Energy remains one of the largest in-store operating costs for UK retailers; and with electricity prices in particular continuing to rise, an increasing focus on decarbonisation and expectations for businesses to be more environmentally responsible, pressure is more intense than ever for the sector to meet these challenges head on.
Whether running a shopping centre, large superstore or an independent outlet, increasing customer expectations leads to heightened use of technology and extended trading hours, particularly approaching the winter period. Therefore, retailers use substantial amounts of electricity and whilst these factors pose a challenge for the sector, they also present opportunities to improve energy efficiency to reduce electrical consumption, generate cost savings, and identify further areas for optimisation for ongoing improvements to efficiency.
In fact, research indicates that retailers can make significant savings of up to £4.1bn by cutting 25% of their energy use by 2050, and businesses that act sooner can realise savings faster, considerably decreasing the impact on their bottom line now and in the future.
Additionally, in a period when Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has committed to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2030 – a decade ahead of the goals agreed in the 2016 Paris climate accord – the retail sector’s intent is clear when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability. This is partly driven by consumer and societal expectations, providing a golden opportunity for businesses to be proactive with their energy efficiency measures to meet their sustainability targets and cater to the growing desire from consumers for environmentally responsible retailers.
A smarter solution
For energy managers within retail seeking to effectively reduce electrical consumption to cut emissions, achieve savings, and meet corporate social responsibility (CSR) benchmarks, the implementation of proven smart energy technologies, such as voltage optimisation (VO), presents a substantial opportunity.
Voltage optimisation provides a proven and reliable means of reducing electricity costs, with savings starting immediately upon installation, which can be implemented with minimal disruption to a site’s operations when conducted by experienced providers.
The technology works by reducing the average voltage supplied from the National Grid, which is typically provided at an excessive 242 volts, to a more optimal level appropriate for the electrical equipment on-site, normally around 220 volts, more closely matching the design characteristics. This optimisation of voltage reduces wear and tear on the equipment, improving longevity and minimising replacement costs as well as providing electricity consumption reductions, and therefore electricity costs savings.
Depending on site requirements, voltage optimisation is available in various forms. The first is fixed voltage optimisation, which reduces the incoming voltage supply by a pre-set amount and matches the incoming voltage profile. This makes it ideal for premises with a stable, but high voltage level.
Whereas, variable, or ‘electronic-dynamic’ voltage optimisation, utilises electronic controls to automatically clean, condition, optimise and stabilise the incoming supply and maintain it at a consistent level, irrespective of fluctuations in the incoming voltage profile, making it ideal for sites that experience peaks and troughs in their supply.
The financial and sustainable benefits obtained from operating at an optimised voltage is a key advantage in the current economic climate where many organisations are operating under increasingly tighter budgets. It also enables annual savings to be invested into key customer experience activities and because the technology provides a reduction to the consumption in kWh, the financial benefit is set to increase over time as bills continue to rise.
With voltage optimisation projects, retailers can expect savings of 8-10%, with a typical payback period of between two and four years. Leading providers, such as Powerstar, offer a 100% savings guarantee, providing added peace of mind when implementing new technology on-site.
It is clear that the retail industry continues to evolve, and many key assets have modernised to become connected and online. Smart energy technologies have undergone a similar transformation and leading-edge solutions are delivered with integrated remote monitoring capabilities provide a comprehensive picture of a site’s electricity usage alongside actionable insights, and the ability to identify potential areas for further optimisation.
Enhanced online remote monitoring capabilities means key asset performance data can be accessed easily from anywhere with a secure internet connection. Additionally, automated email alerts can be set up to notify users when significant changes occur outside of pre-set thresholds, enabling prompt action to be taken.
Monitoring can also be integrated with other smart energy technologies, such as energy storage, solar (PV), wind turbines and even combined heat and power plants (CHP), presenting energy and sustainability managers with a comprehensive view of a site’s electricity profile on a single remote platform.
By facilitating greater synergy between numerous smart energy solutions on site, managers can easily identify further potential optimisations which can be made, resulting in lower energy costs and reduced carbon emissions as part of a long-term sustainability plan. Bespoke and comprehensive integrated smart energy solutions, which combine various technologies to meet the client’s needs, have become the specialty of leading technology providers like Powerstar.
A complete solution
Whilst voltage optimisation technology offers its own distinct advantages in isolation, it is when such solutions are deployed simultaneously or through a rollout programme as part of a comprehensive energy strategy that the benefits can be maximised to deliver long-term value. This could be through a multi-portfolio or multi-technology rollout which experienced providers will be able to advise on to maximise the benefit to the business.
When viewed holistically and integrated with remote monitoring capabilities, informed decisions can be made and further optimisations relating to the site’s energy profile identified as the site aims to further increase its efficiency over the long-term, ultimately providing a future-proof and scalable strategy that can integrate with multiple smart energy technologies when required.
The benefits are vital to retailers that are facing increased energy prices but also want to remain competitive in areas such as online shopping and self-service by allowing for the savings gained to be re-invested into core operational areas to enhance the customer experience.
By Dr Alex Mardapittas, CEO of Powerstar