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Spotting savings at your business: an energy walk-through

Over the next few issues of BC Hydro Power Smart's Power of Business newsletter, we're inviting subscribers to take a walk with us. Specifically, we're going to provide details of an "energy walk-through", a look at ways your business can save money on energy.

Some tips are simple and cost nothing; others take more planning and investment. All will whittle away your energy costs, and some may bring a few unexpected benefits on the side.

Walk-through experts are your guide

We've collected tips from a variety of walk-through experts who have visited more than 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses over the years. They've helped business owners find ways to save money and boost productivity through energy efficiency.

 This month's instalment starts at the front door of your business. Take a walk, and see what you might learn...

Step 1: Check your energy assumptions

When our experts first arrive on site, they assess the customer's energy usage and look at which things are turned on and off. It's very simple.

For example, there's a myth that computer equipment needs to be left on. It's been carried forward many years, and while it may have been true in the past, it's not true anymore.

Today, items such as computers, fax machines and printers have been designed to be turned off when they're not in use, or to be put in "sleep" or powersaving mode. A lot of standard office equipment has those features built in, and usually it just takes 20 minutes to read the directions and figure out how to use them.

Our energy experts encourage business managers to take a new look at every piece of equipment in their office or plant, and to test their assumptions.

Reassess what you're leaving on and why. Make sure you're not operating with some assumption that has no background to it. That's where we see a lot of customers going wrong, and missing out on easy savings.

Step 2: Make "Off" the automatic choice

Once you identify the things that can be switched off, figure out how to turn them off as often and easily as possible. Controls are a great help here – particularly timers and occupancy sensors.

Occupancy sensors react to motion and switch lights (or other equipment) off when no one is present in a space. According to Power Smart engineer Cristian Suvagau, sensors can save 15-80% of the energy typically used by a fixture, and they come in a range of types and mounting options. They're easier to implement than people may realize.

Some occupancy sensors are designed right into the light switch. So you are able to switch out the light plate on the wall and, right away, you get some automated on-and-off functionality.

The wiring already exists, so it's a low impact change to the configuration. We've seen really good applications of these in customer washrooms, for example, or storage spaces, even small cubicle spaces.

Occupancy sensors can be used in all sorts of configurations to ensure good efficiency. Some retail shops allow display lighting to dim when no customers are present, with occupancy sensors kicking additional lights on when a customer comes near.

In warehouses, sensors can be used to light only the aisle – or even the single lighting fixture – required at any given moment. Stairwells, hallways, and parking garages can be allowed to dim and then brighten when someone enters.

Timers are another great energy-saver. One example where timers can make a big difference is with water coolers, which our energy experts have found exists in almost every office space. The coolers refrigerate water around the clock, but there's often no one in an office between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.. So the coolers do a lot of work for nothing overnight.

Getting equipment like that set up on a timer saves you a bit of energy. Timers are pretty inexpensive, you can get them in the form of a smart power bar, or some other form of plug-in.

Set up your timer to shut off the cooler at the end of the typical operational day and start it up again about an hour before people arrive. It might need a bit of tuning to make sure the water's cold, but you can see that there's a good chunk of hours overnight when those types of pieces of equipment don't need to be on.

Smart power strips can be useful for all sorts of equipment that is often left on overnight, such as task lights, printers (if they don't have power-saving settings of their own), calculators, coffee pots and microwaves.

Getting creative about how to keep energy-burning equipment switched off (or turned down) when not needed – and getting the tools to make switching off automatic – are great ways to save on energy costs. Many sensors and controls are eligible for rebates through Power Smart's Product Incentive Program too.

Part 2: Why maintenance matters