Energy Wastage in the Retail Sector – A Modern Solution

Few sectors have experienced the ripple effect of the recent economic crash quite as badly as the retail sector. These challenging times have led to widespread store closures and have resulted in thousands of job losses. In the era of the ‘levy’, consumers have been faced with a fall in disposable income, which has seen retailers scrambling for survival in what is already an extremely competitive sector. Traditional methods of survival have already been deployed such as wage cuts, roster changes and job losses. In an industry seeking a quick fix, short term solutions are applied to long term problems. But are there alternatives?

Making the case for Energy Management


“A 20% cut in energy costs represents the same bottom line benefit as a 5% increase in sales.”
– Carbon Trust 2012

Depending on the nature of the business, energy expenditure may only be a fraction of the overall turnover. However, this does nothing to harm the fact that saving energy is one of the easiest ways to increase profits. Whether in reference to an independent corner shop or a multinational supermarket chain, this statement still rings true. There are no surprises when it comes to the largest consumers of energy across the sector. The usual suspects; lighting, heating, cooling & ventilation and refrigeration are omnipresent.


Typical Energy Usage for the Retail Sector
While traditional energy management techniques such as powering off unnecessary equipment and adhering to proper maintenance procedures remain both simple and effective, modern energy management practices are continuously evolving to offer much more. In order to maximise the potential for savings, it is important to start with the main energy consumers;


The core element of any retail outlet is its image, and lighting plays an integral role in this. This should always be factored into account when designing any new building or even when undergoing retrofit or major renovation. For existing buildings, there are still low cost measures that can be put in place to help tackle excess consumption, such as;

  1. Staff Awareness – Educate staff about energy usage and what you are trying to achieve. Ensure light switches are adequately labelled so staff can choose only what are needed. Consider incentivising the process e.g. when ‘x’ amount of savings are achieved staff will earn a night out.
  2. Proper maintenance – It is important to keep light fittings clean from dust and other debris. Timers should be set correctly and old lamps replaced. It is widely acknowledged that poor maintenance of lighting equipment can lead to a drop in performance of as much as 35% in just a couple of years.


Proper Labelling of Light Switches and Dirt & Debris on Lighting Fixtures
Inexpensive measures can be effective if implemented correctly, but in order to achieve bigger savings, monetary investment will have to be made. Such measures can include,

  1. Energy Saving Lamps – Consider changing the type of lamp that you are currently using in your light fitting. This will require a capital investment but significant savings will be made in the longer term. Consider ‘T5’ fluorescent lamps for example, which have been known to achieve savings of upwards of 50%.
  2. Occupancy Sensors – Consider the addition of these in areas which may only be occupied at certain points throughout the day, such as staff only areas and stockrooms. This solution would also be ideal for clothing retailers who can have them installed in fitting rooms.


Along with lighting, heating is responsible for a significant portion of the energy expenditure for any retail outlet, with an average spending of ~ 30%. Like lighting, there are measures that can be taken to improve efficiency at little or no cost;

  1. Door Policy – While leaving the front door wide open will allow customers quick access and egress from the building, this will also apply to heat. The internal heating system will have to compensate for this, and as a result, energy usage will increase. Consider installing automatic or revolving doors. Perhaps a draught lobby may be applicable?
  2. Impact of outside temperature – The colder it is outside, the more clothes a customer will be wearing. Bear this in mind when setting the internal temperature as you don’t want customers becoming uncomfortably warm. Adjusting the set temperature will have significant bearing on your energy bill as it is thought that lowering this by just 1°C can cut your fuel costs by 8%.
  3. Usage Patterns – This seems the most basic of tasks but is often overlooked. Check that operating hours match the times when heating is required. Is it possible for the heating to be powered off an hour before close of business?

In order to maximise energy savings, a certain level of financial investment will be required at some point, methods include;

  1. Control measures – The use of heating control systems can ensure that set temperatures and usage patterns can be pre determined and can be adhered to. Further savings can then be gained from the use of a compensator, which can regulate the temperature in the building based on the weather outside.
  2. Maintaining existing equipment – Regular maintenance of equipment should be carried out irrespective of desire for energy savings as it constitutes good practice. When targeting savings it becomes of paramount importance. All equipment such as pipe work, boilers, valves and hot water tanks should be insulated to prevent heat loss. This will require capital investment but should have a relatively short payback period.


A Standard Heating Control Panel

Ventilation & Air Conditioning

Heat gained from lighting, IT equipment, staff and customers alike mean ventilation and air conditioning are an important aspect of any retail outlet. As with the other forms of energy expenditure, there are simple low cost measures that can be taken to cut energy consumption, including;

  1. Natural Ventilation – While natural ventilation may only be possible at certain times, it still provides relief for the high energy consuming methods of mechanical ventilation. Consider, where applicable, the use of natural ventilation through vents, doors and windows.
  2. Component efficiency – An all too common sight throughout any building are dust covered vents. This applies to fans and mechanical air conditioning systems also. Ensure these components are kept free from dust and debris which will harm performance. Schedule regular servicing of mechanical components to improve maintain a high level of efficiency.
  3. Operational Use – Ensure that heating and cooling are never operating at the same time as they will ‘fight’ each other. Make sure there is a substantial gap between the points at which each kicks in, in order to avoid this. For example, programme heating to switch off when the inside temperature hits 18°C but cooling not to start until it exceeds 24°C.


Dust Blocking an Air Vent
It is a general rule of thumb that the more efficient the mechanical equipment is then the less heat it will produce. To combat this, you must minimise the cooling load. The installation of low energy light fittings and regular maintenance of refrigeration equipment will lower the requirement for cooling loads. Depending on the location of the building, direct sunlight beaming through the windows may cause overheating inside. Heat reflective glass could be installed to combat this.


In the case of a small food retailer, refrigeration can account for as much as 50% of the entire electricity bill. Proper procedures need to be in place in order to make energy consumption as minimal as is possible. Consider;

  1. Operating efficiencies – Ensure all chiller doors are kept shut to avoid heat entering the area. Make sure equipment is used as intended and don’t over stock the unit as temperature settings may need to be adjusted to accommodate this.
  2. Scheduling of Maintenance – Like lighting & HVAC before, regular maintenance of important equipment such as condensers and evaporators is necessary to maintain performance levels. Ensure all seals on doors etc are in working condition.
  3. Temperature Setting – As with any equipment, correct temperature setting is necessary for efficient performance. Consider increasing the set temperature for cooling by 10C to see what can be saved.

In order to achieve significant savings, consider;

  1. Upgrading equipment – In the case of a food retailer, for whom refrigeration costs will make up the majority of their electricity bill, consider the long term investment. Investing in highly efficient equipment now could achieve substantial savings over the course of time.
  2. Time Switches – Fizzy drinks and non perishable foods won’t deteriorate if appliances are switched off at certain times. For example, a time switch can ensure equipment is switched off during closing times or at weekends.
  3. Installation of night blinds – Theses can trap the cold air in the cabinets and thus reduce the need for space heating throughout the store. This will ensure a better morning temperature as the heating will have been switched off overnight.


Night Blinds in Use

What next?

Hopefully this guide has shown the positive impact a planned energy management programme can have on members of the retail sector, particularly in these tough times. While this piece may seem comprehensive it is really just the start. Energy management as a practice is constantly evolving and thus the potential for cutting energy consumption and saving money is always there. Implementation of the measures set out above will achieve substantial savings, and hopefully act as a catalyst for further progress.

How can Wattics help?

Wattics offers a solution which can be tailored to suit the exact requirements of your retail business. Our unique software analyses your energy consumption and usage patterns over time, allowing it to detect any excess usage or other abnormalities which may occur. Our team of energy analysts can then provide you with technical support and energy saving solutions which will place your business on the road to sustainability.

energy management software free demo

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