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Green people, green technology

With energy accounting for as much as 30 percent of business overheads, should you rely on people or technology for a greener outlook? Mike Cordner looks at both options


Whether a business is looking at its margins or its social responsibility, energy saving is a major factor and a key part of modern corporate strategy. Some analysts are foreseeing future energy prices increasing by as much as 40 percent and, for highly competitive businesses with tight margins, energy usage could even become a survival issue.

Energy saving is nothing complicated, fundamentally it is about switching things on and off and optimising the energy used. If you switch on (and off) the right things at the right time, only using energy when you need it, you will save money and reduce carbon emissions. In commercial and retail buildings, ‘things’ that are going to make the real difference to the energy bill are heating, lighting and cooling systems. You can’t avoid using energy – people consume it doing their job and they need the right level of comfort to work – but you can help to optimise it.

Energy Management is about avoided energy usage and there are two ways to maximise this: Change the way people behave or remove the human element and use technical controls. Training people to do the right thing at the right time will save energy – switching only the lights that are needed is a prime example. Issues arise, however, simply because people are human: they forget, they have their own opinions and, of course, personnel change.

Energy Management strategies based on people’s actions need to be policed and re-enforced to work in the long-term. Many sites have found that they see significant savings in the short term but the ‘avoided energy usage’ decreases over time as new priorities take over, working practices change and people slip back into old habits.

Control systems will automate the management of the building environmental systems – switching them on and off automatically and adjusting levels as required. The rate of return on investment will depend on the level of energy efficiency being achieved within working practices, but experience from IMServ has shown that a typical retail environment or office building implementing heating, lighting and cooling control systems can comfortably achieve around a 10-15 percent saving on total energy costs.

Automatic controls can be installed at any time to complement a people approach. By integrating energy management systems into a building design, its benefit is maximised as it can be coordinated with other offices, and will keep costs to a minimum.

A lot does depend on the company, their structure and the type of business. From experience, some businesses have cultures where the people approach fits well with other activities and ethics – although these companies often install control systems as well to absolutely maximise green credentials. Others may see huge cost savings and rapid return on investment from the automatic approach. A major retail outlet working with IMServ recently saw average energy cost savings of 16 percent across 250 sites.

In summary, a people approach uses resources that are already there. Its success will, however, depend on the time, effort and consequently cost a company is prepared to put into it. An automatic control system has an initial cost outlay but will bring greater efficiencies – removing human error and maximising avoided energy usage. The vast majority of users will see a fast return on investment and an increase in profits.

Rising costs and social responsibility mean that energy is an increasing priority in business strategy, and whether a business chooses a people approach or a technical one, the principle is the same: Avoid using energy where you don’t need it. The more you do this, the more you will reduce carbon emissions and the more you will save over time.

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