Light-switchAdam Bernstein looks at some of the ways businesses can bring their energy costs down this winter

According to the Carbon Trust’s Better business guide to energy saving, most firms could use a lot less energy, while low or no-cost changes could bring bills down by 10%. There are a number of easy steps that firms can take to keep their bills in check and these start with understanding that being ‘out of contract’ is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Having no energy supply contract may give flexibility, but it also means that customers will be charged out of contract prices that can carry a 30-40% premium over standard tariffs.

However, while energy suppliers have stopped automatic rollover of customers onto new 12-month contracts, customers need to diarise the contract renewal date and give notice accordingly if they want to be able to move. Different suppliers have different termination windows. For example, those wanting to leave SSE need to serve a termination notice 30 days before the renewal date while British Gas demands notification 90 days beforehand.

Unlike the domestic market, because of the way business energy supply works, making a quick online comparison is not possible. While the domestic market is largely based on location, the business market has a number of elements such as location, contract length and customer credit rating that determine the tariff cost.

Just as with using intermediates to ind the best deal for, say, insurance, firms can use an energy consultancy to trawl the market or the best tariffs as they have access to preferential rates from suppliers.

There are practical steps firms can take to save on energy. Firstly, they can regularly walk around the premises looking for maintenance issues, taking different routes at different times of day (and on different days), looking for broken devices and incorrectly set timers and thermostats. There’s an energy walk round checklist from the Carbon Trust at www.carbontrust.com.

Next, many premises are overheated with some parts heated needlessly and/or poorly insulated. Firms should fit seven-day thermostats that allow greater control. Badly maintained boilers can increase costs by 30% and in-situ on-demand boilers are more efficient than pumping hot water around a whole building. Lastly, portable heaters are expensive to run and should be fitted with 30-minute timers.

In terms of light, fluorescent tubes are popular but few realise that slimline (26mm diameter) tubes use 10% less power than larger (38mm) tubes. However LED lights can drastically slash lighting costs. Lights should only be on when needed – motion detectors can turn off lights when no one’s around. Obvious as it sounds, windows and skylights must be cleaned; natural light is free.

Moving to the office, air-conditioning should be kept to the minimum and firms should buy equipment with an Energy Star rating as it’ll enter low power mode quickly. Computers ought to be switched off overnight while also turning off monitors when not in use. Place photocopiers in cooler areas to save having to cool the copier area unnecessarily and switch it off overnight – this applies  to any equipment not in use.

Saving energy isn’t hard, it just needs a little planning.

Sources of help and advice:

www.ofgem.gov.uk

www.ombudsman-services.org/energy

www.carbontrust.com