Save money by using energy more efficiently
Saving energy doesn't need to involve expensive new equipment - it's often about changes in behaviour and using existing equipment more efficiently.
This guide has advice on assessing your energy use - with simple steps you can take to start saving money. This includes tips on creating a more energy efficient working culture. You'll also get specific guidance for different types of industries, details of tax breaks and find out where to go for more help.
How to monitor your energy use
You can't manage what you don't measure. So, to find out how much energy your business wastes and how much money you can save, you need to monitor your energy use.
Monitor your meters
Take regular meter readings and compare consumption to previous months. Remember:
- When comparing fuel used for heating your premises, consider how cold it's been. The colder the period, the more energy you will use.
- If you're comparing energy used in production, consider your output. The best way to do this is to record energy used per item produced. Or, in offices, by floor spaces or staff numbers.
Plotting these against each other will help you spot where you can make changes. Simple changes can often result in major savings. For example, you could identify equipment that's not used at weekends and make sure it's switched off on Friday evenings.
There are many types of advanced metering systems available. These can give you a detailed picture of energy use within your business - far beyond that offered by the basic meter provided by your energy supplier. These include:
- half hourly meters record how much energy is used every 30 minutes - useful for analysing energy-use patterns
- sub meters allow you to monitor specific areas or processes
- a plug-in meter can be 'sandwiched' between a power socket and the plug of the appliance to be monitored - these are cheap and handy for measuring small loads
- clamp on meters offer a non-invasive way of monitoring hot water flow - these are often used to identify large consumers of energy in large factories
Smart electricity and gas meters are being introduced which will help businesses and consumers cut their bills. Smart meters give live readings and comparisons which show you instantly how much energy you're using. This will mean you can tailor your consumption to take advantage of cheaper rates for off-peak usage. Readings are also automatically sent to the supplier - so bills will always be accurate.
It's expected that over the next ten years all businesses and homes will have a smart meter installed. With some suppliers already advertising these types of meter, there are opportunities to take advantage of this technology now.
Perform a walk-round survey
A good way to assess your business' energy use is to carry out a walk-round survey. This will help you spot equipment and processes that are inefficient.
Create an energy efficient work culture
Saving energy will require your employees to take on some of the responsibility. So it's important to consult them and get their buy-in before changing your practices.
Energy-saving measures that are difficult, inconvenient or impractical to implement are likely to be ignored or withdrawn. This will undermine any future attempts to reduce energy use.
You might want to consider appointing an energy champion who is in charge of finding new ways of cutting the amount of power you use. Their responsibilities could include:
- reporting any energy waste they notice - eg equipment left on unnecessarily
- ensuring equipment and machinery are well-maintained and working efficiently
- contributing and gathering ideas for improving the way things are done
- testing and implementing processes that are found to be more efficient
- communicating good practice and improvements
Remember to bear in mind any health and safety issues before you implement any changes. For example, could reducing lighting in an area of your premises make it difficult for your employees to move around safely?
Energy efficiency tips for different types of business
You can take specific additional measures to improve energy efficiency, depending on your business type.
Manufacturing businesses might look at:
- fitting more energy efficient motors and ensuring those not in use are switched off
- using variable-speed drives (inverters) on motors - you may be able to claim an enhanced capital allowance
- ensuring compressed air systems are well-maintained and run at minimum pressure
- disabling unused air pipes and setting systems to switch off automatically
- changing work schedules to maximise on the full capacity of equipment like heating tanks and ovens, instead of running half loads
Warehousing businesses could investigate:
- improving insulation
- lighting systems and controls
- replacing hot air heating systems with radiant heaters, which heat people and objects directly
- installing rubber seals around 'docking bays' to reduce the need to open large access doors for delivery and loading
Office-based businesses should ensure that:
- monitors are switched off during breaks and energy-saving modes are enabled
- screensavers are disabled - they're a waste of energy
- lights are only switched on when needed - consider automatic lighting controls
- heating and air conditioning systems are well controlled and never allowed to 'compete'
Transport and distribution businesses should make sure that they:
- are using fuel-efficient vehicles and 'greener' types of fuel, such as biodiesel
- plan routes, looking for return loads
- encourage drivers to use more efficient driving techniques
- are using their warehousing effectively
- have considered rail freight for larger consignments
Retail businesses can:
- install automatic doors to prevent heat escaping
- improve and update display lighting
- check heating and cooling set points
Hotels and other hospitality businesses can:
- check that energy-using facilities, eg kitchens, laundry or leisure facilities, are managed in a way that minimises energy use
- consider using movement-triggered light switches and taps in guest and staff facilities
- ensure heating and cooling systems are adequately controlled and operating at the right temperatures
- maintain freezer efficiency by defrosting them regularly, keeping doors closed as much as possible and filling unused spaces with bubble wrap
- sign up to the Hospitable Climates programme and obtain free guidance on how to improve energy efficiency
For certain industries that use energy intensively, the government has negotiated climate change agreements with trade bodies. This can mean up to an 80 per cent discount from the climate change levy in return for meeting legally binding energy-efficiency targets.
Financing loans and tax incentives for energy efficient equipment
You may be able to reduce energy consumption and save money by updating your equipment.
The Carbon Trust offers leases, loans and other financing options for businesses seeking to reduce their energy use. New, more efficient equipment should lower your energy bills and loan payments are calculated so that they can be offset by the anticipated energy savings.
There may also be tax incentives available if you invest in energy saving technologies and products. The Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme (ECA) lets you claim 100 per cent first year capital allowances on investments of qualifying equipment. You could write off the whole cost of your investment against your taxable profits for the period in which you make an investment.
Some energy efficient and renewable materials also qualify for reduced rates of VAT. For example, installing energy efficient central heating systems, solar panels and insulation all qualify.
Equipment and technologies that qualify for the ECA scheme - provided they meet the scheme's requirements - include:
- air-to-air energy recovery
- automatic monitoring and targeting
- combined heat and power
- compressed air equipment
- heat pumps for space heating
- heating, ventilation, and air conditioning zone controls
- pipework insulation
- refrigeration equipment
- solar thermal systems
- thermal screens
- variable speed drives
- warm air and radiant heaters
The Energy Technology List contains further details of the plant and machinery that qualifies for the ECA scheme.
Energy efficiency: sources of advice and financial help
There are several organisations that you can approach for advice or financial assistance with energy efficiency.
Invest Northern Ireland offers a range of financial and advisory support services to local businesses looking to effectively manage energy and waste issues and improve efficiency and profitability - find out more about Invest NI energy and waste services.
The Carbon Trust is a government-funded organisation that provides free advice to businesses and the public sector on saving money through energy efficiency. It provides site energy surveys, support and information on energy efficiency.
Checklist: using energy efficiently
Using energy more efficiently will save your business money by cutting your energy bills. To help identify potential savings you should:
- Conduct a walk-round survey of your business to spot immediate money and energy saving opportunities.
- Assign responsibility for energy efficiency to someone within the business and give them the necessary time and resources to do the job thoroughly.
- Take regular meter readings to get an accurate picture of how much energy your business is using and where the biggest savings could be made - see how to monitor your energy use.
- Contact organisations like the Carbon Trust. They offer telephone consultancy and on-site visits to businesses that use a lot of energy - see energy efficiency: sources of advice and financial help.
- Check that you are on the correct energy tariff. For example, if you have a 'day/night' tariff but do not use electricity overnight, it's likely that your bills are higher than they need to be.
- Talk to alternative suppliers of energy about the tariffs they could offer you and whether these beat the terms offered by your current supplier.
- Consider inviting energy companies to tender for your business.