Working together to achieve more: energy efficiency networks for companies

Companies that exchange information as part of networks increase their ener-gy efficiency twice as fast as non-networked companies. However, still too few companies are making use of the idea despite the advantages it can bring.

Illustration: Collaborating people in a work environment.© iStock/metamorworks

Germany’s Energy Efficiency Networks initiative has spawned more than 160 energy efficiency networks involving over 1,600 companies. It is proof that energy efficiency and economic strength don’t have to be a contradiction in terms. The idea behind the networks is both simple and convincing. With the support of technical experts, companies exchange information about practical measures that can be taken to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and thus increase competitiveness. In this way, they also make an important contribution to protecting the climate and making the energy transition a success.

Multiple companies with one shared goal: to save energy

Energy efficiency networks are usually made up of 8 to 15 companies from a particular region or industry. However, businesses can also create an internal company network consisting of several sites, for example. What they all have in common is that the participating businesses start by setting a joint savings target that they want to achieve by the end of the network’subscriber lifespan – usually 2 to 3 years. Each network is supported by a professional moderator, who organises, moderates, prepares and follows up on the network meetings. There is also an energy consultant who supports the companies in identifying and implementing appropriate savings measures. The spectrum ranges from energy-efficient lighting concepts, to rainwater storage tanks for the cooling energy that is required.

Reduce energy costs, increase company value

Taking a glance at the progress report from ‘Energy Cost Management DIALOG’ network, for example, shows us how this works in practice. This network consists of seven manufacturing companies in the Lower Rhine area that are seeking to increase their energy efficiency with the support of a university. All of the companies participating in the network have already begun to use an energy management system which they want to develop further as part of the network. During the network’s start-up phase, an analysis of the energy consumption in each company was undertaken and the results of this discussed within the network. In a next step, specific reduction measures were developed and the profitability of each of these was looked at in detail. The proposed measures were then implemented, which included replacing outdated compressed air systems that showed poor efficiency, improving the thermal insulation of high-temperature furnaces or optimising the energy supply to buildings. The companies within this network are seeking to save a total of almost 80 gigawatt hours of energy by the end of 2019 – equivalent to the amount used by 20,000 three-person households in a year. This will reduce the energy costs of the companies by €1.1 million per year and also raise the value of the companies by around €17.5 million.

Competitors all on one team

The Energy Efficiency Network in Northern Bavaria is made up of 10 mechanical engineering companies and is one step further on. When it expired in March 2018, the network had exceeded the target it set itself by a considerable margin: instead of saving its goal of 6.7 million kilowatt hours, the final figure was some 9.6 million – a huge 40 percent over target! Although the companies are direct competitors, they joined together to work on energy efficiency, cooperating closely and sharing experience – both positive and negative. For example, one company converted to using LED lighting but, to save money, didn’t replace the lamp holders. As a result, the lighting was sub-optimal. The company then shared its bad experience with the others – saving them time by giving an example of what not to do. However, the network achieved its desired results through the successful modernisation of lighting elsewhere, by replacing windows, using more efficient air compressors, ensuring better heating distribution and control, as well as through a further 32 measures implemented besides. The results were so convincing that the companies decided to enter into a second round of cooperation within the network.

Saving money through woman power

The ‘EnergyEfficiencyNetwork of guild businesses and women entrepreneurs in Essen’ (‘EnergieEffizienzNetzwerk Essener Innungsbetriebe und Unternehmerfrauen’) is another success story to add to the list. Not only is it the first energy efficiency network within Germany’s skilled crafts sector, but it’s also the first network purely made up of women. The companies participating in the network are a goldsmith, three electrics businesses, two painting and two roofing companies as well as a management consultancy. Although the savings potential here is smaller than in the two previous examples, the target of reducing electricity consumption by 13,500 kilowatt hours actually went on to be exceeded by 85%! In fact, the companies have now implemented almost all the measures that were planned within the network – from LED lighting, to better building insulation, well-sealed windows and doors, to more efficient cooling in server rooms. One of the most important realisations was that even the smallest company can save energy across an array of different areas – and that it succeeds in doing so as part of an energy efficiency network. Here once again, this has led participating companies to extend the lifetime of their network, which had already expired.

Excellent performance, excellent feedback

Among the particularly successful networks now entering their second round of activities are four that received awards from the Federal Ministries for Economic Affairs and Energy and for the Environment at the second annual event of the Energy Efficiency Network initiative, held in Berlin on 9 April. These were EVU-Energieeffizienznetzwerk II, the network ’Ökoprofit Klub 2017/18’, GlasNET 2.0 and Energieeffizienznetzwerk Dresden 2. Together, these four networks have reduced their combined energy consumption by more than 50 gigawatt hours over two years.

A survey of the companies taking part in 2016 also shows that the energy savings made really do pay off in almost all networks, with 83% rating the cost-benefit ratio as good or very good. Some 94% of respondents said they would recommend participating in such a network to other companies. Evaluations conducted of energy efficiency networks also showed that networked companies increase their energy efficiency, on average, around twice as fast as comparable companies that have not joined forces within networks. In short, the networks offer a real competitive advantage in several different respects.

Much more to be done – why not join a network!

The company networks operate as part of the Energy Efficiency Networks initiative, which was jointly launched by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, together with 22 business associations and organisations. The goal is to set up around 500 networks by the end of 2020 that, together, will reduce carbon emissions by five million tonnes and thus make an appreciable contribution to climate protection. The initiative has already become the most successful and largest energy efficiency drive in business. The more companies come together to form networks, the greater and more sustainable the success of these networks will be.

And it’s not only in Germany that companies are networking to save energy; the idea is also gaining increasing popularity worldwide, with the pilot projects on energy efficiency networks already under way in Mexico, China, Japan and Vietnam.