start at the top and work down. Company executives need to develop a plan they can implement in their own offices, and then bring middle managers on board who take the plan to their supervisors and eventually to the floor.
Finding Energy Partners
While everything we have discussed so far is certainly true, any energy use plan is only as good as the energy partners a business works with. Energy partners include equipment manufacturers, property owners, vendors, and energy suppliers themselves.
Let's look at each one individually:
- Equipment Manufacturers - When a business buys new equipment, a good energy consumption plan dictates one of the criteria for purchase the decisions is based on energy consumption. In other words, all new equipment should be as efficient as possible in order to reduce the company's overall energy footprint. Businesses that require specialized equipment designed just for them need to insist that equipment be manufactured according to the highest energy standards.
- Property Owners - Where a business rents property rather than owning, it is incumbent upon company executives to work with property owners to ensure efficient energy use. In some cases buildings will need to be updated, electrical systems modernised, heating and cooling equipment replaced, and so on. When property owners are uncooperative, business executives need to begin looking elsewhere.
- Vendors - In many business environments vendors can be found on site doing contract work or providing other services as needed. Vendors need to be made aware of a company's energy use plan and instructed regarding their compliance with it. If vendors are wasting energy, they are also stealing from that company's bottom line.
- Energy Suppliers - Just like residential customers, businesses are able to control from whom they purchase their energy supply. They should make every effort to compare pricing among multiple suppliers in order to choose the best deal. Moreover, because commercial relationships allow a bit more room for negotiation, it is good to force energy suppliers to compete with one another for commercial customers.
Businesses Going Green
Energy Forecaster correctly points out that businesses have a social responsibility to help protect the environment as much as possible. They assert that green energy is part of that social responsibility whenever possible. In other words, if a business can employee green energy strategies and purchase energy from a green supplier, they will be helping to protect the environment and fulfilling their social responsibility.
So what does that look like? It starts by looking around for green energy suppliers that might be capable of meeting a business customer's needs. Whenever a business owner chooses a green energy supplier, he or she is reducing dependence on brown energy and saving his or her company money. But then there is also the possibility of the company generating some of its own energy.
In-house energy generation is a concept that has already taken hold among large corporations as they fight to remain profitable in a stagnant economy. More and more we are seeing companies take advantage of biomass, thermal, and solar opportunities in order to supplement their purchased energy supply or replace it altogether. Where in-house generation needs to be promoted is among small and mid-size businesses.
Here are some examples to consider:
- Farming Operations - Green Energy UK, an independent green energy supplier, purchases electricity from several farming operations producing power through composting and other means. Farming represents a great opportunity for producing sustainable energy because there is so many ways to do it.
- Retail Establishments - The average retail establishment has the capability to participate in microgeneration by installing photovoltaic solar panels in strategic locations. Solar panels can be installed on roofs, exterior walls, and other places where sunlight is plentiful.
- Office Complexes - Imagine the modern office building, with its vast façade of light reflecting windows, being turned into one giant solar collection unit. Not only does this concept help with efficient heating and cooling, it also gives the building owner an opportunity to be involved with in-house power generation.
These three ideas are just the beginning. There are so many ways companies could begin generating their own in-house energy if they were willing to invest the money necessary. Such investments should be part of any good energy consumption plan.
Business energy waste in the UK is a reality but it need not be. As we continue to push the nation's homeowners and renters to be more energy responsible, it is time business owners also joined the effort. It's time to issue a call of action challenging companies to plan, implement, and succeed in reducing power consumption and embracing green energy principles.
If you are a business owner and you would like more information about learning to plan and implement effective energy strategies, there are consulting firms and other sources of information from which you can glean. The following links will help you get started in getting your energy consumption under control:
Pentland Energy Advice - A consulting firm specialising in reducing energy consumption. They offer a range of services for businesses of all sizes, including using thermal imaging to identify energy waste.
Carbon Trust - An international organization dedicated to helping businesses and government entities reduce their carbon footprint and utilise energy more efficiently. The organisation is endorsed by the UK Department of Energy.
Energy Saving Trust - This is an organisation funded by the Scottish government to help both businesses and individuals make better use of energy. They offer an extensive amount of helpful information for enterprises of all sizes.
Small businesses purchasing energy from traditional suppliers like British Gas and SSE can take advantage of targeted energy tariffs by shopping around and comparing rates. The following links will take you to comparison websites where such shopping is made easy.
Go Compare - This site makes it easy for small businesses to search and compare small business tariffs among most of the major power suppliers. While you are visiting, be sure to enter for a chance to win free car insurance.
Money Supermarket - Information about assessing business energy needs can be found here along with a comparison tool allowing small business owners to quote prices on business gas, electricity, or combined service.
Confused.com - Commercial energy comparisons are available here as well as additional comparisons for small business electricity. Whether your business is small or mid-sized this site makes it easy to shop around.
Compare the Market - When you visit this site, you will fill out a short form and submit it online. A representative will then call you back and help you find the best commercial energy tariff for you. If you prefer, you can use the free phone number they provide and call them instead.
uSwitch.com - Another comparison website where person-to-person communications are encouraged. Fill out an online form and then speak to a representative who will call you directly.
Money.co.uk - This site lets business owners compare energy pricing according to energy type, supplier, or business size. The easy-to-read chart includes information about contract terms, the length of time needed to switch, meter types, and more.
UKPower.co.uk - When you compare business electricity and gas on this site, you could save as much as 70%. You can get quotes for large gas consumption, multi-site needs, and more. You can also switch online for free.
Utility Exchange Online - This is a specialist website dedicated to finding the cheapest energy prices for UK businesses. They work with well-known names like EDF, Opus, and CNG.
Energy Advice Line - Following this link takes you to a site offering business gas and electricity quotes online or over the phone. If you have questions while filling out the online form, you can take advantage of live chat to connect with a customer service representative.