Energy policies are about way more than changing a light bulb to save on the electricity bill.

“In fact, if companies don’t take steps now to ensure their energy supply, it won’t matter what kind of light bulbs they’ve got,” says Esmé Bluff, director of energy services company, Manoa.
With rolling blackouts worse than those of previous years predicted for 2011 in South Africa, Manoa is warning businesses to urgently start talking about their plans for ensuring that they’re able to do business thanks to an uninterrupted supply of power.
Nothing worthwhile happens without a plan. In the same way, a good energy policy is not only a roadmap for moving a business’s energy efficiency from what it currently is to its optimal profile, but it also forces its leadership to consider what constitutes a sustainable energy policy.
“Companies should be discussing their energy policy at board level, since energy supply constitutes one of the greatest risks to business in South Africa in the coming years,” she adds.
Here are a few pointers to bear in mind to ensure that companies not only get the most use from every kilowatt they consume, but also that they're able to continue operating, despite looming blackouts.
* Get a team together – top level commitment is vital, but make sure the team understands the real extent of energy use throughout the company, as well as the associated risks.
* Get professional advice – engaging energy services professionals is recommended, as they’re able to give independent advice on alternative energy sources and guide businesses through the many rules and regulations on tax incentives, tariffs, building guidelines and more.
* Know the electricity cost – most customers assume their electricity accounts are correct. Get the experts to analyse the account in detail.
* Audit energy use – simply walking through a business is a good place to start. Look out for possible ways that people can cut energy use, such as switching off lights, machines and air-con.
Also, companies might want to consider computerised analysis audits, as an electronic energy management control system can save 10%-20% on electricity costs.
* Start planning – once up to speed with the details of the company’s energy use, set key objectives in terms of saving, implementing emergency supplies and long-term plans to become less dependent on the grid.
It’s important to set realistic goals, for example, of cutting use by 10% over two years, refurbishing buildings to save energy or employing solar-powered or diesel generators in the short term. Also decide how measurements will be made.
* Talk to the energy company – it’s important to ensure that a company is being billed for electricity according to the correct tariff, or else they could be paying too much and they won’t even know it.
Businesses need to find out what tariff the company qualifies for, based on the industry it’s in, and check that the power supplier is applying the tariff correctly. This can be tricky, so it’s wise to consult an energy services professional to get this done.
* Investigate tax incentives – government has introduced a great programme to stimulate greater energy efficiency. If a company has invested money in improving its energy efficiency over the past 12 months – or are planning to do so – they could get a tax break of up to 55%.
In order to qualify for the maximum tax break of 55%, businesses are assessed out of 10 points according to six main criteria: innovation; improvement of energy efficiency; global competitiveness; procurement; employment creation and training of employees.
* Draw up an action plan – this will help companies to implement their top priority measures. Determine who will do what by when and within what budget.
Create regular milestones and incentives and celebrate successes so that the programme will gain its own momentum.
By following these steps, organisations are sure to have a workable energy policy in place in no time.
“A good energy policy saves the company from wasting time and effort because it sets the standard for taking action, establishing clear roles, accountabilities and investment criteria,” concludes Bluff.
“Without a policy that enables the decision making process, removing the debate over every energy decision, the energy agenda can become severely handicapped.”