Planning energy upgrades

Hey, small businesses – let's go back to energy school

September is a bit like it's own mini-New Year. Summer's over, school is starting up, and many of us are forced back into our routines and good habits.

Yes, the warmer weather and long, relaxing days are slipping away. But it’s also the perfect time to renew your focus for the months ahead.

For small businesses, it’s easy to concentrate on putting out fires from month-to-month (or even day by day). Spending some time planning ahead, though, can change the game for your business’ growth – and electricity is a great place to get started.


Get to know your bill

To figure out where you want to go, you need to know where you’ve been. When it comes to electricity, that means starting with your bills.

Many people make the same error: they only track their costs. Instead, track your consumption, which is the kWh line item on your bill. You can also track your demand, which is the kW line item on some business’ electricity bills. That tells you how fast you’re using your electricity. By tracking consumption and demand, instead of the dollar amount, you’ll quickly see that your energy costs are more within your control than you think. 

Go back and collect your last 12 months of bills, at least. If you can go back 24 to 26 months, even better. Your local distribution company likely also offers an online tool for you to get a real-time picture of how you’re using electricity. 

Look for patterns and find the times when your consumption is highest or when your demand and consumption don’t follow each other. Then, share your findings with your day-to-day employees, who can provide more insights into your business’ activities and their impact on your consumption. By having that knowledge, you can make changes to save energy, like moving electricity-heavy tasks to a different time of day, when electricity is cheaper, or installing motion sensors to avoid using lighting in areas where it’s not always needed.

It’s also useful to look at the places where you’re spending time and money on maintenance costs. Look back at your service paperwork, but also take a look around your building and equipment. Sometimes, an appliance or fan you’re running all the time may be consuming more energy than you think. Many local distribution companies will come do a walkthrough of your business to look for energy-saving opportunities, without any added cost to you.


Get out of reactive mode

Once you know where you’re using the most energy, and where you have opportunities to save, start planning your upgrade projects for the year based on your priorities for your business.

Start with the aspects you want to improve overall, beyond just cost savings, and how energy-saving projects can help you get there. Do employees complain about air quality? Look into improving your HVAC system. Or maybe your merchandise isn’t looking as beautiful as it should. Imagine the impact LED lighting could have. 

Think about the unexpected ways you may be able to save, too. Upgrading your window coverings, for instance, can make your space look better, but also give you more control over how much natural light you can take advantage of, and in turn, how you’re using your lighting, heat and air conditioning. Plus, that small change could improve employee comfort and general morale. Remember that there are incentive programs available to help you save on upgrades, like LED lighting and upgraded equipment.

Don’t forget about maintenance in your plans, either. For example, it may still be T-shirt weather, but start thinking about winter now. Prepare your business for the colder months with simple changes like weather-stripping and caulking windows or having a maintenance visit for your HVAC system. Now is the right time to change your furnace’s filters, too.

If you don’t do your cleaning and maintenance yourself, try to find out more about the process and see where you can make suggestions for improvement. Keeping refrigeration coils clean, for example, can have a dramatic impact on how much energy your equipment uses. 


Pass on your learnings

All your energy-saving knowledge and ideas won't go far if you keep them just to yourself. Engaging the rest of your team can mean finding even more opportunities to save, and making sure any policies you set are working.

Think about the energy-saving benefits your employees will care about most and try to communicate them in fun ways. Employees are often likely to get on board with energy saving behaviour at work when you remind them that taking actions, like turning off lights or unplugging tech, can help them save at home, too.

Incentivizing is often a helpful tactic, too. Consider offering rewards for your team's energy saving behaviour. For example, one company set up a friendly competition among its stores, where the top energy-saving location was rewarded with funds for a meal out. Consider how you can make similar gamified experiences work at your business.

Remember, the benefits will stretch beyond saving on your bills. Even small investments can go a long way in making your small business even more competitive.