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Five key ways to reduce your business’ energy bills

Thursday, 12 July 2012 | By Oliver Milman

feature-green-energy-thumbWhile the recent high-profile slip-up by Brumby’s suggests that small businesses might use the carbon tax to hit consumers with price rises, early data suggests otherwise.


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says the first two weeks of the controversial tax have seen 630 complaints and enquiries from people over businesses’ behaviour. In a pool of more than 8,000 complaints in that period, this number isn’t exceptional.


While there are examples of entrepreneurs risking the wrath of the corporate regulator, it appears that most SMEs are getting on with the job of reducing their exposure to the carbon tax, rather than simply heaping it onto customers.


To help you on your way to reducing your energy consumption, and therefore your carbon pricing pain, here are five top tips to follow.



1. Learn to switch off




With a flick of a switch, you can cut your business’ power bill by up to 10%. According to the NSW government, by switching off appliances when you leave your workplace for the day, you can save around $125 and cut your CO2 emissions by 500 kilos a year.


Switching off computers and photocopiers entirely is the best option, but if you have to keep appliances on standby, look for equipment that is Energy Star compliant as well as being multifunction – both these things reduce the amount of power used.


How bright does your business really need to be? Consider installing light dimmers and a skylight to your office and unplug outdoor lighting during the day. Rather than leave lights on all night, go for infrared sensors – it’ll save power and be a decent addition to your security.


Think you’re too busy for all this? Then automate the process – you can invest in appliances such as EcoSwitch that can make the switch-off a bit easier.


2. React to the seasons




Your total energy bill can be increased by around 7% for each degree that your thermostat is awry in summer and winter.


Ideally, you’ll want to adjust your heating and cooling according to the season – between 18° and 21° in winter and 24° in summer. Fail to make the switch and it’ll cost your business.


If in doubt, drop the heating a few degrees and just put on another layer of clothes. Check your refrigeration and cooking appliances to make sure they aren’t leaking energy and scale down the heating and cooling of areas that are rarely used, such as storerooms.


Make sure doors aren’t left ajar and ensure that your business is well insulated. Conversely, install window shades, solar reduction film or awnings to reduce the amount of heat penetrating your office in summertime.


3. Ditch inefficiencies




In the cash-strapped early days of a start-up, it makes sense to reduce costs whenever possible. This leads many businesses to choose cheaper equipment that will simply get the job done.


While this approach is fine for items such as office furniture, it can backfire when you are purchasing powered equipment.


Refrigeration is a notorious cash pit for unwary businesses. At an electricity price of 20c per kWh, a 1.5 star rated fridge of 500L equates to $150 per year to run.


A 3.5 star rated fridge of the same volume will cost $80 per year. Over an expected 10-year life there will be a saving of $700 but the purchase price difference may be as little as $100 to $200.


You should also be careful to not have too large a fridge, otherwise you’ll be powering space that you never use.


Old, clunky air conditioners can also be a source of needless cost for start-ups. By installing a new, efficient air conditioner and ensuring that you use it prudently, you can halve your energy bills.


Use fluorescent bulbs and LEDs instead of incandescent or halogen lighting, which both munch their way through significantly more power.


Scan your workplace for other inefficiencies – for example, do you really need a large computer screen when a smaller one will probably do the same job for a lower long-term cost? Is there a source of natural light that you’re blocking out while lighting the area with electricity?


4. Consider solar




While feed-in tariff rates vary by state – with some governments more generous than others – there are various incentives for businesses across Australia to opt for solar.


The Australian government's solar panel credits program gives an up-front discount for solar systems, while you can trade Renewable Energy Certificates – provided with approved solar appliances – for cash.


A key area of solar savings is in hot water systems. The NSW government estimates that you can cut your hot water bill by 70% by installing a solar hot water system or heat pump. The Federal Government ended a rebate system for solar-powered hot water in February this year, but you can still make savings by making the switch.


If the carbon price does what it is designed to do, renewable energy will become more financially attractive for households and businesses. It makes sense to consider moving to solar now to lock in the savings.


5. Get funding help




If you need a hand investing in energy efficient equipment, the Federal Government’s $1 billion Clean Technology Investment Program might be able to help you out.


The scheme offers matched grants, with the first 13 recipients – getting $8.1 million between them – unveiled last month.


“Projects funded include a new refrigeration system, voltage regulators, more efficient air conditioning and new packaging processes,” said federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.


“Successful manufacturers range from a specialised engineering firm to the manufacturer of aluminium cans to wine makers and producers of fresh avocado products.”


“Over coming years, the Clean Technology Investment programs are expected to support approximately 3,000 projects and help many manufacturers reduce their energy use.”


There is state-based help to tap into too, such as the NSW Energy Efficiency for Small Business Program and Victoria’s Energy Saver Incentive.