How an energy audit helped Melbourne businesses save money

Businesses in Melbourne's City of Port Phillip took some persuading to take part in an energy audit. Those that did made a combined annual saving of over $50,000.

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6 min read
Small changes can have a huge impact on small businesses. These 10 City of Port Phillip businesses found out just how much when they took part in an energy audit.

When the City of Port Phillip council invited around 200 local businesses to take part in a free sustainability audit, it’s fair to say they weren’t bowled over by the response.

Eventually, 10 agreed to have their energy management, as well as their waste and water, put under the microscope.

Local business owner Stephen Nash of Chapel Corner Tyres was one who eventually agreed to take part in the energy assessment.

“I’m always sceptical when someone wants to take my time to investigate something because I don’t have a lot of time,” he says.

“But I agreed to take part, and it was well worth it.”

The City of Port Phillip contracted energy auditor Graeme Ambrose to work with the businesses to see how they could operate in a more sustainable and energy-efficient way, and reduce their environmental impact and energy bills. Graeme worked with businesses including a restaurant, a pub, two florists, a hairdresser, a children’s gymnasium, a theatre and Chapel Corner Tyres.

How a small business energy audit works

“We did a quick analysis on their billing and interval metering data to work out what was going on,” Ambrose says.

Interval metering data breaks down energy consumption into short periods so you can see seasonal and even daily patterns. You can review your data by using a wireless electricity monitor, which is a device you can buy and hook up yourself. Another way is to look at what months your bill goes up and try to think about what you were using more of during those times.

“It’s especially good because you can see what happens in winter, in summer, and on Christmas day when nobody’s there,” Ambrose explains. “You look at March/April and September/October because they’re the flat months, when nobody has air conditioning or heating on.”

Spikes over December, January and February are generally air conditioning, he explains, while the June to August spikes are usually heating.

“Then we go in and do a walk around, and because we’ve done that analysis, we’ve got a fair idea of what to look for.”

For example, at the children’s gymnasium, the energy spike in summer seemed particularly high. The reflective coating on the windows was causing heat to be retained so the air con had to work extra hard.

And while Stephen Nash thought he was doing everything right, some of his light bulbs were still halogen – consuming four times the energy that LEDs would.

“You could actually see the impact on the bill,” says Ambrose.

By identifying small changes, including replacing two old fridges and a bar fridge with one new fridge, and doing a simple tariff review, Chapel Corner Tyres could save $5700 per year.

Is your energy use normal?

The owner of local Fitzrovia cafe, Paul Jewson, is another who admits to being sceptical about the audit at first, but thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.

“With small businesses, there’s often no benchmark - nothing to compare yourself against. We were doing what we thought was right, so I didn’t think the audit would find too much we didn’t already know.”

Paul is happy to admit he was wrong.

The energy audit revealed some quick wins. The cafe has numerous fridges, and leaking seals were causing inefficiencies. Each fridge was adding an extra $250 per year to the energy bill. A new seal costs $50.

“We had another small fridge out the front,” he says. “It was a warm room anyway, but where the compressor was, it was 45 degrees. So we had this poor compressor working away on one 10-year old fridge. It was costing $140 per week to run.”

Water consumption was also part of the sustainability audit, and it showed the business was using between 3200 and 4000 litres of water per day.

“Now, we are conscious of everything we do, and I’ve set KPIs for the team around our sustainability. If we hit the targets, I take the team out for a meal, or they get a bottle of wine.

“I’m also very conscious of the energy rating on any new appliance I buy, and how much water it will use. I never used to look at things like that, to be honest – but now it really affects what I buy.”

The pay-off

All up, the ten businesses that took part in the initiative are enjoying $53,000 of combined annual savings.

“Businesses like to think they’re on top of everything,” says Ambrose. “And it’s not until somebody like me comes in with a fresh pair of eyes and a different angle that they appreciate there’s a lot to improve – and a lot of energy, and money, to save.”

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