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Top tips for Big Energy Savings

Alasdair Dalzel-Job, environmental business advisor at GC Business Growth Hub, lists his top energy saving tips for SMEs during Big Energy Saving Week.


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Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint, but it can also have a significant impact on your bottom line. It is estimated that UK SMEs are sitting on around £2 billion of potential energy savings that can be achieved at low or no capital cost. Since 2016, we’ve helped SMEs in Greater Manchester to identify around £5 million in annual energy savings and provided ongoing guidance and capital grants to help make those savings a reality. Most of the measures we help businesses to implement pay for themselves in less than 2 years. And the great thing about energy efficiency is the savings stay there year-after-year.

With the national #BigEnergySavingWeek campaign running from 20-26 January, now is a perfect time to take a step back from day-to-day operations for an hour or two to look at what you can do in your office, factory or warehouse. Here are my top tips to get started:

Heating and cooling

The longer your heating is on and the higher the thermostat is set, the higher your bills will be. In fact, heating costs go up by around 8 per cent for every 1ºC increase.

First steps (zero cost)

  • Set office heating at the recommended 19ºC, and lower in corridors, storerooms and areas of higher physical activity
  • Allocate a member of staff to be responsible for heating controls to make sure they are not tampered with
  • Make sure timers are set to the right date and time, especially when the clocks change, and take working hours, weekends and Bank Holidays into account
  • Ensure air conditioning is turned off in unoccupied rooms
  • Make sure radiators are free from obstructions.

Myth buster: Turning the temperature up high on your thermostat will not warm the room up quicker.

Next steps (low cost)

  • Up to 30 per cent of heating costs can be saved by preventing cold air from entering a building. Ensure draughts, unused doors and flues are sealed up. If you can’t keep warehouse doors closed, install PVC strip curtains
  • Upgrade old thermostats and relocate them to areas that aren’t affected by heating or cooling from radiators, draughts or direct sunlight
  • Insulate any heated pipework.

Ready to invest

  • Circulation and destratification fans in buildings with high ceilings – such as factories and warehouse spaces – are highly effective at spreading heat around the building rather than letting it gather at ceiling level
  • Invest in double or secondary glazing in heavily windowed spaces, which can reduce heat loss through windows by up to 50 per cent
  • Insulate lofts, cavity walls and roof spaces to retain heat inside the building
  • Upgrade your old boiler – a non-condensing boiler with limited controls is significantly less efficient than a modern condensing boiler. Better still, investigate options for heat recovery, heat pumps or radiant heating technologies which heat objects rather than the air.


For many SMEs, lighting is the most energy-intensive part of their operations – it can be responsible for up to 40 per cent of a building’s electricity use.

First steps (zero cost)

  • Take a quick survey at the end of the day to identify places where lights are being left on
  • Make sure the last person to leave a room knows they have the responsibility to turn the lights off. Create reminders and promotional materials to raise awareness if needed
  • Label all switches clearly
  • Maximise sunlight from windows and skylights by relocating blocking objects and rearranging office space if required
  • Minimise lighting in non-working areas such as corridors by removing surplus bulbs where appropriate.

Myth buster: Turning lights off and back on again does not use more energy than leaving them on all the time. Always turn lights off – the savings are nearly instant.

Next steps (low cost)

  • Install timer switches to make sure all lights are turned off outside working hours (these are very low cost and will pay back within a matter of months)
  • Install movement sensors in appropriate spaces, such as storerooms, toilets and corridors
  • Invest in dimmable lights fitted with daylight sensors where relevant
  • Consider refurbishing your office with light reflective paint to maximise light gains
  • Install light fittings with reflectors to maximise the direction of light to specified areas.

Ready to invest

  • Upgrading your lighting to LEDs is one of the most cost-effective ways to significantly decrease your energy bill and is something we regularly support businesses with. LEDs can be up to 90 per cent more efficient than older lamps, produce less heat and can increase lighting levels to create a safer and more comfortable working environment.

Office equipment

It may sound simple, but simple office equipment such as computers, printers and kitchen utilities can become a big energy drain if used poorly.

First steps (zero cost)

  • Staff should turn their computer monitors off if they are away from their desks for more than 10 minutes, and both computers and monitors are turned off at the end of the day
  • Ensure infrequently used printers and photocopiers are only turned on when required and are set to go to sleep after a few minutes of inactivity
  • When making a brew, only boil the amount of water that is needed for each use
  • Maximise use of space in fridges so that cool air can still circulate, and regularly defrost freezers
  • Put a procurement policy in place to ensure the lifetime costs of any new equipment is taken into account when purchasing, rather than just looking at upfront costs.

Myth buster: Leaving equipment on standby is not a good way to save energy – each little red dot costs around £1 a year for every watt of power used. It all adds up.

Time to invest

  • When investing new computer equipment, consider switching to laptops rather than PC – laptops use less energy, are more portable and can be hooked up to desktop monitors when required
  • If you have several individual printers and photocopiers, consider replacing them with fewer larger units to increase efficiency and reduce idling
  • Upgrade fridges and freezers to top energy-rated models.

Production equipment

Manufacturers are the most energy-intensive businesses. Whether its motors and drives, compressed air, ovens or refrigeration units, inefficient equipment is one of the biggest culprits for energy wastage.

First steps (zero cost)

  • Ensure all machines are turned off at the end of the day – including fans, pumps and compressors
  • Make sure all switches are labelled correctly and staff are trained in the correct procedures for operating machinery so they know what they can turn off
  • Establish the optimum setting for each piece of equipment – reducing the speed of a motor by just 20 per cent can half its energy consumption
  • Keep all motors clean – dirty equipment runs much hotter than clean equipment and is more likely to fail
  • Do a regular walkaround of your factory to listen for and fix compressed air leaks.

Next steps (low cost)

  • Explore opportunities for automated and interlocked controls so that motors only run when other equipment is switched on, and are isolated when switched off
  • Draw cold air from outside into your compressor – dropping air intake temperature will improve efficiency
  • Change compressor filters regularly and install automatic drain valves to get rid of condensate in the air lines to reduce air losses.

Time to invest

  • Replace older drives with variable speed drives (VSDs) – even a small speed reduction can lead to substantial energy savings. The same applies to compressors
  • Recover heat from compressors by installing a manual valve to duct out warm air – which is otherwise free heat going to waste
  • When replacing production equipment, ensure units with the highest possible efficiency are selected. Initial purchase costs may be lower for a less efficient model, but the higher energy consumption will cost you more in the long-term.

Don’t forget to measure

Regardless of what action you take, remember you need to understand your energy consumption first. If you don’t have access to half hourly electricity data, take weekly meter reads. That way you can accurately calculate your savings and use it to inform the business case for further improvements. Investing in smart meters or half-hourly metering will allow you to really drill down into the data and better analyse your energy consumption.


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