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How to save energy in an office

By James Allston Monday 27 July 2015

Unless you enjoy slaving away at a manual typewriter with only the glow of a candle for light and warmth, energy bills are a necessity for all businesses, regardless of their size. But there are lots of ways to save energy in the office, which is good news for the environment and the bottom line.

Save money on energy

Know your enemy

Commercial buildings are generally a lot more complicated than a home. At home, it’s reasonably easy to work out what energy goes where - especially if you have a smart energy meter and an in home display. But in a commercial building, all kinds of weird energy-wasting stuff can be going on without you ever knowing about it. It might sound silly, but knowing what’s going on in your building is really the first step. 

  • First invest in an energy data management system
  • Second, do a night audit (we’re a big fan of these at OVO). It’s amazing what you’ll find running in the office after hours
  • Third, get an expert consultant to do an energy audit. It’s common that equipment and systems in a building might look right and run well but are operating very inefficiency

Measure to manage

It’s a very tired old saying, but it’s so true with energy - “you can only manage what you measure”. Installing an energy data management system (EDMS) is really the first step in saving energy in a commercial building. The point is to install and monitor sensors (called sub meters) in your building to better understand how and where your energy is going in any second, minute, hour of the day. Install sub meters on all your big energy users, especially the air conditioning, boilers, and the server room and expect to pay £300 - 500 per sub meter installed. Your chosen provider should give you good guidance on how much you need. There are loads of energy data management systems on the market so definitely shop around. Also check whether your energy supplier offers smart meters. These can be integrated into most EDMS as well. Once installed, your EDMS should reveal all sorts of energy wasting activity in your building. Some vendors claim savings of 24% by just understanding their building’s energy better and making small building tuning and maintenance measures. Whilst the data is a bit vague, we think many companies will save at least 10%.

Switch off the energy suckers

A single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day will cost over £50 a year, so switch it off when you leave the office. And don’t just leave it on standby – this type of ‘vampire power’ is an energy sucker, too! Same goes for printers, water coolers, projectors, TVs etc. A night audit of your building will quickly reveal things being left on or controlled badly. Look out for under-desk heaters too. They are monstrously inefficient and will be causing all sorts of knock-on energy problems with your aircon.

Lose the lighting

Turning lights off in areas that aren’t being used is one of the quickest and easiest ways to save electricity in an office. Rely on natural light as much as possible and only have lights on in meeting rooms and corridors when they’re being used. Installing motion sensors (that detect movement) or infrared sensors (that detect body heat) can deliver great paybacks too. You’d be surprised by how many meeting rooms, bathrooms and cleaner cupboards have their lights left on 24/7.

Save money on energy

Swapping out old inefficient light bulbs with newer, energy saving bulbs will make a big difference, too. This is especially the case if you have old fluorescent lighting or downlights. Because there’s so many different lighting types and been so much recent innovation in lighting technology, we’d highly recommend getting a lighting expert in to check out your options.

Attack the HVAC

Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning, or “HVAC” for short, will most likely be the biggest energy consumer in your office. It’s super important to get it right too because the productivity of a business will depend on how comfortable the indoor environment is. HVAC is obviously less viable than lighting too so money might be vanishing into thin air (quite literally!) without you knowing about it. Many offices, big and small, will likely be able to make huge savings. 

Start by checking the temperature set points (21 degree celsius is perfect) and ensuring your HVAC is turning on and off at the right times. These tend to 'creep' over time. If you’re building is large enough to have a building management system (BMS), definitely get a professional controls expert to tune it for energy efficiency. 

An energy auditor will help you to reveal the bigger ticket items like improving building insulation, equipment upgrade and wholesale system changes. These sometimes have very fast payback, especially if you’re replacing old or broken equipment anyway.

Move to the cloud

If your business has a server room, like most do these days, there’s a high chance it’s behaving like a mooching teenager - sitting around doing nothing much and wasting all your money. Studies by Mckinsey Co. and Gartner have revealed that data servers on average are only working 6 - 12% of the time and waste up to 90% of their energy. Get your IT department to work out how much of your server room is really necessary. We’d suggest they explore what can be moved to 'the cloud' (i.e. to a secure third party like Amazon, Microsoft or Google), what can be 'virtualized' (where servers are created in software rather than hardware) and what can be consolidated to only what you really need.

Appoint a 'Green Champion'

Most companies have fire wardens on each floor, so why not introduce Green Champions as well? Ask one person to carry out regular checks on energy habits within the business and produce an informal report on progress – then try to improve on it.

Save money on energy

Get’em while they’re green!

Most new employees are given some kind of guidance when they start at a new company, whether it be a handbook or simply terms of employment. Build energy awareness into these documents so staff are up to speed with the company’s drive to save energy in the office.

Did someone say “tax break”?

A lot of energy saving technologies, such as sensors, timers and low-energy equipment, come with tax breaks. Look into the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme to find out how much you could claim, and remember that this will be on top of long term energy bill savings.

Lead by example, or get the boss on board

Employees are far more likely to play by the ‘rules’ if they see that they apply to everyone, so if you’re in a position of seniority, make sure you lead by example. Get those that are higher up interested in energy efficiency too, by explaining its many benefits.