By Jason Smith

Utility costs for small businesses are often seen as necessary expenses that are simply paid each month without question. With charges escalating each year we may be forgiven for just focusing on the bill itself, but new innovations and strategies can help you optimize usage and charges.

There are two main strategies to reduce bills which can have a dramatic effect on cost reduction.

The first is to ensure that you are on the most competitive plan. In deregulated markets this can be achieved by engaging one of the many brokers that operate in this area. They will compare prices from all competitors and switch you onto the best rates.

Measuring and Managing Consumption

The second strategy which can often bring about higher returns is to focus on the energy consumption of your business. The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” provides opportunities to build efficiencies into your business that are easy to implement.

Research by government agencies suggest that measuring and monitoring systems could reduce consumption by as much as 20%. Energy management is a wide term that encompasses many disciplines that begin with simple awareness programs in your organization and end with reporting and adjustments from your analysis.

Tracking Energy Usage

Small devices can be attached directly to your electricity meter and transmit live data back to a device the size of your hand. Many energy suppliers provide these to their customers as part of their plan at no cost or alternatively they can be purchased online from $30.

These devices also allow you to enter your contract details for accurate costing information. They’ll present you with an instant picture as to how much energy you are using and at what cost. Trends, averages and historic data are saved so that you can compare days, weeks and months over time.

Types of Monitoring Devices

Most traditional monitoring devices access your meter data so that any electrical appliance is counted. This provides overall consumption for your whole building.

The “Current Cost” energy monitor is one of the most popular and is in use around the globe. This simply plugs into your meter and transmits your usage data back so you can see at a glance current and historical usage with your costs. You can integrate this with their Netsmart product so you can view your data online or via your Smartphone. At $129 it’s one of the more expensive devices on the market but will provide you with all the data and reports you require.

The Ensupra Power Meter is one of the cheapest on the market at just $25 and simply plugs into your wall. You can then plug in any device to check the usage per device. This is useful for finding out just how much an individual appliance costs to run.

For most businesses though it’s best to install a device for your whole meter to provide a complete overview of your running costs.

Using Basic Energy Management Software

Most of the so called “smart meters” have the ability to be integrated by web-based or desktop software. Your energy company will provide basic software to manage the information as outlined above from the energy monitor.

More benefits are derived because the data you retrieve can be downloaded and manipulated in Microsoft Excel to produce additional bespoke reports.

Using Advanced Software

For larger organizations with more than one site requires advanced analysis. Being able to consolidate various sites and report one against the other is vital to see the best and worst performers. Again this software will interrogate your meter data and these solutions have many reporting and analysis functions built in.

For the most part the trending information and variances against averages are the most powerful reports to be obtained. You can:

  • Monitor current performance against historic averages
  • Check usage during the day, night time and weekends to see consumption when offices are closed
  • Track one site to another to drive down usage in high consumption areas
  • Validate your invoices against the usage reported by the software for accurate billing

Once installed, much of the analysis and reporting should be automated with alarms and variances emailed or sent via SMS. By implementing these measures and spending a few minutes each week to check consumption levels will enable you to reduce your bills through the efficiency measures.