How to clear energy arrears when working from home

03 Dec 2013

electric-meter

More than 4.5 million energy customers - or eight per cent of the UK population - were in arrears to at least one of their gas and electricity providers in October this year.

The number has more than doubled since March, despite a warm summer, raising fears that the number of customers struggling to pay their bills during the winter could rise exponentially.

Debt Advisory Centre, the company which conducted the research and wrote this article, surveyed domestic as well as business customers for its poll.

It revealed it is just as easy for businesses to fall behind with their energy payments as individuals - and as many businesses are run from home, their gas or electricity may be supplied on a domestic tariff.

Residential or business?

If you work from home and have a domestic tariff, your energy company should offer you a payment plan to help clear your arrears. If this doesn't work out, it may insist that you have a pre-payment meter installed while the arrears are dealt with. Disconnection is usually the last resort.

However, if you have a commercial supply, you have less protection. You will also be offered a payment plan, but if this doesn't work out your energy supplier can disconnect your service after giving you 14 days' notice.

If you have a commercial contract but live at your business premises - in a flat above a shop for example - tell the supplier this: they may decide to treat you as a vulnerable customer.

Preventing arrears

First, make sure you are on the cheapest deal you can find. If you have just taken over a business with a commercial energy contract, contact the energy provider to negotiate a new contract, otherwise you may be tied into a ‘deemed contract' and end up paying more than you need to.

Likewise, if you took out a contract after 18 January 2010, your supplier should give you between 60 and 120 days' notice that your contract is about to end. You have 30 days from the date of this notice to either renew your contract by letting it carry on or switch to another provider.

Check for the best deals, including green energy, on switching sites, and try to use as little energy as possible. Take advantage of any free advice or energy saving equipment your energy provider offers; make sure you and your staff switch off equipment that's not in use; and consider installing insulation where possible.

Your energy supplier should conduct an actual reading at least once every two years, but it's a good idea to take more frequent readings yourself. Give these to the provider so you don't fall behind on paying for the actual energy you use.

Back billing

However, estimates are very common and energy companies can back bill you for up to six years if an actual reading shows you have used more than was estimated. This can result in a very large bill, which will be treated as arrears if you can't pay straight away.

Most suppliers have agreed to follow a voluntary code when dealing with back billing - you can find out more about this on the Energy UK website.

Don't be left in the cold

Contact your supplier as soon as you think you may have difficulty paying your bill to discuss your financial problems and come to an agreement about how much you can afford to repay each month.

They should give you time to pay your bill, but you will need to show that you can pay something towards the debt each month, in addition to your ongoing energy consumption.
Failing to repay the amount outstanding to your energy provider has big implications for your business.

Not only is your supplier likely to disconnect you after giving 14 days' notice, but the failure to pay will also affect your credit record and be visible to potential lenders and business partners.

If you have gone through all the steps mentioned above and are still struggling to pay your bills, it could be time to seek advice from debt experts.

Eight Simple Ways Business can Save Energy

22 Nov 2013

solartech

Saving money should be as important as making profit for every business all over the world, but unfortunately it is something that is neglected all too often.

However, reducing the energy they use does not have to be difficult or expensive. Read on as the energy efficiency experts at SolarTech offer eight simple ways your company can save money.

Unplug all chargers

Most chargers, be they for phones or laptops, consume a small amount of energy even they not plugged into the device. They are just some of the various electricals that are known as 'vampire' appliances - named as such due to the energy they feed on when not in use.

A good way to tell if a device is using power is to feel it for warmth, while they will often be identifiable by a small light as well.

Switch off all devices

This seems like a no-brainer, but it is incredible how often businesses (and homeowners) neglect to take this simplest of measures. Whether it is from laziness or sheer ignorance to the cost, failing to switch off devices that aren't in use can add hundreds or even thousands of pounds to annual electricity bills.

A standard desktop computer for example will use 0.1kWh of energy when idling, which is about 1.4 pence. If that computer is left on for two hours when not in use then it adds 2.8 pence a day. Not much then, but if you're a large organisation with 100 desktop PCs, all of which are left on for two hours per day unnecessarily, then that costs a whopping £728 every year (based on 52 five-day weeks).

Avoid screensavers

It's unrealistic to expect people to turn off their PCs every time they leave their desk, but make sure that the proper power settings are applied and avoid using screensavers, as these are far less energy efficient.

Turn down the thermostat

Turning down the company heating by just 1° can make a big difference to your company's annual bill. Encourage staff to wear jumpers or cardigans during the winter (or perhaps include them in your company uniform) to ensure you don't have to use the heating more than necessary.

Purchase indoor plants

It is important for the wellbeing of employees that the appropriate temperature is maintained, and in summer that may well involve air conditioning. However, did you know that plants can actually act as natural air conditioners? The moisture that they give off as a part of their respiratory cycle increases air humidity and makes it feel cooler - not to mention improve air quality.

Place plants or indoor trees in key areas and see if you can reduce your use of air con.

Install motion-sensing lighting

Switching off the lights every time you leave the room should be a given, but it is incredible how many people fail to do so. With this in mind, install motion sensors to take the human element out of it all together.

Fix all dripping taps immediately

If there is a dripping tap or leaking pipe you should endeavour to get it fixed immediately. The cost of the constant water waste will far outstrip the repair bill of even the most extensive plumbing problem.

Encourage staff involvement

The key to saving energy in the workplace is to engender a culture of efficiency amongst your staff. This can be difficult, so appoint an Energy Efficiency Champion (someone directly responsible for improving efficiency) to encourage and monitor company efforts to reduce the amount of energy used across every department.

John Rooney blogs about environmental issues affecting businesses and recommends SolarTech as the number one provider of solar panels and other energy efficiency technology.

SolarTech links to

Sustainability trends driving change in heavy industry

19 Nov 2013

andre-veneman

Due to its significant resource use, its waste and emissions, heavy industry has for many years been seen as an obstacle to sustainable development. But this is not the full story. Many leading companies operating in the sector - typically utilities, oil & gas and mining firms - are starting to take sustainability seriously and build it into their everyday operations.

Having a "license to operate" in different locations throughout the world - one that expands beyond simple regulatory compliance - continues to be a major driver of progress. This is especially true considering the recent oil, mining and nuclear disasters. Safety, social and environmental concerns are critical for these large oil & gas and utility companies as they work to ensure that financial returns are long-lived.

Another significant trend is the genuine progress made in this sector beyond the traditional marketing platitudes in yearly sustainability reports. More project teams than in previous years are now charged with specific projects to reduce emissions and energy. And there are more sustainability professionals employed by these companies than ever before.

The World Business Council Sustainability Development's Vision 2050 report foresees major changes in the industrial sector. As well as a four to 10-fold improvement in the eco-efficiency of resources and materials, it is expected that closed loop processes will make landfills obsolete and cooperation across sectors will be standard practice. In addition, it is expected that companies will have effectively managed the transition toward renewable energy and found appropriate replacements for fossil fuel based raw materials.

These changes will create challenges and opportunities for all those companies operating within the sector. This includes suppliers such as AkzoNobel who have the opportunity to help industrial companies respond effectively to these trends.

At AkzoNobel we supply a huge variety of specialty chemicals and coatings for the industrial sector, and we're always looking to find new, more innovative and more sustainable ways for customers to use them.

Our protective coatings are playing a major role in the fast growing wind energy industry. In fact we have protected over 40,000 wind turbines worldwide and were responsible for coating all 175 wind turbines that make up the London Array offshore wind farm.

We are also playing a role in expanding the use of renewable raw materials. Two recent deals illustrate how we are doing this at AkzoNobel. Solvay, the Belgian chemicals group, will help us to make our epoxy resins more renewable while we are working with Solazyme, an American producer of renewable oils, to improve the environmental footprint of our paints, coatings and other products. Deals like this can only work if we are open to collaboration and are part of networks that allow us to tap into the emerging developments in science and technology around the world.

Another example of the role that suppliers such as AkzoNobel can play in meeting the sustainability challenges of the industrial sector can be seen in the Chemical Island concept. Modern pulp mills normally generate excess utilities - such as steam and water from the biomass/pulping process - that can be used to fuel other manufacturing. To make use of this excess energy, we have developed a concept whereby we install our sodium chlorate and chlorine dioxide plants inside or adjacent to a pulp mill. This way we help customers manage their supply and handling of chemicals, while making use of the excess energy generated during paper and pulp production.

In summary, sustainability trends are driving major changes in the industrial sector. Suppliers to this sector, such as AkzoNobel, can play a key role in helping these companies meet these challenges. But they will only do so by delivering big and bold innovations that will facilitate significant change.

At AkzoNobel we have a long history of providing innovative products that make the world a better place. But we know that the world is changing and that our business has to change with it. So we have adopted a strategy of radical efficiency which involves us working with our customers and suppliers to open up infinite possibilities in a finite world. We call this approach Planet Possible - our commitment to doing more with less.

Andre Veneman is corporate director sustainability and HSE at AkzoNobel

How Much Money is Your Business Losing Through Wasted Energy?

14 Nov 2013

buying-a-green-business

When it comes to saving energy, businesses throughout the UK are working hard to ensure that they get the basics right. Energy efficient windows and doors, properly insulated buildings and large scale recycling have largely been embraced in this country following pressure from government and the need to reduce costs wherever possible in the face of difficult financial conditions.

However, we still waste millions of pounds every year on behaviours that would be incredibly easy to alter - and most importantly cost us nothing. By leaving appliances on when not in use, putting them into stand-by or leaving them plugged into the socket after turning them off, businesses are slowly leaking money.

So how much energy is your business wasting? Below Enerco High Speed Doors analyse some of the appliances that are the main culprits and calculate exactly how much money you could be losing.

Do the Math

Before we can understand how much energy your business wastes we need to know how to calculate the cost in the first place. A kilowatt hour (kWh) is the unit of measurement we will be using; if an appliance's energy usage is measured at 1kWh it basically means it uses 1,000 watts in one hour. One kWh will typically cost around 15.1 pence.

If we know the cost of a kWh then by finding out how much energy the most common appliances and equipment use when idling or in stand-by we can begin to get a picture of how much is being wasted.

Let's take each device in turn.

Desktop Computers

Nowadays, computers are used more and more in the workplace, and as a result they are on for much longer periods - even when they're not actually in use.

A desktop PC that is idling will typically use about 100 watts (tower and monitor combined) which is 0.1 kWh - 1.5 pence. Now let's say the PC is left on but not used for two hours per day, we can use this information to work out how much money is wasted for any period of time:

1.5 pence x 2 hours = 3 pence/day

That doesn't sound like much, but imagine you have 100 desktop computers on your premises each idling for two hours a day:

(3 pence x 100 PCs) x 260 days = £780 per annum (based on a 5-day week 52 weeks per year)

Lighting

We can do the same kind of calculation for your company's lighting as well.

A light bulb typically uses 60w of electricity when on, which is 0.06 kWh, or 0.906 pence per hour.

Let's say that again your lighting is on for two hours unnecessarily, then for every 100 light bulbs you are wasting:

(1.812 pence x 100 light bulbs) x 260 days = £471.12 per annum

Televisions

Many households and businesses put their TV sets into stand-by mode rather than switch them off completely, and this can waste hundreds of pounds every year.

Although a TV uses just 10 watts (0.01 kWh) when in stand-by they are typically left in this state for the majority of the day, and thus that small amount can add up quickly.

A TV that is in use for eight hours during the working day but then only set to stand-by for the other 16 hours wastes 2.42 pence per day - £8.83 per year. This may be a small amount when compared to the previous numbers, but if your site has multiple television sets this waste soon starts to look a lot worse.

Vampire Appliances

Believe it or not, even when completely switched off some appliances will still use energy if plugged in to the socket. These 'Vampire' appliances add between nine and 16 per cent to annual domestic electricity bills according to the Energy Saving Trust, costing UK households £1.3bn in wasted money, and the problem can also affect businesses.

The thirstiest of these 'Vampires' include:

- TVs;
- Laptops & desktop computers;
- Printers;
- Modems;
- Cordless phones.

To ensure your business is not losing money in this way always make sure your equipment and appliances are switched off and unplugged.

There are many things we can all do to save more energy and few are as straightforward as the ones we have outlined here, but by doing so you could potentially see thousands of pounds knocked off your overheads - so what are you waiting for?

This guest blog was written by John Rooney on behalf of Enerco High Speed Doors, providers of rapid roll and energy efficient roller shutters.

Cooling Tower Owners Urged to Consider Health Impacts

13 Nov 2013

Didcot Power Station cooling tower

Business owners with cooling towers on-site are being urged to consider the health impacts that can arise from these structures. With the Health and Safety Executive recently announcing plans to inspect 5000 cooling towers at sites across the UK from the start of 2014 to assess the risks of Legionnaire's disease as well as to educate owners on how to reduce such risks, it is clear that a significant effort is being made to lower risks.

After extensive research from the HSE, cooling towers were found to be the structure which posed the greatest risk to the development of legionella due to the often complex nature of the systems used, in addition to the number of cases of Legionnaire's disease with the source being a cooling tower in recent years.

Following visits to numerous sites, officials from the Health and Safety Executive highlighted a number of "matters of concern" which had become apparent from their cooling tower inspections. These areas of concern included some of the following;

- Leaks coming from the joints of cooling towers

- Clear areas of rust which can be a common breeding ground and food source for Legionnaires

- Exterior damage to cladding

- Growth of moss and grass in and around the cooling tower

In light of this research and their findings, the HSE feel a programme of intervention is required to promote improved methods of control against the risks of Legionnaire's disease and have since announced their plans to visit 5,000 cooling towers from the latter part of this year through until March 2014.

With such a large number of sites and structures to visit, priority for inspection needed to be determined, so a questionnaire was sent to all cooling tower operators to complete and return, with the following priority being given;

- Sites with a cooling tower where a completed questionnaire had not been received would be visited first.

- If a completed questionnaire had been returned but any of the key questions had been answered incorrectly, those sites would be visited next.

- Those sites with high scores in all remaining questions would be next to be visited.

- Sites with lower scores from their questionnaire but high population densities within 2km of the cooling tower would then be inspected.

- Any remaining sites would be the last to be visited by the HSE.

This intervention programme should make a considerable difference to the knowledge and awareness cooling tower owners have as to the risks that can develop from the structures and how to prevent these arising in future. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is through the use of professionals to conduct cooling tower maintenance on a regular basis and cooling tower repair whenever required, with COVAC being a leading name in this field.

A well maintained, fully functional cooling tower will undoubtedly be of benefit to any business setting as running costs will be lower and energy output will be reduced, therefore having a positive impact upon the environment. Alongside all of this, a cooling tower lined with a coating that offers environmental, economical and technical benefits will provide a long lasting solution that maintains efficiency and performance as well as practically eliminating the risk of harmful bacteria growth and development.

With the latest plans from the HSE urging cooling tower owners to consider the health impacts of their structures and implement various initiatives to reduce risks, the hope is that the number of Legionnaire's disease outbreaks attributed to cooling towers will soon start to lower.

This article was provided by COVAC

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