Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tackling hidden building energy costs

Energy managers are seeking new ways of reducing energy usage across their buildings amid escalating energy costs. While many are taking steps to reduce energy use, one of the largest sources of wasted electricity is often still hiding in plain sight, writes Steve Kenny, vice president and general manager, MK Electric.

Energy consumption is a growing concern for businesses worldwide driven by sustainability schemes and cost reduction initiatives. In the past 12 months, the latter has become a greater priority as soaring energy costs create a burden on the operations of many organisations in the UK. The June 2022 Business Energy Tracker survey from npower found that 77% of UK companies considered energy costs to be the biggest concern for the coming year.[1] That same report highlighted that 60% of businesses felt that not enough was being done to support them amid escalating costs.

The UK Government implemented a cap on wholesale business energy bills starting October 1, 2022, that will initially run for six months to cover businesses during the winter period.[2] Although the UK Government has stated it will review the business energy price cap closer ahead of its scheduled end, many businesses remain concerned. It’s essential that businesses take steps to reduce their energy usage – both for the short-term savings and to meet long-term goals.

Starting small

Cost is often a challenge that many businesses are face when working to reduce energy usage. Many energy managers start with larger scale or longer-term efficiency projects, such as modernising heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems or improving building insulation. These efforts can create substantial reductions in energy usage but often come with sizeable upfront investments that may not be viable with tighter budgets and may take a longer time to demonstrate savings.

There are other actions that can offer meaningful reductions in energy usage with a shorter payback period. One of the most overlooked during efficiency improvement plans is small power usage, which relates to the volume of power consumed by power outlets and plugged-in devices.

There can be hundreds or thousands of electrical devices in a typical commercial building, ranging from desktop computers and printers to vending machines and water coolers. Although the power requirements of these individual devices pale in comparison to the consumption of HVAC systems, they collectively can account for a significant percentage of a building’s energy use. Data indicates that small power can account for up to 25% of energy in a minimally efficient building,[3] or as much as 50% in buildings that have already installed high efficiency lighting and HVAC systems.[4]

The difficulty with managing small power traditionally is if the capabilities to monitor and control it even exists in a building. Historically, electrical sockets have not been integrated into a site’s building management system (BMS). New technologies now make it possible to connect electrical sockets to the BMS to enable constant insight and control of small power loads. This can help identify any sockets across a site that have been left powered on unnecessarily by building occupants, as well as any devices in sleep mode that would otherwise silently sap electricity without staff noticing. Energy managers need this level of visibility in their buildings to accurately assess opportunities to lower site energy consumption.

This technology serves to help energy managers recognise the collective impact of small power. With a suitable solution in place, energy managers can begin cutting the power consumption of electrical outlets by establishing a plan to address it as much as possible, whether by encouraging occupant behavioural change or incorporating outlet inspection into routine site rounds and audits.

The energy cost challenge faced by businesses is two-fold: the cost of energy is creating financial hardships for many businesses which is in turn impeding their ability to invest in larger efficiency improvements. It’s therefore critical that energy managers do what they can to drive down building energy use in as quick and cost-effective way possible. The cumulative benefit of addressing small power can deliver on this — and demonstrate effective results in a timely manner.

To apply for a free small power consultation for your commercial building, simply fill out the form – – and a MK Honeywell representative will be in contact to assist you further.

[1] npower Business Solutions, Business Energy Tracker 2022, June 2022 [Accessed September 23, 2022]

[2] AP News, UK businesses laud energy relief, but costs still a struggle, Kelvin Chan, September 22, 2022 [Accessed September 23, 2022]

[3] US General Data Administration, Plug Load FAQ, Poll, S. and C. Teubert, 2012 [Accessed September 23, 2022]

[4] New Buildings Institute, Plug Load Best Practice Guide – Managing Your Office Equipment Plug Load, July 17, 2012 [Accessed September 23, 2022]

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