Guest Blog: npower’s Wayne Mitchell on Innovation Around Me

The innovation that’s saving money under my nose I’m always interested to read about innovation in the energy arena, and make it my business to keep up to date with […]

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By Geoff Curran

The innovation that’s saving money under my nose

I’m always interested to read about innovation in the energy arena, and make it my business to keep up to date with new developments. But every time I come into our offices here in Solihull, I’m always struck by the innovation around me. And I’m impressed by what’s going on right under my nose…

Many of us in the npower Business Solutions team are lucky enough to be based on a floor that that our Real Estate Team used as a test site for new state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies, following a recent re-fit of the building. (This isn’t exactly a co-incidence – I championed the idea, along with my colleague Dave Horton!)

Despite being in a large single-floor office space, we can all enjoy plenty of daylight from any desk, thanks to clever roof lighting tubes. These bring natural light in through tubes from holes in the roof, using mirrors to amplify the light and filters to soften it and reduce any glare. So you don’t need to be sat next to a window to benefit.

Clever ways to cut lighting costs

Of course, not only does an innovation like this make for a nicer working environment, it also saves on lighting bills. With daylight sensing lighting, our electric lights automatically switch off when it’s naturally bright. And being LED, they also cost less to run when they are on, and last longer too.

These initiatives, combined with passive infra-red lighting sensors – which switch lights on and off according to occupation – have cut our lighting costs by a third. Which, when you consider lighting often accounts for around 15% of an office’s overall energy bill, is not an insignificant amount.

Taking the heat out of windows

While a window seat is often coveted (hence a corner office being a sign you’ve made it), they can also be hot places to work on sunny days. But our Real Estate Team has solved this by using lightly-tinted window film which reflects heat out of the building, reducing heat gain by up to 95%.

Automatic blinds hooked up to the daylight sensors also keep glare and heat gain down. So while we keep our cool, we also spend less on cooling the office.

As cooling typically accounts for around 25 to 30% of an office’s summer energy bill – often a larger proportion than heating in the winter – aiming for maximum efficiency makes commercial sense.

Ceiling tiles that keep you cool

Our office further cuts cooling (and heating) costs with clever heat-absorbing ceiling tiles. These soak up heat during the day into a clever gel-like substance within the tiles, then release it back at night when the temperature drops.

This reduces the load on energy-activated cooling throughout the day. And by warming the space at night, means we need less heating to raise the temperature in the morning too.

A new form of temperature control

An investment that’s really paying off is the installation of the latest Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) heating and cooling system, which we’ve seen can be around 60% more efficient than the old system of boilers and chillers.

This combines temperature control into one system made up of numerous small units, which makes it far easier to adapt the range of capacity according to the level of cooling or heating operation you need.

Now, don’t think that’s it only me who’s tuned into all this energy-saving gadgetry and the impact it’s having on our bottom line. Everyone in the office is aware. Why? Because we can all see the difference these measures are making as well as the impact of leaving computers running, coffee machines turned on, heating that’s too hot, cooling that’s too cool etc.

Consumption data for all to see

The reason is that the meters recording consumption are now sub-divided into specific functions such as lighting, desk equipment and heating/cooling. And rather than being hidden away in cupboards, these meters are visible, and screens with dashboard-style reports of live energy use are on display for all to see. And see they do – most people are fascinated by this type of detail.

We’ve also increased our window of observation, taking Half-Hourly data and distilling this down to minute-by-minute consumption reads by connecting our AMR meters to data-reading SIM cards. So we can compare our consumption data across a much wider range, minute-to-minute compared to yesterday, last week, last month, last year…

Reducing costs by up to 38%

As I mentioned, our office block is a guinea pig for the wider npower estate. If something works, saves money and creates a better working environment, other offices then get it too. So as you’d expect, all these energy-saving measures I’ve described are reducing our energy costs. Compared to the third floor below, we use 22% less energy per square meter, and 38% less than the first floor.

I believe our office is a great example of innovation at its best – using technology to enhance user experience, increase efficiency and cut running costs. It’s the same approach we take to working with our customers. You can find out more here.

This is a sponsored article.