SMEs reap rewards of smart energy use

The collective energy savings of the finalists in this year’s EECA Awards add up to a staggering $30 million a year. That’s big bikkies but, as Miranda James explains, it’s not just big business which is reaping the rewards of smart energy use.
On the face of it, many small businesses wouldn’t think they had much in common with a global infrastructure company that has 4,000 vehicles, 80 sites and uses more than a million litres of fuel a month.
But as Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority chief executive Mike Underhill says, the example of Downer NZ – this year’s Supreme Winner in the EECA Awards – is one that many companies could emulate.
“Regardless of its size and complexity, there is a lot Downer has done that could work equally well in other businesses – to benefit the bottom line from day one. The key is to make a commitment, work out how much energy you use and where, and motivate staff to get on board. Particularly with transport – a major cost for many small companies – people could save serious money by following Downer’s lead,” he said.
Downer won for its company-wide energy saving programme that shaved 25 percent off energy use in its plants and reduced transport fuel use by 20 percent. Its annual fuel costs are down $3 million a year as a result – through a combination of driver training and smart technologies like GPS to improve the way its fleet is deployed.
Any business running big vehicles – or even a large fleet of small vehicles – will be acutely aware of the impact of fuel costs on the bottom line. At the other end of the size spectrum, Te Kuiti-based Ruakuri Contracting, an earth moving and transport company, won the Transport award for slashing its fuel use by 13 percent and dramatically reducing its carbon emissions by switching to biodiesel blends. The judges praised it for ‘putting larger peers to shame’ with its achievements.
“This shows that you don’t have to be a big company to benefit from using energy well. Transport is our biggest national energy user, and our reliance on fossil fuels is growing, not declining. So it’s great to see companies like this not only reducing its environmental impact but also improving productivity and cutting costs,” said Underhill.
The awards recognise organisations which demonstrate excellence and innovation in energy efficiency or renewable energy. This year, nearly 100 entries were received across the nine categories.
Head judge, renewable energy expert Gerry Te Kapa Coates, said the high number of entries combined with the growing level of innovation, was evidence that more New Zealand businesses are reaping the benefits of smarter energy use.
“On average, companies can shave 20 percent off their energy use and costs – half of that at little or no cost and a further 10 percent with a payback of less than five years. For every dollar invested in an energy audit, $7.50 of savings are identified,” he said.

Competitors in the small to medium business category this year covered a wide spectrum, illustrating the diverse ways that energy efficiency can benefit companies’ bottom line – regardless of the industry they operate in. Whakatane-based Energy Options was a finalist for an energy-efficient renovation of a 1960s church which has resulted in extremely efficient new premises – and at less cost than if the company had adhered to normal building code. It’s found that the cost of innovations such as rainwater collection and solar water heating, are more than outweighed by opting for natural ventilation rather than air conditioning.
New Zealand Ski, operator of Mt Hutt Skifield, was a finalist for an energy-efficient upgrade of its 20-year old snowmaking equipment. It lowered its energy use markedly not only through investing in efficient new kit, but also ensuring all the leaks and inefficiencies in its compressed air and water systems were fixed.
McCallums Group, a Southland-based commercial laundry, was Highly Commended in the SME category for switching from fossil fuels to renewable wood energy to meet its heating needs – a move which has reduced energy costs by a phenomenal two thirds, as well as slashing its carbon emissions.
The SME winner came from the agricultural sector – pig farm the Lepper Trust, which is set to save $65,000 a year in electricity costs through an ingenious scheme that captures biogas from effluent and uses it to generate electricity.
For many EECA Award competitors, lower energy and fuel bills is only one of the motivators. Gaining a competitive edge from having a distinctive brand recognised for environmental responsibility is a major boon – particularly in markets like tourism, where customers are increasingly focused on operators’ ‘clean, green’ credentials.
Explore New Zealand, the marine tour company operating in the Bay of Islands and Auckland, was Highly Commended for switching all its boats to biodiesel, a move which has seen the company reduce carbon emissions to just 17 tonnes a year. It’s also capitalising on the financial benefits of fuel efficiency, with fuel use per passenger down by 11 percent.
The same market driver has seen tourism-focused Queenstown become New Zealand’s de-facto biofuel capital. A biodiesel consortium was set up to get a commercial-scale supply contract for the region – which now numbers 14 local businesses. The project, led by the Otago Polytechnic Centre for Sustainable Practice, was commended in three categories.
The judges praised the collaboration between local businesses and the community which helped to get the scheme running – and noted that it contributed to New Zealand’s point of difference as a tourist destination.



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