New online tool opens door to better energy control - and fewer costs

Kiwi businesses could save $1.6 billion worth of energy every year by adopting smarter practices and a free, quick tool has been developed to help them get there.

The staggering size of savings available prompted the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) to create the Energy Management Journey tool - a neat, online resource that lets businesses benchmark themselves against their industry in minutes.

"We went through the process a couple of weeks ago," says Tim Pointer, the managing director of digital marketing agency Uprise. His company runs two offices, in Auckland and Wellington, and employs 19 people.

"It was an eye-opener and an interesting frame of reference. We realised we've been pretty casual and ad-hoc about energy management; the tool forces you to take a deeper look and shows you where you can make savings."

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"There were certainly things in there that were a bit of surprise. The electricity consumption from the heat pumps was interesting."

The tool showed Uprise could get quick and easy savings of around $450 from its $3,500 annual power bill, or around 13 per cent - more is possible if more energy-saving work is done.

Unlike, many small-to-medium-sized organisations, Uprise doesn't run any cars, which many SMEs often do not consider part of a company's energy bill - but where savings are often available.

A close look at energy management should be a no-brainer for a small company but many overlook it.

"For managers there are often some very quick and easy wins to be had and using our tool the opportunities are almost instantly revealed," explains Greg Visser, GM business for EECA. "It can be really worthwhile to look at energy use and find such quick cost savings."

Only top-line information is needed but the level of detail in the results is likely to surprise, particularly in its accuracy. That comes from a database of industry-specific energy use information gathered from 450 New Zealand companies. It's against this database that a company's information is matched to reveal the breakdown of its energy use.

EECA estimates New Zealand business can reduce its energy use by between 10 to 20 per cent, taking into account electricity and fuel costs, with many companies surprised by savings made through vehicle fleets.

The Energy Management Journey tool is especially useful for New Zealand's SMEs, which make up around 93 per cent of New Zealand businesses and account for almost a third of all employees. Implementing recommendations from the tool often requires little to no investment.

These businesses are also less likely to have governance or dedicated staff looking at energy management. Larger energy users can also get good value from the tool, as it's a great way to benchmark practices against similar businesses and get unbiased recommendations for change.

Pointer says the tool was incredibly easy to use. "Everything was very descriptive, which was great, and it was very simple."

In under five minutes, it requests general information about the company's type, size, location, energy and fuel costs. There are 67 categories; almost all businesses are covered. Pointer says though there is no precise category for digital marketing, one is closely correlated.

The average energy use information of each category is plugged in so the tool quickly spits out an accurate estimate of spending on all energy variables - from lighting to computers and electrical equipment, to machinery and refrigeration.

The tool then asks users to rate their business on six criteria from measuring and reporting, to how they inform and communicate to their staff and customers about energy efficiency. The tool then plots the company's performance against the rest of the sector.

Users can download both the Energy Management Report and the Action Plan. This can then be presented to stakeholders and the plan put into action.

Sustainable Business Network CEO Rachel Brown says the tool is a way to boost the productivity of businesses using it. "Getting energy and carbon down makes business more competitive, appeals to staff and clients and it reduces costs."

EECA estimates around 140,000 SMEs could benefit from using the tool.