Where's the waste?

The Carbon Trust provides a walk round checklist for retailers which will help you identify quick and easy energy savings. Focussing on the main areas of power consumption heating, air conditioning, lighting and refrigeration the document suggests a weekly wander round the building to check thermostats are correctly set, lights are off in empty rooms, staff are wearing appropriate clothing, and light sensors and timers are in use.

It stresses the need for maintenance of equipment, including regular preventative maintenance of your chillers. Checking the refrigerant charge, or replacing perished door seals, is a job for a professional and having an engineer in a few times a year will keep power use down, and extend the life of the equipment.

Download the Retail Sector Walk Round Checklist at www.carbontrust.co.uk/energy/startsaving

Spend to save

Keeping an inefficient old dairy chiller or freezer going long after its sell-by date is false economy as it is going to be working far too hard just to keep its contents at the right temperature.

Technology has advanced rapidly in the last few years. When Musgrave Retail Partners GB recently challenged its suppliers to optimise the equipment used in store refits, it compared whole life cost projections, energy efficiency and capital investment, and says it has achieved a cost per unit decrease of almost 30%.

Fortunately, funding is now available to help individual stores purchase super-efficient new equipment.

The Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme gives purchasers of approved equipment 100% tax relief in the first year and just this month the Carbon Trust announced The Big Business Refit which offers zero interest loans for the purchase of new kit.

Chief executive Tom Delay says: "Retail business owners are realising that for every month they make do and mend with old inefficient equipment, they are wasting more cash on unnecessarily high energy bills."

Find out more at www.carbontrust.co.uk/energy/takingaction/about-loans.htm and, for the capital allowance scheme, at www.eca.gov.uk.

Tell the team

Getting the staff on your side is key to your energy reduction strategy. It might be worth appointing a member of the team as energy manager to oversee the day-to-day implementation of an agreed energy policy.

This written policy document should explain why energy efficiency is important, both from a cost-cutting and an environmental point of view. It should list energy-saving procedures like switching off lights and closing doors. Regularly recording the electricity meter reading will highlight the reduction and the whole team can share in the achievement.

A staff education programme by Mid-Essex Co-operative Society in 2008 saw a distinct improvement in energy savings, with one store cutting its use by 25%. Staff immediately saw the advantage of the efficiency training and even took their new knowledge home, changing to more efficient plug sockets and light bulbs, and A-energy rated appliances.

The Energy Institute claims where staff awareness is high then the average saving can be between 10-15% of the annual energy bill.

Beat the heat

A little sunshine never hurt anyone but the same isn't true of your chiller cabinets and freezers. Direct sunlight, particularly through the store front windows, will make your chillers work far harder than they need to to keep products cold.

So, while it might make sense to have that ice cream cabinet or cold drinks bin by the window, you should be prepared to balance the uplift in sales against the higher energy bill. Winter sun will also affect temperatures so consider moving impulse cabinets away to the back of the store when demand is low. They're designed to work most efficiently when fully loaded, too. Window laminates look good, help dispel heat build up, and you can advertise your chilled offering on them.

And while we're on the subject, do you really need to keep your front door open all winter? It's costing you a fortune in heating. Regular customers will come in anyway but if you're determined, an air curtain above the doorway is worth investigating.

Talk to your supplier

We're not always complementary about the energy supply companies but they do make an effort to help their customers reduce consumption.

British Gas Business has a free Energy Savers Report at www.britishgas.co.uk/business which takes about 15 minutes to complete and gives you a summary of your current usage, an estimate of how much you could save and a customised action plan.

In a recent audit of a small store in North London, Npower's energy experts showed retailer David Saunders how he could save over £3,600 a year on its energy bills. Replacing the existing lighting with energy efficient or lower wattage versions could save over £2,200, they revealed, while defrosting chest freezers and turning off the redundant lights on refrigerated cabinets also contributed.

David says: "The recommendations of the audit were really revealing, they showed how simple and easy it is for us to make significant savings on our energy bills." Find out more at www.npower.com/businessashes.

Meter and monitor

Most of the energy suppliers are recommending the installation of smartmeters, which keep a tally of your energy usage on a day-to-day basis and relay that information to your provider. The idea is that regular energy consumption data can help you manage energy more efficiently.

Crucially, it means an end to estimated meter readings, one of the main bones of contention between c-store owners and the power companies, and the over-estimated bills (and occasional demands for back payments) which go with them.

Npower says that a smartmeter installation at a Boots store in Leeds revealed it was using far too much electricity out of trading hours because fans and chiller systems were running unnecessarily. During the day, lighting levels were often inappropriately high. A few changes to system controls cut the store's annual energy bill by 3.5%.

Bespoke monitoring systems are now within the average c-store budget. These track the performance of store equipment like chillers, heaters, ovens and air conditioning and ensure each is doing its job to its best efficiency. (See Convenience Store, August 7).

Think smart

Most refrigerated equipment comes with a night blind do you use it? By pulling down the shade you enable the cabinet to work far less hard while you're closed.

Don't be tempted to turn chillers off overnight, however. The danger's obvious if it's a dairy or fresh food, but even with drinks chillers it's likely to be more expensive to pull cans and bottles down to the correct temperature every morning rather than hold them there overnight.

Integral cabinets those that have the refrigeration circuit within them emit heat into the aisles of your store, which raises the temperature and makes the equipment work harder. Make sure you don't block fan grills, or place cold cabinets next to the bake-off or hot food fixtures. Clean grills regularly and make sure your equipment is maintained by a professional.

Alternatively, consider a split system, which extracts heat from the shopfloor. In more sophisticated equipment, this can be reused to heat water or provide an air curtain. 

Copy the Co-op

The Co-op Group uses 1.5Terawatts of energy a year - about half of one percent of the UK's consumption. It has a target of reducing its 2006 usage by 25% before 2012, and initiated a policy which all staff are committed to.

More than 2,000 of its food stores now have smart meters. "Starting an energy efficiceny programme without half-hourly metering is like starting a diet without scales," says energy efficiency manager Alex Pitman. He's able to measure the effect of cost-saving initiatives at each store, and can demonstrate to managers how silly mistakes - like leaving external lights on overnight - translate directly to bottom-line expense.

Area managers and individual stores have efficiency targets, and the group produces league tables to show how each is doing. In every store, an energy champion ensures good housekeeping, supported by internal materials which point out why it is so important (For example: A night blind on a chiller saves the same energy used to toast 150 slices of bread).

Crucially, energy costs are included in the capital spend of new builds and refits. "I spend as much time talking to accountants as I do to engineers," says Pitman.

Stand up for yourself

The worst thing you can do about reducing your extortionate energy bills is nothing. As our Fight The Power campaign has pointed out, failing to renegotiate your supply contract may result in crippling bills as you're rolled over onto a higher tariff.

By informing your supplier that you will not be renewing your contact when it comes to an end, you'll be free to search around for the best deal on the market, and you may find that your existing supplier will offer you a much better deal to keep your business. More customers switching suppliers leads to more competition and therefore better deals.

While the other actions listed here will save you money by cutting your power consumption, this alternative make sure you pay as little as possible for the power you use could be the biggest financial saving of all.