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September 2020
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Nineteenth Century technology could save Councils millions by reducing their electricity costs

Making the Public Sector energy efficient has never been more important.

It’s not just the eye-wateringly large £3.8bn annual gas and electricity bill in a time of austerity, the start of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme and the fact the new Prime Minister wants this to be the ‘Greenest Government ever’.

Jobs are being lost that could be saved, one local authority employee said. -We’ve had energy efficiency proposals sat on our desk for two and a half years. If we’d actioned them, we could have kept the key staff members we’re about to loose.
Considering all of this this, it is surprising how few energy efficiency measures have actually been deployed. So what barriers are making it hard for the public sector to act?

Simple - said another senior council officer. -Two main things: firstly, lack of in-house technical knowledge – what should we buy? Secondly, many public bodies are cautious about the idea of investing in energy efficiency. Whose budget does it come from? Even if an energy efficiency investment decision is profitable, concepts like ‘we are not a borrowing council’ will stop efforts to reduce energy use in their tracks. We need to get past the idea that energy saving is expensive and not worthwhile in its own right.

Below is an overview of voltage optimisation, one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce electricity use and cut carbon emissions.

There is also a brief description of the new ‘Pay as You Save’ finance scheme designed to help public sector organisations finance energy efficiency and renewable energy measures when Salix or similar funds are not available.

Voltage optimisation:

1. A simple and cost effective way to reduce electricity use

Voltage optimisation is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce electricity use and cut carbon emissions. Voltage optimisation – or more properly, voltage stabilisation (also known as voltage control, voltage regulation and a host of other names) works by reducing the incoming voltage to your facility from its UK average of 242 volts (V) down to 220V, the optimum voltage for electrical equipment.

2. Save between 9 and 14% of your electricity bill

Reducing your incoming voltage enables loads (electrical equipment) to use less electricity, typically delivering between 9% and 14% cost and carbon savings. Higher savings of 20% or more are possible but rare.

3. Additional benefits: reduced maintenance, longer equipment life

Stabilising the voltage creates a benign operating environment for electrical equipment. In a stable electrical environment, machines operate at their design voltages and temperatures. Machines that run cooler suffer less wear and tear, extending their operating life, increasing motor efficiency and reducing maintenance requirements.

4. Simple to install

Installation has minimal operational impact.

5. Financial benefits

As an investment, voltage stabilisation typically pays for itself in 1-5 years, delivers Internal Rates of Return of between 20 and 100% and has a strong positive Net Present Value. In addition, there are fewer demands on equipment budgets as extending equipment life reduces the frequency with which equipment needs to be repaired or replaced. Maintenance budgets are also reduced.

‘Pay as You Save’ – a new source of finance for energy efficiency projects

‘Pay as you Save’ has been created by public sector finance specialists to help public sector bodies fund energy efficiency measures. ‘Pay as you Save’ Co-founder Ian Micklewright said -If funds are unavailable from Salix or in house, for whatever reason, we have developed bespoke asset finance to help install energy efficiency measures at no upfront cost, ensuring repayments that are always less than the electricity savings.

This leaves you cash positive at all times, allowing repayments under a lease scheme to be assigned to revenue budgets rather than capital budgets.

Past confusion about voltage optimisation

One reason why voltage optimisation may not be as widespread as I think it should is that there seems to be considerable confusion about the technology as its reputation has suffered due to exaggerated claims.

-Always check what it is you are actually buying,  says Patrick Carroll, a consultant in this field. -Many voltage optimisation units are actually step-down transformers, with some of the newer models being automated step-down transformers with secondary functions added to allow claims to be made regarding aspects of performance or uniqueness. There are cases where organisations have had to install step-up transformers to counteract the effects of these earlier models.

-Remember, the goal is the creation of stable electrical conditions inside your facility. To that end, the optimum solution will regulate the voltage entering the site and hold it tightly within a one-volt tolerance of the desired voltage to protect equipment. Not only that, but it should ideally control each phase voltage individually, allowing the facility to make maximum cost and carbon savings.

-The current versions of this technology such as the Power Saver are able to meet these specifications. With the prize a 10% reduction in the amount of electricity the government uses, the time is right to roll out voltage optimisation across the whole public sector estate.

About the author

Dennis Garrison is a Director at Streamline Power, an energy efficiency firm that specialises in helping organisations reduce energy use through improving power quality. For more information on voltage optimisation in the public sector, contact Dennis Garrison on 02381 230230 or visit

First appeared on GPSJ
Government & Public Sector Journal/Magazine

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