Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Energy Efficiency

Saving energy doesn't need to involve expensive new equipment - it's often about changes in behaviour and using existing equipment more efficiently.

This guide has advice on assessing your energy use - with simple steps you can take to start saving money. This includes tips on creating a more energy efficient working culture. You'll also get specific guidance for different types of industries, details of tax breaks and find out where to go for more help.

How much money can your business save?

Use the savings calculator to see what your business can save on bills by putting in place some straightforward efficiency measures. Click the savings calculator icon in the additional resources box.

Relevant Business Topics:

All Business Topics

Additional resources


Video Case Study: Paul McAlister Architects Ltd

Simple ways to save neergy

Saving energy is one of the easiest ways for you to cut costs. Even making small changes to the way that your business uses energy can mean big savings.

To understand how much energy your business is using and where the biggest savings could be made, you should take regular meter readings.

See the page in this guideline on how to monitor your energy use.

To help you start saving money, here are our top tips for no and low cost measures which are easy to carry out, with links to further support.

Involve your staff.

The most effective energy saving programmes involve everybody within a business. Savings of 5 to 10 per cent are common - often through employees suggesting and implementing the measures detailed below.

Carbon Trust: Creating an energy awareness campaign (PDF, 5.4MB)

Control your heating.

Try to reduce heating temperatures in the winter by one degree, as this can cut your heating bill by up to 8 per cent. Conversely, in summer, increase the set point for your air conditioning. Ensure that thermostats are accurate by positioning them away from draughts and direct sunlight.

Carbon Trust: Information on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (PDF, 3.2MB)

Avoid wasting heat.

Keep doors and windows closed when heating or air conditioning is running. Fitting draught excluders and making sure your premises are well insulated should be very cost effective, with short payback times. The Carbon Trust's guides CTL062, CTL063 and CTL064 contain further information on draft-proofing and insulation.

Carbon Trust: Energy saving publications

Minimise artificial lighting.

By keeping windows and skylights clean, you can cut the amount you spend on lighting. If you are only working in one part of a room, isolate the lights to that area only. Make sure switches are labeled so staff only turn on the lights they need. You could also consider installing presence and daylight sensors to turn the lights on and off automatically.

Carbon Trust: Advice on energy savings from lighting

Switch off office equipment.

A single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day can cost over £50 a year. Switching it off out of hours and enabling standby features can reduce this to £15 a year. You could also fit seven-day timers to ensure equipment like printers, copiers and water chillers are turned off overnight and at weekends.

Carbon Trust: Energy saving advice for office equipment

Compress your air costs.

Compressed air is often generated at maximum pressure. Reducing pressure by 10 per cent can lead to 5 per cent savings in energy. Make small, incremental reductions, checking that operations aren't affected. Also, regularly test for and fix leaks - even a tiny leak could cost you more than £700 a year in wasted energy.

Carbon Trust: Energy savings from compressed air use

Don't forget about motors.

Because motors are hidden within machinery, they are often forgotten and left running when not in use. Save energy by identifying and turning off motors during breaks or job changes. To make further savings, motors driving pumps and fans can often be controlled with 'variable speed drives'.

Carbon Trust: Motors and drives

Shut the cold room door.

On average, it will cost you £4 every hour a freezer door stays open. For refrigerated cabinets, consider fitting low cost PVC curtains or night blinds.

Carbon Trust: Reduce refrigeration costs

Maintain your equipment.

One common factor across all the measures above is the need to maintain your equipment to make sure it's operating efficiently. This can range from cleaning light fittings and windows, to keeping ventilation and compressed air filters clean, to checking door seals and repairing holes and leaks.

Measure your savings.

Make sure you read your meters regularly. This will enable you to identify how your company is using energy and where it's being wasted. For more on this, see the page in this guideline on How to monitor your energy use.

For further sector-specific energy saving advice, see the page in this guideline: Energy efficiency tips for different types of business

Find out about Green Businesses in your area

In Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust has developed the Green Network for Businesses. This tool allows you to search by postcode for green businesses in your area. All these businesses have installed energy saving or energy generating technologies .

Once you identify the business that has installed the green technology you are interested in, contact them to organise a visit.

EST: Green Network for Business

How to monitor your energy use

You can't manage what you don't measure. So, to find out how much energy your business wastes and how much money you can save, you need to monitor your energy use.

Understanding your energy bill

Monitor your meters

Take regular meter readings and compare consumption to previous months. Remember:

  • When comparing fuel used for heating your premises, take into account how cold it's been. The colder the period, the more energy you will use.
  • If you're comparing energy used in production, consider your output. The best way to do this is to record energy used per item produced. Or, in offices, by floor spaces or staff numbers.

Plotting these against each other will help you spot where you can make changes. Simple changes can often result in major savings. For example, you could identify equipment that's not used at weekends and make sure it's switched off on Friday evenings.

Advanced meters

There are many types of advanced metering systems available. These can give you a detailed picture of energy use within your business - far beyond that offered by the basic meter provided by your energy supplier. These include:

  • half hourly meters record how much energy is used every 30 minutes - useful for analysing energy-use patterns
  • sub meters allow you to monitor specific areas or processes
  • a plug-in meter can be 'sandwiched' between a power socket and the plug of the appliance to be monitored - these are cheap and handy for measuring small loads
  • clamp on meters offer a non-invasive way of monitoring hot water flow - these are often used to identify large consumers of energy in large factories.

Carbon Trust: Monitoring your energy use (PDF, 4.8MB)

Resource Efficient Scotland: Save energy

Smart meters

Smart electricity and gas meters are being introduced which will help businesses and consumers cut their bills. Smart meters give live readings and comparisons which show you instantly how much energy you're using. This will mean you can tailor your consumption to take advantage of cheaper rates for off-peak usage. Readings are also automatically sent to the supplier - so bills will always be accurate.

It's expected that over the next ten years all businesses and homes will have a smart meter installed. With some suppliers already advertising these types of meter, there are opportunities to take advantage of this technology now.

Perform a walk-round survey

A good way to assess your business' energy use is to carry out a walk-round survey. This will help you spot equipment and processes that are inefficient.

Carbon Trust: How to perform a walk round survey (PDF, 416K)

Further information

GOV.UK: Smart meters

Promote sustainability in the work place

Saving energy will require your employees to take on some of the responsibility. So it's important to consult them and get their buy-in before changing your practices.

Energy-saving measures that are difficult, inconvenient or impractical to implement are likely to be ignored or withdrawn. This will undermine any future attempts to reduce energy use.

You might want to consider appointing an energy champion who is in charge of finding new ways of cutting the amount of power you use. Their responsibilities could include:

  • reporting any energy waste they notice - eg equipment left on unnecessarily
  • ensuring equipment and machinery are well-maintained and working efficiently
  • contributing and gathering ideas for improving the way things are done
  • testing and implementing processes that are found to be more efficient
  • communicating good practice and improvements.

Carbon Trust: Employee awareness

Remember to bear in mind any health and safety issues before you implement any changes. For example, could reducing lighting in an area of your premises make it difficult for your employees to move around safely?

Further information

Carbon Trust: Energy management

Resorce Effcicient Scotland: 101 Easy ways to cut your energy bill

Energy efficiency  - top tips

You can take specific additional measures to improve energy efficiency, depending on your business type.

Manufacturing businesses might look at:

  • fitting more energy efficient motors and ensuring those not in use are switched off
  • using variable-speed drives (inverters) on motors - you may be able to claim an enhanced capital allowance
  • ensuring compressed air systems are well-maintained and run at minimum pressure
  • disabling unused air pipes and setting systems to switch off automatically
  • changing work schedules to maximise on the full capacity of equipment like heating tanks and ovens, instead of running half loads.

Carbon Trust: Energy Energy efficiency guides

Warehousing businesses could investigate:

  • improving insulation
  • lighting systems and controls
  • replacing hot air heating systems with radiant heaters, which heat people and objects directly
  • installing rubber seals around 'docking bays' to reduce the need to open large access doors for delivery and loading.

Office-based businesses should ensure that:

  • monitors are switched off during breaks and energy-saving modes are enabled
  • screensavers are disabled - they're a waste of energy
  • lights are only switched on when needed - consider automatic lighting controls
  • heating and air conditioning systems are well controlled and never allowed to 'compete'.

Transport and distribution businesses should make sure that they:

  • are using fuel-efficient vehicles and 'greener' types of fuel, such as biodiesel
  • plan routes, looking for return loads
  • encourage drivers to use more efficient driving techniques
  • are using their warehousing effectively
  • have considered rail freight for larger consignments.

Energy saving Trust: Transport

Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Transport

Retail businesses can:

  • install automatic doors to prevent heat escaping
  • improve and update display lighting
  • check heating and cooling set points.

Hotels and other hospitality businesses can:

  • check that energy-using facilities, eg kitchens, laundry or leisure facilities, are managed in a way that minimises energy use
  • consider using movement-triggered light switches and taps in guest and staff facilities
  • ensure heating and cooling systems are adequately controlled and operating at the right temperatures
  • maintain freezer efficiency by defrosting them regularly, keeping doors closed as much as possible and filling unused spaces with bubble wrap
  • sign up to the Hospitable Climates programme and obtain free guidance on how to improve energy efficiency.

For certain industries that use energy intensively, the government has negotiated climate change agreements with trade bodies. This can mean up to an 80 per cent discount from the climate change levy in return for meeting legally binding energy-efficiency targets.

In Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust has developed the Green Network for Businesses. This tool allows you to search by postcode for green businesses in your area. All these businesses have installed energy saving or energy generating technologies .

Once you identify the business that has installed the green technology you are interested in, contact them to organise a visit.

EST: Green Network for Business

Further information

Energy Saving Trust: Business services

Resorce Effcicient Scotland: 101 Easy ways to cut your energy bill

Resource Efficient Scotland: Save energy

Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Business services

Finance and tax incentives

You may be able to reduce energy consumption and save money by updating your equipment.

Green finance

The Carbon Trust offers leases, loans and other financing options for businesses seeking to reduce their energy use. New, more efficient equipment should lower your energy bills and loan payments are calculated so that they can be offset by the anticipated energy savings.

Carbon Trust: Finance for energy saving products

Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Small business loans

Resource Efficient Scotland: SME loan fund

NI Small Business Loan Fund

Tax incentives

There may also be tax incentives available if you invest in energy saving technologies and products. The Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme (ECA) lets you claim 100 per cent first year capital allowances on investments of qualifying equipment. You could write off the whole cost of your investment against your taxable profits for the period in which you make an investment.

Some energy efficient and renewable materials also qualify for reduced rates of VAT. For example, installing energy efficient central heating systems, solar panels and insulation all qualify.

Equipment and technologies that qualify for the ECA scheme - provided they meet the scheme's requirements - include:

  • air-to-air energy recovery
  • automatic monitoring and targeting
  • boilers
  • combined heat and power
  • compressed air equipment
  • heat pumps for space heating
  • heating, ventilation, and air conditioning zone controls
  • lighting
  • motors
  • pipework insulation
  • refrigeration equipment
  • solar thermal systems
  • thermal screens
  • variable speed drives
  • warm air and radiant heaters.

The Energy Technology List contains further details of the plant and machinery that qualifies for the ECA scheme.

Carbon Trust: Energy technology list

Looking to install energy efficiency or renewable energy technology?

The Carbon Trust provides information that includes lists of accredited suppliers, guidance on energy saving technologies and how you can finance installation.

The Carbon Trust: Green Business Directory

Further information

Environmental tax breaks and obligations

Energy efficiency: sources of help

There are several organisations that you can approach for advice or financial assistance with energy efficiency.

The Carbon Trust is a government-funded organisation that provides free advice to businesses and the public sector on saving money through energy efficiency. It provides site energy surveys, interest-free loans and information on energy efficiency.

You can call the Carbon Trust Advice Line on Tel 0800 085 2005

Carbon Trust: Energy management

The Carbon Trust also manages the Energy Technology List - a detailed list of the energy saving products that can qualify for enhanced capital allowances (ECA).

For more information, see the page in this guideline: Financing loans and tax incentives for energy efficient equipment.

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) aims to achieve the sustainable and efficient use of energy and to help cut C02 emissions. It provides practical advice on energy efficiency for both homes and businesses.

Energy Saving Trust: Business Advice

Resource Efficient Scotland: Save energy

The EST also provides advice and support on reducing the energy impacts from business transport.

Energy Saving Trust Northern: Transport advice

Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Transport

Resource Efficient Scotland has produced a series of free, online training modules for SMEs. The training will help develop the skills and knowledge needed to put in place effective resource efficiency measures in your business. They deal with energy, waste and water efficiency. You can work through them at your own speed, choosing the modules that are relevant to your business.

Resource Efficient Scotland: Green Champions Training

Further information

The Carbon Trust: Energy assessment tool

The Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Travel and fleet management

Resource Efficient Scotland: Save energy

Invest NI: Energy, waste and resource efficiency support 

ECA: Energy saving technology

EST: Solar power grant information

The Consumer Council: How to get the most out of your energy supplier

Energy efficiency checklist

Using energy more efficiently will save your business money by cutting your energy bills. To help identify potential savings you should:

  • Conduct a walk-round survey of your business to spot immediate money and energy saving opportunities.
  • Assign responsibility for energy efficiency to someone within the business and give them the necessary time and resources to do the job thoroughly.
  • Take regular meter readings to get an accurate picture of how much energy your business is using and where the biggest savings could be made.
  • Use one of the Carbon Trust tools to benchmark your business against industry norms. 
  • Contact one of the government-funded organisations like the Carbon Trust. They offer free telephone consultancy and on-site visits to businesses that use a lot of energy.
  • Check that you are on the correct energy tariff. For example, if you have a 'day/night' tariff but do not use electricity overnight, it's likely that your bills are higher than they need to be.
  • Talk to alternative suppliers of energy about the tariffs they could offer you and whether these beat the terms offered by your current supplier.
  • Consider inviting energy companies to tender for your business.

Carbon Trust: General building walk-round survey advice

Carbon Trust: Industrial site walk-round survey advice

Carbon Trust Energy performance benchmarking

Resource Efficient Scotland: Save energy

The buyENERGYonline: Energy supplier tendering facility

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