Independent energy consultant Joss Clarke offers guidance to care providers keen to take a proactive approach to their energy use.
When discussing energy solutions, it can be easy to think technology holds the answer. Yet while the advancements and developments made in smart energy mean it is often a worthy and worthwhile investment, there are a number of simple ways to improve energy efficiency regardless of your current infrastructure.
Most energy savings are within the control of staff, so engaging them is often the key to a more energy efficient, comfortable care environment. Establish a clear energy policy and communicate this throughout all levels of staff. A good way to do this is to carry out regular walk rounds with them, during which you look at all parts of the building, including heating, lighting and building fabric, as well as any electrical equipment.
Fill your employees in on how much energy is currently being consumed. Then, when the energy savings programme gathers momentum, tracking progress and reporting back to your staff (highlighting energy savings) can help make results more tangible. Set targets – it is possible to save 10-15% on energy costs by implementing some common sense, good housekeeping measures, and many organisations could reduce their energy consumption by 10-40%. However, it is important to be realistic, so start by aiming for 5% savings each year.
Employee engagement = energy efficiency
Your aim isn’t just to save money, but to increase overall awareness of energy usage. Help staff to reduce electricity usage by selecting only those lights they need by labelling switches. It also goes without saying that every employee should be trained to operate equipment and controls correctly. It will help to prevent heating being on due to incorrectly set timers, or thermostats set to maximum under the belief it will speed up the heating process (it doesn’t, it simply results in overheated space).
Knowing when and where heating and lighting is really needed is arguably the biggest challenge you face, but you don’t necessarily need a smart system to do this job for you. In addition to staff on walk rounds, ask your residents to report any rooms or areas they come across that are too hot, cold or draughty. It may well be that simply adjusting your heating in these areas will do the job, but you may find the problem is be the result of maintenance issues.
Better buildings = better bills
However, by investigating any areas of concern raised by staff or residents, any issues with the building fabric – such as gaps or holes in walls, windows, doors and skylights – can be addressed and repaired immediately, avoiding any escalation leading to more expensive problems down the line. Any accessible loft areas should also be checked to ensure insulation is at an appropriate level and in good condition, replacing it if required. Simple cleaning in less-obvious places can also reap rewards. Ensuring radiators and vents are not obstructed and filters are kept clean enables better circulation of heat and reduces the energy required to meet the heating demand.
Paying close attention to the standard of the building can also have a positive impact on energy usage for lighting. Without regular maintenance, light levels can fall by 30% in just two-to-three years. Natural light should always be prioritised, so be sure to keep windows, skylights and light fittings clean. For times or areas where artificial lighting is necessary, replace old, dim or flickering lamps and keep controls in good working order by ensuring timers are set correctly and that any occupancy sensors are clean.
Prepare for improvements
After all this, you may still conclude an energy saving equipment or a smart system is needed, but before going ahead with installation it is always advisable to ensure your current equipment is working as efficiently as possible. Having your boiler serviced regularly (once a year for gas-fired boilers, twice a year for oil boilers) could save you as much as 10% on your annual heating costs, and any boilers, hot water tanks, pipes and valves should be insulated to prevent heat escaping. The relatively minimal investment can usually be recouped within a few months of installation, with additional savings in subsequent years.
Lighting should likewise be upgraded to the most efficient and suitable options. Occupancy sensors mean lights only operate when there is somebody there to require them and can also be used to lower light levels in corridors at night time, which can be an effective cost-saving measure. Sensors like these can achieve savings of up to 30% on lighting costs.
Finally, there are of course smart energy solutions, which can offer you a fully tailored solution to your energy needs. Products like Genius Hub and Hive can allow control of all heating from one central location, such as a staff office or reception. It can remove the need for staff to manually adjust radiators from room to room, avoiding unnecessary heating of empty rooms, and enabling residents’ needs to be met more quickly.
Defining and isolating different areas or zones means comfort can be improved, such as by introducing slight temperature differentials between rooms and hallways to make rooms noticeably warmer by comparison. A fully connected system also enables problems or malfunctions with individual radiators to be easily identified and speedily addressed.
The final area for consideration is your tariff. If you have a half-hourly meter, ensure you are on a fully-fixed contract. Sometimes a product can appear to be fully-fixed but excludes some third-party costs or is only fully-fixed up to a certain level and then incurs further costs beyond that. If your establishment does have a half-hourly meter, the data from this should be readily available to you from your supplier. Inspecting this data is a great way to see when energy is being used and is an effective way to identify potential savings. If you do not have a half-hourly meter, check and record monthly gas and electricity meter readings and compare this information with your invoices to check for accuracy. You should also try not to buy your energy during the winter season, as prices are at a premium during this time and your entire contract is likely to be more expensive because of this.
With so many providers and options available to you, energy procurement can be a bit of a minefield, so you may find it is worth considering partnering with an energy consultant. They can monitor the market to identify the ideal time to buy, liaise with suppliers, advise on contracts, negotiate the best contract for your needs and take the hassle out of your energy procurement. After all, if you’re trying to save on energy, why waste yours?