Case study: monitoring energy consumption by volume not value at Brewers

Brewers, the largest independent supplier of decorating materials in the country, has been on a journey to cut energy consumption for the past three years. Nick Brewer explains why keeping a close eye on consumption has been critical to remaining a profitable business.

With a history of over 100 years and 142 branches covering the South of England and the Midlands, energy costs have been a challenging element of the business.

Brewers premises director, Nick Brewer, one of the fourth generation of his family to run the business, said the company was in a cycle, whereby one year energy costs seemed to soar and the next they would be in credit.

Brewer said: “There was so much fluctuation year on year due to estimated readings being relied on by suppliers, that we felt we had no grip on our energy bills. The bills were confusing to understand and I was keen for the business to take ownership and monitor consumption by volume not value. We also had a building stock that varied in age and energy efficiency which brought its own challenges.

“We wanted to take back control of our energy use. Not just from the head office but to introduce a culture whereby each branch takes responsibility and has accountability for its use of gas and electricity” he added.

The business was also keen to look at a way of monitoring energy usage across all 142 outlets, which meant reviewing its gas use for its space heating, electricity for lighting and all business machinery, including POS equipment, paint tinting and materials handling.

“I wanted to move towards greater energy insight from our head office and then to feed that information to the branches to enable changes to be made on the ground. It would also allow me and our employees to see the impact of any green changes made and hopefully, over time, we would have a greater understanding of the effectiveness of our energy measures and cost savings,” said Brewer.

Over the last two years Brewers has introduced Automated Meter Readers (AMR) into 142 of its branches to enable it to monitor both gas and electric usage and investigate energy waste.

It is also using detailed energy reports from energy and carbon management solutions firm IMServ, which allows Brewers to capture and visualise its energy consumption across all outlets.

“The [reports] show usage trends, compares sites, forecasts future consumption requirements and highlights any areas in our business that needs to be addressed. Each month I send an energy management report to each store manager.

“This has flagged up some interesting problems. For example, Brewers acquired a new business that had electric radiant heating throughout the building. We discovered that it had no time control so was on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The base load had previously been 10kW. Once we’d put in a time control, the base load dropped to 1.5kW.

“At another branch, we discovered the time clock on our heating system was out of sync with the days of the week and the staff had no idea how to programme it. Rather than just accepting anomalies such as these, we were able to address each problem as it arose either replacing equipment with more efficient types or providing training or seeking expertise to deal with a specific issue.

Taking a vested interest in the businesses energy use has also led to specific behavioural changes from its staff.

“For example, a situation that is common to many of our branches is that staff may arrive about an hour before we open the doors to the public at 7.30 a.m. but would turn on all of the lights in the shop. Adjusting this habit will result in important savings when taken across many months and locations,” said Brewer.

Nick Brewer is premises director of Brewers

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie