A guide to greater energy efficiency for Britain's small and medium-sized enterprises.
Following six simple energy management steps could save Britain's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) up to 20% of their energy costs every year. And, as SME energy bills currently total more than £12 billion a year, undertaking an energy audit could spell significant benefits for the bottom line.
Few of Britain's smaller companies use energy efficiently, claims Colin Lillicrap, a project manager for BRECSU, managers of the Department of the Environment's (DOE) Energy Efficiency Best Practice Programme for Buildings. 'Firms either lack the information which could lead to energy savings or mistakenly believe that improved energy management will cost them money. In fact, many energy efficiency measures cost little or nothing at all. Where there are costs, these can often be recouped from savings very quickly.'
Recent research by the DOE among UK firms reveals real scope for better energy management. Two-thirds of companies surveyed did little or nothing to save energy and just 12% were committed to serious energy conservation programmes. Lack of management time (60%), lack of knowledge (39%) and lack of funds (37%) were cited as the main reasons for failing to take energy-saving measures. More than 80% of respondents, however, claimed that the certainty of lower energy bills would provide the greatest motivation to improve their energy efficiency.
A systematic approach, says Lillicrap, is the key to a successful energy management programme. Many energy campaigns fail because they jump from recognising the need to save energy to action, without setting distinct targets, or planning the endeavour. Adopting the DOE's six-step approach to energy conservation will ensure that savings on lighting, heating, energy-consuming equipment and transport are realised.
Appoint an energy champion
Appointing an energy conservation champion will ensure your programme maintains momentum. Although it is not a full-time job, the person appointed will require the support of top management and resources to be effective.
The energy champion should encourage others to be more energy-efficient and could form an Energy Action Team to report on progress or problems and stimulate further action.
Consider calling in outside help if you have an energy bill greater than £10,000 a year. Free sources of information include the Energy Helpline featured below.
Establish the facts
Your savings campaign must begin with the basic facts - what forms of energy you use, how much they cost and how much you consume. Start by assembling all your electricity and fuel bills for the last calendar year.
Tabulate and add them up to get the total use and cost per energy source.
Take meter readings at regular intervals to identify exceptional consumption and ensure you pay only for the fuel actually used.
Compare your performance
Benchmarking your performance against typical and best practice will help in setting improvement targets. (The DOE publishes a series of booklets giving a range of typical energy costs.) The variations between firms are often substantial. Research shows, for example, that the annual energy consumption at a typical manufacturing site costs £11 per sq.m. With good practice this falls to about £8 per sq.m.
Pay less for your energy
One way of reducing energy costs is to buy your fuel at the lowest price.
Businesses can now negotiate directly with suppliers if their gas or electricity consumption is above a minimum level. If you use more than 2,500 therms of gas a year you will be able to negotiate with about 60 licence holders. Savings of up to 20% are available simply by shopping around. If your maximum demand for electricity is more than 100kVA (costing £12,000) a year you can move from your Regional Electricity Company. Consultants will help evaluate the benefits of different suppliers.
Use less energy
Conduct an energy walkround to identify where energy is being wasted.
Ask key members of staff to accompany you both to help identify problems and opportunities, and to ensure they feel part of the assessment process. Conduct the walkround at different times as energy use varies throughout the year.
Make an action plan
Energy management must be a process of continuous control and improvement, not a one-off drive. A guide can be requested through the Energy Helpline to help you set up recording and monitoring systems both to check that targets are being met and to set realistic targets for longer-term improvement.
A new, free Energy Helpline has been set up by the Department of the Environment to help small businesses identify and reduce energy waste in commercial buildings, manufacturing and transport. Call 0541 542 541 during office hours.