A growing number of retailers are investing in a new way to save money on their energy bills and extend the life of their electrical goods. Gaelle Walker finds out more about the potential of voltage optimisation.

Okay, so it might not be nearly as eye-catching as a sparkling set of new chiller doors, or as smart as new energy-efficient lighting, but for retailers such as Andrew Thornton, of Thornton’s Budgens Belsize Park in London, voltage optimisation has led to some electrifying savings.

Andrew is no stranger to investing in energy efficiency, and has clear cut reasons for doing so. “My motivation for reducing energy is clear: to cut my carbon footprint and save money,” Andrew points out.

He adds: “The store already boasts a wide range of energy efficient measures, from the latest, most efficient chillers with doors, to LED lighting and, most recently, voltage optimisation equipment, which is already achieving impressive results.”

So just what exactly is voltage optimisation, and why do retailers need it?

Let us enlighten you. As of 1995, the nominal European voltage was harmonised at 230V, meaning that all equipment placed on the market within the EU is designed to run at 230V. However, in mainland UK the average voltage supplied from the national grid is 242V, with levels ranging to as much as 253V, depending on local conditions.

This overvoltage means that many businesses and homes are receiving voltage at much higher rates than their equipment needs to perform. It’s a bit like filling an old banger with high-performance fuel, or feeding caviar to your cat.

Overvoltage not only causes a reduction in equipment life span, but also dramatically increases the amount of energy consumed - entirely needlessly.

The problem is compounded by what are known as voltage spikes - unexpected surges and dips in voltage which over time can also damage in-store and back-office equipment such as chillers, CCTV, tills and computers.

The spikes in voltage are caused by jumps and falls in demand on the national grid. When demand on the grid is high, the voltage will fall. Alternately, when demand on the grid falls, the voltage can rise. Other factors such as the increasing use of solar PV and wind micro-generation systems feeding power into the grid can also add to more volatility in the voltage level in the system.

As a result, a growing number of retailers are now investing in voltage optimisation systems, which deliver power to their stores at a reduced voltage of around 216-220V, saving energy, offering protection from spikes, and extending the life of electrical equipment.

Products such as chillers and air-conditioning units, which use motors to run their pumps and fans, particularly benefit from voltage optimisation, as do incandescent lamps and T8 fluorescent lamps.

Energy-saving expert Brian O’Hagan from Ecomonitor believes the savings could be significant for store owners. He says: “By bringing supply voltages to the lower end of the statutory range through optimisation technology, electricity consumption could be reduced by about 10% on average, although savings of up to 20% are possible, dependent on the mix of voltage and equipment.” The company supplies the combined voltage optimisation and energy-management software Eco-system360.

O’Hagan suggests that voltage optimisation would be a “sound and economically viable solution in terms of energy reduction and power surge protection” for stores using about 150,000 kWh units of energy per year (in monetary terms that is about £15,000 a year, excluding any standing charges and VAT).

Stores such as Andrew’s, which uses Ecomonitor’s system, have achieved average energy savings of 10% at sub three-year payback levels.

Prices depend on the size of unit, but typically start at £3,400 for the smaller 60 amp units up to £8,900 for the larger 250 amp units, including installation. As they’re not exactly pretty, units tend to be situated in back office areas. A 250 amp unit measures 500 x 550 x 450mm.

However, as is the case with installing any new energy saving equipment, it is vital that a site survey and voltage logging process are carried out prior to any work so that savings can be accurately measured. •


Win the chance to save more money on your bills

As part of Npower’s involvement in Convenience Store’s Pay Less, Use Less campaign, the energy company is offering six readers their very own energy audit. Plus, one lucky store will be selected to benefit from recommended energy-saving measures and see the savings add up for their business.

It’s simple to enter - just tell us in no more than 75 words why your store should qualify for a free energy audit.

Npower is currently working with more than 10,000 small businesses to help them save money through its bespoke range of products and services, including energy audits.

Energy audits provide valuable insight into how energy is used on-site, often revealing areas of waste and where savings can be made. Just a few simple changes can reduce energy bills by up to 10% and a small investment in energy efficiency measures can achieve savings of up to 20%.

“Our audits provide retailers with real visibility over their energy use and illustrate where savings can be made,” Npower SME sales and marketing director Phil Scholes says. 
“I’d encourage readers to enter as it’s a great opportunity to receive expert energy saving advice specifically for their business.”

To find out more about Npower, visit www.npower.com/business.

To enter, contact Gaelle Walker at Convenience Store with details about your story, including your annual gas and electricity usage. Email her at gaelle.walker@wrbm.com, or write to her at Convenience Store, William Reed Business Media, Broadfield Park, Crawley, West Sussex RH11 9RT.

Terms and Conditions

1. The competition is open to UK residents aged 18 or over, except employees of the promoter, their families, agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion. 2. No applications from agents, third parties, organised groups or applications automatically generated by a computer will be accepted. No incomplete or corrupted entries will be accepted. Entries not in accordance with the entry instructions will not be accepted. 3. Closing date for entries is July 12, 2013. 4. Promotion limited to one entry per person. No entrant may win more than one prize. 5. The prize: The lucky winner will receive a site energy audit. 6. The winner will be required to participate in photoshoot and interview to be featured within Convenience Store for no further compensation.

For full Terms and Conditions, visit www.conveniencestore.co.uk