Nillumbik Shire Council unlocks energy savings for local businesses

Cafes and restaurants across Nillumbik Shire unlocked $26,500 in energy savings after taking part in the council’s business efficiency program.

Looking for energy savings can be low on the list of priorities for small business owners, but this is a missed opportunity to run a more efficient business and save money.

Nillumbik Shire Council wanted to help cafes and restaurants learn how to bring down their energy costs at work.

“Using an energy efficiency grant of just over $35,000, we recruited a project officer to work with local food businesses on saving energy,” explained Ian Culbard, Sustainability Officer at Nillumbik Shire Council.

The project officer, Seamus Balkin, recruited 21 businesses with yearly energy bills ranging from $3000 to $50,000.

“Our assessments showed that businesses could save 20–24% on their energy bills – a massive $104,000 in potential energy savings across all 21 businesses.”

Seamus Balkin, the Sustainability Project Officer who worked with local food businesses to reduce energy use

Businesses need to see the savings

“Our original intent was to run workshops for local businesses – to train them to audit their own businesses,” said Ian. 

“We found this was too big a time commitment for most businesses. In the end, Seamus visited each business in person to help them audit their energy use.”

The council then developed an energy-saving calculator that businesses could use to compare before and after running costs.

“This was really useful for businesses to see how energy upgrades could affect their business and their bills. They could see whether investing time, money and effort would give them a good return.”

Investing in upgrades

Together, the 11 businesses that embraced the program unlocked about half the potential energy savings identified during their energy audits ($26,500 in energy savings out of the $49,500 identified as potential savings).

One restaurant owner invested in tinted window film to reduce heat transfer out of their extensive windows and skylights. Staff were trained in the correct operation of the air-conditioning to reduce energy costs. They also replaced the seals on their fridge, netting total savings of more than $1000 annually.

The 10 ancient fridges and freezers at a local winery were found to be big users of electricity. Buying new and condensing down to six appliances has saved almost $1000 annually. These savings will cover the cost of the new appliances within three years.

The winery audit also found an electric hot water system connected to a self-heating dishwasher and nothing else. Switching off the hot water system and letting the dishwasher heat the water directly saved another $500 annually.

A restaurant-bar saved $4500 annually after installing a 12.5kW solar system and replacing draughty windows with double-glazing.

Taking staff on the journey

  Changing staff behaviour is one way to get quick energy savings, such as training staff to turn off lights and equipment when not in use. 

A business can easily adjust their start-up and shut-down procedures to build in energy-saving steps or use timers to keep equipment turned on only when needed.

But it’s not always easy to get staff on board. Sometimes staff were reluctant to trade convenience for energy efficiency.

“They might want to have machines up and running all the time, in case they need to serve a customer,” explained Seamus.

“Some staff want to keep the coffee machine running all night, concerned that switching off and on might cause problems. We talked with suppliers and reassured them that modern machines are fine with a daily switch-off routine.”

Supporting businesses to help themselves

The numbers show that energy efficiency is a win-win for businesses. It saves money, makes businesses more efficient and is good for the environment.

But for some small businesses, it’s a struggle to find time to investigate and make energy-saving changes.

“Businesses were happy to be involved,” said Ian. “And they were happy to save money – as long as it didn’t take too much effort.

“We definitely have untapped potential for energy and cost savings across our small businesses. They just need support to unlock them.”

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