19th Jul 2017

Durham County Council as part of its Carbon Management Plan identified an opportunity to reduce electricity and gas consumption through an energy saving campaign entitled ‘The Big Switch Off’. With an eight figure annual energy bill, a saving of 5-10% by switching off unused appliances and reducing out of hour’s gas consumption could amount to a significant financial saving, as well as reducing carbon emissions and demand upon the national energy grids.

A pilot campaign focussing on DCC office buildings whose 2011/12 electricity consumption cost approximately £2.5 million and generated 14,552 tonnes of CO2, took place in 2012 and achieved 10% energy and carbon savings.

Following this initial success, the scheme was gradually rolled out through 15 Big Switch Off campaigns to encompass more DCC sites. After 12 months of monitoring energy consumption within the targeted buildings, a 17% reduction in electricity consumption has been consistently maintained through simple low cost interventions.

With limited financial resources, a Big Switch Off campaign is an excellent method of raising awareness with employees and stakeholders as well as demonstrating the financial benefit of simple measures. In turn, these low cost measures can finance a greater commitment and investment – through staff employment – that can generate further savings by expanding the scope of energy saving projects.

As a minimum, regardless of building type and use, a 5-10% reduction in energy consumption can be achieved through behavioural changes. If the organisation has shareholder and stakeholder sustainability expectations to meet, then pilot campaigns such as this are an effective method of raising awareness and demonstrating the financial benefit of engagement.

Lessons learned

The weakness of any energy saving initiative is that the initial savings brought about by periodic awareness raising gradually decline as behaviour returns to normal.

Energy saving is one element of sustainability, with those often responsible for energy savings or sustainability having other responsibilities competing for attention, it is recommended that senior leadership authorise and support the allocation of additional time or resource for a more consistent approach. This is particularly relevant to any organisation with a sustainable development policy or environmental policy that goes beyond energy efficiency.

The first step in this process is to gain traction within an organisation by raising awareness of the impacts of current behaviour, and demonstrating the financial benefits of changing behaviour in order to garner leadership support for future initiatives that require greater investment or have longer pay-back periods.

Energy saving campaigns delivers immediate and quantifiable savings that can also lead to long-term behaviour changes that are required to ensure the success of future, more heavily invested campaigns.

What should you be doing now?

As summarised by APSE energy[i], the following measures are essential first steps and should be carried out anyway, certainly prior to any financial investments designed to reduce energy consumption.

1)      Analyse your electricity and gas use and make sure your figures are up to date and cover all of your buildings. How much do you use? Where do you use it? How much do you pay? What is your electricity and gas usage profile (i.e. when do you use your energy)? Are you being charged correctly (do your meter readings match your utility company’s?)? Most of this data can be gathered from your utility invoices.

2)      Put a project in place to review and improve your data if needed.

3)      Improve your understanding of the utility market and potential options you could benefit from.

4)      Develop an approach to managing how you use your utilities into the medium and long term as costs rise. Investment intentions can therefore be built into your future corporate and financial plans.

5)      Take steps to reduce the amount of electricity and gas that you use – most local authorities for example have acted on the easy to achieve saving, but there is a lot more to be done in terms of energy efficiency. I.e. a building is only efficient as its users. The cheapest unit of electricity is the one that you do not use at all.

6)      Generate electricity where you can by identifying the assets you own or are located in your area which can be used for generation – this, with funding, could make micro-installations economically viable.

It is recommended that as a minimum, organisations familiarise themselves with their energy consumption irrespectively of any external legislative or financial pressures; whilst the financial impacts of a ‘do nothing’ approach may not be felt now, this for most will have an expiry date.

[i] ‘Investing in electricity; reducing costs and increasing income for local authorities’ APSE energy, October 2016.

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