Parts of Britain may be enjoying an Indian summer, but there’s no doubt that autumn is here. The leaves are turning, the days are shorter, and, in many households and businesses the heating is on for the first time since spring. But how can SMEs take measures to cut their gas and electricity use, plus saving on their bills at the same time? And what innovative help is available to achieve their energy goals?
Getting help cutting energy use
Electricity and gas bills have increased enormously – the cost of energy has roughly doubled over the last decade, and such hikes look set to continue. This makes cutting energy use an economic as well as an environmental priority for small firms. And with new developments in the area of energy-related technology emerging all the time, there are new gadgets, bits of machinery, processes, and materials that can help to reduce the amount of power that an enterprise uses.
But, where should a busy business owner start? We here at Boost Capital have helped customers in the past with short-term business loans to help finance the refitting of premises to make them more green and efficient, or to buy new equipment designed to consume less power. If very small companies are looking for information about energy efficiencies, as well as money to introduce them, they could get guidance from the British Gas Energy Efficiency Fund. This initiative is aimed at micro businesses, offering them free advice. It also gives firms a free on-site energy survey, plus help up to the value of £6,000 per enterprise with installing energy-saving measures. These might include LED lighting, fuel-efficient boilers, better insulation, or other ways to control energy use. The Energy Efficiency Financing initiative, run by the Carbon Trust and Siemens, is another possible source of green investment and advice.
The Government has its Green Deal scheme to give businesses and home-owners grants and loans to make their properties more energy smart. However, Mike Cherry, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) chairman, recently warned that few small firms are using the Government initiative, despite needing help cutting their energy consumption, because Green Deal money has to be paid back over such a long period.
How much energy does your business consume – and waste?
SMEs looking to minimise their energy consumption can take some measures themselves to improve their situation. A first step is to undertake an energy efficiency programme to evaluate their current use, and where improvements could be made. The Carbon Trust recommends that SMEs undertake a simple, four-step approach to achieve this:
- Measure your existing energy consumption – and waste. This will involve scrutinising your current bills, and identifying where your energy is being used, squandered, and where you may be able to introduce operational efficiencies. Simple things like turning off computers, lights and heating out of hours can make immediate savings of up to ten per cent with the minimum of effort.
- Look at the infrastructure of your workplace. Is yours an old, poorly insulated industrial building? If so, perhaps better wall insulation and introducing heating controls could reduce energy loss. About 75 per cent of heat disappears through inadequately insulated windows, walls, roofs, floors, or via ventilation systems. Retrofitting badly designed buildings can cut energy bills dramatically, and needn’t cost the earth. And the savings made should offset the initial expense.
- How efficient is your machinery and equipment? From the computers you work on, to lighting, through to any refrigeration systems in use in the workplace, the Carbon Trust offers tips on making energy savings in all of these areas either by using existing equipment more efficiently, or replacing defunct units altogether. Businesses working with big machines may be able to make energy savings on the motors and drives by monitoring their output, or replacing motors for more efficient models. Firms that use compressed air could save on wastage by testing for leaks or reducing high settings on machinery. And all firms should consider installing an energy efficient smart meter. The mainstream roll-out of these new forms of meter starts from 2015, and should be completed in all businesses and homes by 2019.
- Consider renewable technologies. If you’ve already managed to reduce your energy use, then you could think about turning to greener sources, such as solar panels, wind energy or hydro-generated power. The Institute for Sustainability has a toolkit for SMEs that are interested in available alternative technologies. Businesses could also use the Carbon Trust’s Green Business Directory to find a reputable supplier.
Are you getting the best deal?
Of course, checking that you’re signed up to the best tariff from your energy provider is a basic way to keep a check on your bills. We’ve given tips on this blog before about how SMEs can reduce their energy costs and get the most from their energy firm. But too few smaller companies opt to swap providers when they’re dissatisfied, even though the process has been made easier by the use of comparison websites such as USwitchforBusiness and MakeItCheaper. Two-thirds of firms say that the switching energy supplier is too difficult, according to recent research from the FSB.
But there’s no doubt that many firms are frustrated with the gas and electricity companies. Only last week, energy regulator Ofgem wrote to the energy firms to warn them that their action on complaints-handling had to improve, since more than half of small businesses that had raised objections were unhappy with the way their query had been dealt with.
Small businesses that are genuinely unhappy with their energy supplier should be more prepared to shop around for a better deal and service. And the new opportunities being created by new green technologies mean that SMEs really should do all they can to use these innovations to cut their use of electricity and gas. So, rather than just turning up the thermostat as the temperature drops this autumn, instead take a step back from the way your company is run and really look at how you use power. With just a few tweaks to your day-to-day operation, you could take the heat out of your utility bills forever.
Image courtesy of porbital / FreeDigitalPhotos.net