Tony Slade is Head of npower’s Energy Solutions division, working with industrial and commercial customers to help them to integrate energy solutions that optimise business energy costs. Here he shares his thinking behind adopting the most effective approach.
Why every company needs an energy solutions strategy
Optimising energy use is a new concept for many businesses. Organisations often have a very clear idea of their annual energy spend – but when it comes to knowing exactly how and where it’s used within their business, that presents a challenge.
It’s not a challenge that can’t be overcome, however. Just look at two other key business expenses – property and people. Under-utilised properties and over-manned workforces used to be significant issues for many companies. But board-level representation for a business’s property portfolio and human resources is now commonplace, so the focus has ensured they have become leaner and more cost effective.
Not so energy. Energy management is rarely represented at board level, and how it’s used is often poorly understood, despite costing large businesses millions. Can you imagine having a £10-million annual salary bill with no explanation as to who’s earning what or why?
Avoid piecemeal overlap
That said, there’s no doubt energy efficiency measures are being adopted by many companies. But often, they are implemented on a piecemeal basis, with the more obvious, easy-to-see measures the primary focus.
Various technologies can promise to save you energy here and there, but when installed without a strategy, they can end up eating each other’s lunch, so to speak. Three products promising 10% efficiency will rarely deliver 30%, for example – more likely 15%.
An effective energy solutions strategy requires a good understanding of energy technologies, how they work together – and then how a business actually uses energy. Then when it comes to cost reduction, there are four key areas to focus on: • Supply • Conversion • Consumption • Recovery
Each of these needs to be addressed separately and also as an integrated whole.
The dangers of isolation
Supply is often well understood these days. Negotiating the best price – and new approaches to flexible and transparent procurement – mean this aspect is usually cost effective. But it cannot be managed in isolation. Greater efficiencies that result in reduced consumption, for example, may put you at a disadvantage if you then breach your contract’s supply volume conditions.
The conversion aspect can involve obvious actions – taking a boiler out and replacing with a more efficient model, for example. The challenge is that implementing widespread efficiencies is complex and requires knowledge and professional expertise. Unless energy is your business, it’s unlikely you’re an energy expert.
Identifying waste is also important. For example, a common approach to controlling a building’s temperature is to put the heating on full and then open and close windows as required.
Looking at ways to recover energy is important too. Using a heat exchange device in your ventilation system can reduce temperature-control costs by heating incoming cold air with outgoing warm air in the winter, and vice versa in summer. Capturing solar gain on windows is another way to save.
Understand energy use before investing
However, before you invest in anything, the key first step is to find out what you spend your energy on. Only then can you see what solutions will bring the best results.
It can be tempting to focus on simple measures alone. But if you are going to pick the low-hanging fruit, far better to take it to market, sell it and buy a ladder.
Businesses need to take the same approach to an energy solutions policy. With a holistic approach, solutions can be integrated in a way where the whole will deliver far more than the sum of the parts.
You can see Tony Slade discuss the best approach to Business Energy Solutions at this year’s Energy Event (1050, 16 September in the Energy Leaders Theatre, Birmingham NEC). Register for free tickets here.