Business energy audits explained
Every day businesses lose millions of pounds in the UK due to energy wastage. As a nation we are simply not very good at following good practice when it comes to our utilities; our households waste £1.3bn by leaving gadgets switched on, and according to statistics from EEF, even 54% of energy used in the actual supply of UK energy is wasted.
Much of the money lost could easily be recouped through a few simple behavioural changes but the challenge is to implement these changes in a systematic way, and one of the best ways is through a business energy audit. The aim of an audit is simply to ascertain where energy is being used productively, where it is being wasted, and what can be done to resolve this.
Much of the money lost could easily be recouped through a few simple behavioural changes but the challenge is to implement these changes in a systematic way
There’s another reason that an audit could be so valuable; the environmental cost to the energy we use. Much of our electricity plants are still powered by coal, meaning that there are huge volumes of carbon emissions pumped out into the atmosphere. According to government statistics energy supply remains the largest emitting sector of greenhouse emissions (29%), but we can all take steps to slice this usage. For example, if we changed our lighting to higher quality, more environmentally sound lighting technology we could cut as much as 60-70 per cent of electricity used.
What does a business energy audit entail?
Business energy reviews generally consist of several key steps, to be carried out once every one to two years. While an audit might appear quite a formal term, a lot of what will eventually become part of the audit will be very informal and conducted on a day-to-day basis. Small areas for improvement should be identified such as turning off lights when no-one is present, as part of an overall strategy affecting larger areas of the company that can be adjusted.
The audit will probably lead to physical or behavioural changes, perhaps in these areas:
- Airflow and ventilation
- Efficiency of items
- Gas/electricity/water use
Each of these needs to be individually assessed, with the overall objective of improvement, through changing either the device itself or people’s behaviour. You’ll then look for ways to modify this.
How to carry out an inspection
- Set a date for the audit and work to it. Managing energy consumption is particularly testing during the winter, so this should be borne in mind.
- If you’re visiting multiple sites, factor this into your plans and schedule your visits accordingly.
- Prior to the inspection, prepare a list of common wastage that businesses suffer in a business energy audit checklist.
- This list could also be sent to employees as research for them. They may also help by preparing a list of identified problems or issues themselves. It’s possible they might disagree on how much warmth is appropriate in winter, for example, and this should be noted.
- Prepare a spreadsheet beforehand for each individual room in the building, with one section headed ‘observations’ and one section headed ‘opportunities/resolution’. Pass through on a room by room basis, noting anything that might be a concern and coming up with ideas for improvement.
- As well as assessing in terms of efficiency, note the age and condition of items such as fittings, windows, and switches. It might be worth considering if they need replacing, and whether this could drive down costs.
- If time permits, consider returning to rooms if they are quiet, at a later date. The difference in power consumption between quiet and busy days could be large and returning will give you a better appreciation of the issue.
Emissions from burning devices such as boilers, central heating systems, cookers and furnaces should be assessed for safety and efficiency. Any fuel burning device in the home or business potentially gives off Carbon Monoxide (CO), which is odourless, colourless and potentially lethal if a leakage occurs, causing dizziness, headaches and difficulty breathing. Every year more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected CO poisoning, leafing to around 50 deaths.
The maximum anyone should be exposed to is 35ppm (parts per million) for an eight-hour day, while 70ppm will soon lead to increased symptoms of illness. You can send for a simple test online, or request that an expert attends and measures the CO levels. Should a problem be established, a full test of the entire building might be needed. This could lead to no action being taken right through to the need for a new boiler.
Once the audit has been carried out, possible suggestions to reduce spending on consumption could include:
- Changing the time power is turned on and off – this could apply to heating and air conditioning
- Swapping from ‘old-fashioned’ bulbs to energy efficient (LED) ones that can be turned on automatically. It’s believed that switching from standard to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs could create a saving of up to 75% on lighting costs.
- Limiting electricity use at lunchtime (eg turning off a television in an unoccupied meeting room).
- Improving efficiency by fixing doors that are letting heat escape, improving insulation.
- Making more use of natural light and air conditioning; opening windows.
- Buying newer, more efficient devices such as new PCs, fridges, washing machines, heaters and air conditioners.
- Turning off lights/PCs when not in the room - and not relying on standby.
- Encourage people to be vigilant/displaying posters reminding people to turn off items when not in use.
- Installing solar panels.
At the end of the business energy audit the business will possess a written audit report with recommendations such as those above. Many of the changes will be immediate and will cost nothing, so these can be implemented immediately.
Others might take more planning, and if you decide to take them forward, it will be up to you to formulate a plan so that any suggestions are installed in a logical order without damaging the productivity or finances of the business. You can compare business energy suppliers on Know Your Money here.
Where more expensive changes need to be made, a business case should be included in the report. As an example: Having reviewed energy bills, you decide that your 30-year-old boiler needs replacing.
A business case should include:
- Data describing the current use of the boiler and its cost per year
- Its current efficiency
- Any quotes for new boilers (if taken)
- Proposed savings
- A calculation of how long it would take for the change to ‘pay for itself’
- Airflow and ventilation
- Efficiency of items
- Gas/electricity/water use
If you decide against carrying out the audit yourself you could instead employ a certified energy auditor, who knows what to look for and where to look for it. An advantage of using a professional is that they will be able to provide you with an Energy Performance Certificate.
This will grade your building from A to G, with A being the most efficient, and is not mandatory unless you’re planning to rent out or sell the premises. An EPC normally lasts for 10 years.
A professional might be able to bring down your costs by 25% or more, so paying for an inspection could be a smart choice in the long-term. They will tell you how much replacements/alterations cost, and the energy saving in cost and carbon footprint if you were to change over. They might also be able to advise you on grants and rebates, which can help in saving further money and bringing in new technology. For example, the Carbon Trust offers up to £10,000 to small and medium-sized business towards buying energy saving equipment.
There are a number of ways you can find a commercial energy assessor online. Search your local authority website for any in the area, or try the Department for Communities and Local Government. Go to the side and enter your postcode for a list of the nearest assessors; their accreditations, and their qualifications.