The significant rise in energy prices for consumers has focussed attention on the need to save energy and install renewable energy solutions. But commercial users have faced the issue for far longer, with typically much larger energy usage in offices, shops and factories, when even a small percentage rise in the cost of energy can have serious consequences for businesses.
For many businesses, the need to not only cut energy costs, but improve their carbon footprint to meet demanding self-imposed ESG targets has ensured the drive for greater energy efficiency within commercial premises, gains momentum.
Most businesses in the UK use more energy during the day, with computers, lights and heating on for at least 10 hours, although manufacturing can require a factory to consume energy all day, often with power-hungry machines adding to the overall consumption.
Little can be done to reduce the energy consumed by machinery, apart from upgrading to more energy efficient models or developing less energy intensive processes, both of which can be time-consuming and expensive.
However, energy consumption can be cut through changes to a commercial property, whether it’s a factory, shop, office or even a logistics centre, to improve energy efficiency and thereby reduce cost. So now we’ll look at a few changes that can be made to make a building more efficient.
Having first looked at how to cut your energy consumption, we’ll also review the best way to produce your own energy, with a focus on making the most of renewable energy and a battery storage solution to significantly reduce what you spend on energy.
You may suspect your building is wasting energy and the only way to be sure is to employ the services of specialists to undertake a building energy assessment, but if you can’t maintain a regular, comfortable temperature or the building has cold spots, you should act.
Steps to a more energy efficient commercial building
Benchmark your usage
Understanding your usage is critical and if you have multiple meters, you should be able to identify what machines or processes use the most energy. Specialist software can help you develop a comprehensive energy map, highlighting particularly energy-intensive processes and helping you discover equipment being left on when it’s not being used.
Once your understand your current usage, a comprehensive Building Energy Management System (BEMS) will allow you to programme everything from heating and air-conditioning settings to lighting and machine shut downs, all managed from a single interface, ideally by a single team.
Educate your people
It is not just industrial processes that use a lot of energy, offices with computers, lights, heating, air conditioning and even kettles can also use more energy than necessary. And this is when educating your people will help, just like it does at home.
Explain to everyone the importance of saving energy, to benefit the business with lower energy bills and the environment with a smaller carbon footprint. Reward behaviour that supports your energy reduction objectives, such as lowering the temperature in the office by a degree, or where possible encourage the opening of windows rather than using air-conditioning.
Monitor the changes and the impact they are having, then let everyone know, to help encourage the changes in behaviour that will continue to cut energy use.
Insulate your building
Just like at home, one of the best ways to improve the energy efficiency of a commercial building is to improve the insulation, including ceiling liners and new wall cladding to prevent heat loss. The building becomes more air-tight too, which also reduces energy consumption.
Switch to LED lighting
Switching your lighting from candescent or fluorescent to LED is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to reduce energy consumption, particularly when combined with lowering overall illumination and introducing task lighting, whilst cutting out of hours use to a minimum.
Heating under control
Smart heating controls will allow you to adjust the temperature quickly and easily across different zones within the building, to avoid usage when and where it isn’t needed, could make a significant difference to your energy consumption.
Air conditioning is popular thanks to efforts to improve air-tightness in modern building design leading to fewer opening windows and it contributes to your buildings energy use. Ways to keep employees cool, like WFH days or a change in clothing policies, should be considered on hotter days.
Glazing for efficiency
Windows in walls and roofs are typically a major factor in energy loss and retro-fitting efficient windows, if you have the budget, will not only help cut energy consumption but also add value to your commercial building. Good windows will keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter
Renewable energy solutions
Although there are a variety of ways to cut energy consumption, the most efficient way to reduce the amount you spend on energy is reduce the amount you need to buy from the grid by producing your own, ideally from renewable sources, such as solar panels, local wind or air source heat pumps.
Developing your own energy sources at work will not only reduce your energy costs, but also significantly lower your carbon emissions. There are also government schemes that offer you a potential income from selling back to the grid, any extra energy you generate.
The renewable energy source that offers the greatest potential in a commercial property setting, is the installation of a solar panel array, ideally combined with a solar batter storage system. Whilst the required initial investment may be off-putting, the long-term benefits make for a compelling argument in favour of solar panels on the roof, or in the grounds of your commercial property.
There are important considerations for commercial buildings, the first of which is whether the solar panel installation meets the requirements for Permitted Development, which allows certain building works and changes of use to be undertaken without a planning application having to be made.
However, there are limits to protect against potentially negative impacts of certain projects on listed or historic buildings and their surroundings. Whatever the extent of the commercial solar panel installation you’re planning, it pays to understand the appropriate legislation in advance.
In our experience, the most common commercial building solar PV installations include battery storage and use the roof. The regulations differ slightly between roof and ground installations, but since 2015, most non-domestic solar installations under 1MW are classed as permitted development.
Roof mounted solar installations make sense
The Permitted Development regulations specify that roof or wall-mounted commercial solar panels should project no more than 200mm from the wall surface or roof slope. With pitched and flat roof installations, the panels need to be situated at least 1m from the external edges of the roof.
When considering a flat roof installation, you should make sure the roof-mounted panels protrude less than 1m above the surface, whilst ensuring the panels are not the highest part of the roof (excluding any chimney).
A ground mounted solar array must not extend more than 3m in any direction and be no more than 9m2 in total area, with part of the array more than 4m off the ground. Only one ground-mounted system is allowed for each commercial building.
The building regulations addressing solar panel installations will also need to be followed, which chiefly regulate safety issues, with Part A the structural safety of a building and Part P the electrical safety of a building the main concerns. The rules are there largely to ensure the rooftop can support the additional weight of the solar panels and not likely to harm people or properties.
Why solar battery storage is a must for commercial solar PV installations
Power when it’s needed
A solar battery storage system, not only allows you store energy generated during the day for use at peak times, but also to take advantage of buying energy when cheap off-peak electricity tariffs are available through the night, which is typically when the majority of workplaces are closed.
It’s not only a benefit to have solar battery storage to make energy available at peak times when your commercial activities require additional power, but the battery storage becomes an Uninterruptible Power Supply [UPS] that can provide backup power to your business if the electricity supply fails.
Whilst many energy-dependent businesses have standby generators or large UPS batteries, they only come on line when the electricity supply is cut and they cannot provide additional energy at times of peak demand.
Battery storage, which can easily be filled with renewable energy from solar panels or wind turbines, addresses both issues and instils confidence that if a power cut occurs, you will have enough energy to shut down computers and machinery safely.
Generate revenue through the grid
When installing a solar PV array with battery storage, coupled with smart metering, you can earn an income for offering excess power to the National Grid by providing grid-balancing services, which helps maintain a consistent and reliable energy supply.
You are also ensuring you reduce energy wastage, which also help you save money on your energy bills too. This process of selling through energy providers used to be complex, but it’s become easier as more businesses adopt renewable energy systems like solar panels and microturbines.
Selling your surplus energy back to the Grid is done through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme, which any business that meets certain criteria can sign up to. The SEG replaced the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) that closed to new applicants in 2019.
Batteries will reduce energy bills
As the majority of businesses don’t operate 24/7, there are long periods when your solar or wind energy generation is being wasted, particularly during the day at weekends in the case of solar.
A solar battery storage solution will capture this wasted power and when there is demand in the business during the working hours, the batteries will discharge to cover this demand before you buy energy from the grid.
A well specified commercial solar panel installation with a solar battery storage solution could take many businesses a long way towards energy self-sufficiency, particularly when combined with any or all of the energy saving measures detailed above.
If your business wants greater energy independence, then please get in touch today and we’ll arrange a free, no obligation site assessment to see how much potential energy your site could produce and store.