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Energy saving or on-site renewables?

By 25th January 2016 Blog, Sustainability No Comments

The idea of ‘doing your bit’ for the environment by installing solar panels, a biomass boiler or even a wind turbine at your business premises is very appealing – but energy saving should come first.

More and more businesses are investing in on-site renewable energy generation in the UK according to the latest Energy Entrepreneurs Report 2015 compiled by SmartestEnergy

It shows that on-site generation projects developed by businesses increased by over 40% compared to 2014, bringing the the total number of installations across Great Britain to 576.

The retail sector, and supermarkets in particular, witnessed strong growth, deploying mostly rooftop solar PV. The manufacturing sector, meanwhile, saw 64 projects commissioned (up from 38 the year before) with capacity split amongst three principle technologies (wind 15MW, anaerobic digestion 12MW and solar 9MW).

The report reasons that businesses investing in on-site generation do so in order to mitigate energy costs, improve energy security and achieve their sustainability aspirations, but these same goals can all be accomplished by cutting energy use first.

In fact, businesses seeking to reduce their energy costs and environmental footprint should always consider energy saving measures first before committing to building renewable energy schemes.

Try dieting before surgery

Imagine you’re overweight and want to get in shape.

You could try dieting, cutting back on consumption in order to lose a few pounds. Alternatively, you could skip the diet and go straight to a gastric bypass operation instead.

In terms of business energy saving, looking for ways to eliminate or reduce energy usage is the equivalent of a diet; whereas going straight to building a renewable energy scheme is the more extreme equivalent of gastric surgery, and should really be a last resort once you’ve exhausted all other measures.

Get the diet right, which can often be achieved with minimal outlay, and you may find that there’s a diminished requirement and weaker business case for investment in your own wind, solar, biomass or biogas facilities.

Business energy saving tips

There is a wealth of advice and guidance available to businesses looking to embrace energy saving.

The most suitable approach will naturally differ according to type and size of business, but a good starting point for anyone is to begin by regularly monitoring and measuring energy use.

While you’re looking for patterns in consumption that might warrant a more detailed investigation, it’s sensible to start educating colleagues about the need for and benefits of conserving energy – with little reminders about simple steps everyone can take such as switching off lights in unoccupied rooms, keeping office windows closed when the air conditioning is working, photocopying instead of printing multiple copies of the same document, and more besides.

Beyond these simple energy saving measures, you might want to consider replacing inefficient lighting with modern LED and high-efficiency fluorescent lamps, and fitting occupancy sensors in rooms and corridors that are used infrequently.

You could commission a thermal imaging survey to identify areas of building heat loss and then look for ways to reduce those losses with improved insulation, for example. Similarly, making sure pipes carrying hot liquids are properly lagged and insulated will reduce energy use too, as will insulating roof spaces above offices and cavity walls, and fitting simple draught-excluding strips to doors and windows.

If you use compressed air, even tiny leaks can substantially increase electricity use and operating costs and so regular checks are essential. That goes for other industrial plant and equipment too – make sure you keep on top of maintenance; in the same way that a poorly maintained car will cost more to run because of higher fuel consumption, so it is with machinery.

For larger industrial and manufacturing establishments, consider whether it’s possible to reorder some of your activities so that the more energy-intensive ones take place at night when demand – and therefore unit rate costs – are lower. You could also explore whether it’s possible to recover heat from one process to use in another.

To start looking at individual manufacturing processes, and how they might be adapted to cut energy use, it’s probably wise to enlist the help of outside experts.

Implementing these and other energy saving measures will do two things: firstly, they’ll help reduce your costs and exposure to price volatility; and, secondly, they’ll contribute to reduced carbon emissions, and boost sustainability.

Many of them require little or no capital investment and you may also be eligible for grants in some circumstances – again, specific expert advice will point you in the right direction.

For more on business energy saving you could download this 17 page guide from Carbon Trust.

Showcasing your achievements

One of the more obvious benefits of installing your own on-site renewable energy generation is that you can use it as a visible demonstration of your commitment to sustainability, helping to enhance your reputation.

Dewlay Cheese, for example, is famous in Lancashire for its lone wind turbine, visible from miles around, and it uses it as a sign of its ‘green’ credentials.

But you can bask in the glory of your energy saving achievements just as much by communicating the details to your key stakeholders across your value chain, from investors to suppliers and customers.

Keeping them up-to-date with what you’re doing to save energy and reduce costs will not only confirm your commitment to environmental good practice, it may even inspire others to take similar energy saving steps once they see how easy and inexpensive it can be.

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