How a small business halved its energy consumption

Powering a supermarket is a 24/7 business, so identifying and managing unnecessary energy usage is vital to improving energy efficiency.

An hour and a half’s drive east of Albury, nestled between Mount Kosciuszko and Burrowa Pine Mountain National Park at the base of the Australian Alps Upper Murray River, lies the Victorian town of Corryong – The Man From Snowy River country.

At the 2016 census, the town was home to just over 1300 people. And one of the biggest employers in the town, providing work to more than 30 people, is the independently owned and operated IGA supermarket.

Supermarkets are heavy energy consumers. Regardless of whether they’re open for business, they need power 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the produce fresh and the store secure.

The business realities of a remote location

The 700 square metre Corryong IGA store – being in a relatively remote location – has additional challenges, including managing energy usage at times when the town is using more power than usual.

“At around 4.00pm, the milking starts [at the farms in the area] and, on a very hot day, the lights begin to flicker,” laughs director Robyn McGowan.

Reliability is critical and, in a bid to improve it alongside energy-consuming dairy farms on hot days, McGowan had a 110kva generator installed, along with a 29.76kw solar system with 93 panels on the roof.

Surprising energy consumers

Four years ago, taking up a government incentive, the store upped the ante again, calling in an energy auditor to assess the store’s energy usage and make recommendations on how to reduce it.

The primary users of energy in the store were the usual suspects: an ageing hot water system; the cool rooms and fridges for meat, dairy, deli and liquor; lighting; and the plant room that controls it all.

The audit, however, drilled deeper, revealing that more than 50% of the store’s energy was being used by the doors of the freezers and fixed liquor refrigerators, which had electrically heated frames to prevent condensation building up.

The solution to this was to install new heat seals on the doors, linked to a timer sensor that’s triggered by falling temperature to ensure condensation doesn’t build up – 50% more energy efficient than the previous system.

Around 200 double fluoro tubes were replaced by more efficient LEDs, while two hot water systems – a 315-litre electric storage unit and a small under-bench electric unit – were replaced by a heat-pump hot water system.

The meat and deli cases, too, were replaced with more efficient units.

Positive impact

“It was really interesting,” says McGowan. “We’d never have thought about the heat seals and the hot water system being big energy consumers – it would never have crossed our minds.”

With the changes, the energy that was being saved could be used for air-conditioning during summer to keep the store nice and cool, and warming things up a little during winter.

Future focus

As a key service provider and a key employer in the town, the business must keep looking at ways to run more economically and efficiently.

Further energy savings may be possible by upgrading more equipment. “It’s the only logical step,” says McGowan. “However, there’s the outlay-to-benefit ratio to factor in.”

Overall, there’s a limit to what a small, independent store in rented premises can do – the steps Cooyong IGA has taken represent massive leaps in energy efficiency.

For Cooyong IGA and many small businesses, cash flow is affected not just by energy consumption and costs, but by payment terms – longer payment terms can help a business manage cash flow in quieter periods in particular.

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