Each business participating in the GeePee Responsible Tourism Challenge has its own energy usage patterns depending on how many people it can accommodate, its occupancy rate (how many beds are filled), the appliances they use and how efficient they are. The team visited each business to find out what sources of energy the business used, where the bulk of the energy was being consumed and to assist the businesses to analyse their electricity usage data. Having an understanding of current and past energy use patterns is, after all, the basis for identifying actions a business can take to reduce energy usage and gain financial benefits.

Establishing energy-use baselines

Before planning and putting into place actions to improve performance, the team developed energy-use baselines. Baselines are important as they are the starting point from which to measure the impacts of energy efficiency efforts. A baseline helps answer the question – ‘how much energy has a business been using’, not only in terms of costs but in terms of units, which is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).

To determine energy-uses baselines, we asked businesses to gather their municipal accounts for a 12-month period. This proved challenging since most businesses had incomplete records. Some businesses received their municipal accounts by post and often these did not arrive. One business simply paid the amount they received in a monthly SMS received from the municipality. Others who bought pre-paid electricity didn’t record how many units of electricity they bought. Although some diligently captured how much was spent on electricity on the accounting system, the amount pf electricity used was not recorded.

In general, most managers and  owners had not taken a close look at the units of electricity or kWh used and none of the businesses had analysed their energy usage over time. This isn’t out of the ordinary as most people just look at the bottom line of their electricity bill to check ‘what is the damage?’ What business managers don’t realize though is that electricity bills can tell you a lot more about a guesthouse or lodge’s energy use.

Getting energy usage info online

The first step in this process is to get information about historical energy consumption patterns over the previous 12 months, and with this, calculate its baseline consumption. The team guided business managers who did not have back copies of their utility bills to register on the municipality’s or Eskom’s online e-billing systems and retrieve the relevant documents. Did you know that Eskom even has a mobile phone app for businesses that are always on the go?

Although the systems of different municipalities are not the same, generally, registered account holders can view the following information:

  • electricity account balances
  • last bill details
  • bill delivery method

City of Tshwane ‘E-Tshwane’ portal

Eskom app

Eskom app

The ESKOM app shows the bill history (cost of electricity) and consumption history (kWh) in a useful graph format.

Many systems also allow users to:

  • submit meter readings linked to accounts
  • request an update of customer details
  • change bill delivery method to email

Users can also retrieve statements for previous periods.

Getting access to their municipal bills through the online systems was an empowering moment for many of the businesses! It’s great to discover how technology can assist us with administrative challenges like this.

Analysing your energy bill

With this information in hand, the team plotted electricity usage information for 12 months to conduct what is called a utility bill analysis.

The consumption data for each business was entered into a simple Excel-based template. Excel was chosen over utility bill analysis software as the businesses already own and know how to use Excel. The businesses received electronic copies of the template as a tool for tracking their energy use once the project ended. The template creates a series of simple graphs that help the business to understand their energy use. For example, the graph below (Figure 1) tells us how the amount paid by the business for electricity changed per month over a 12-month period. It also shows the pattern of electricity consumption (kWh) during the year. You can see the spike in consumption during the winter months, and we can explain it by the electricity used for heating on chilly Gauteng nights.

Electricity usage and cost

Figure 1: Electricity usage and cost

The energy mix

What we also considered during this analytical phase was something known as a business’ energy mix. Many tourism businesses use different sources of energy for different purposes. For example, stoves and heaters may use gas whereas geysers and lighting use electricity drawn from the grid. Then there are many tourism businesses that have cozy wood fires during colder months.  The combination of these sources of energy is called the energy mix.

A business can generate a graph similar to the electricity consumption one above for gas, fuel and other utilities used within the business.

An analysis of a business’ consumption and cost across its entire energy mix provide a good starting point for any business that wants to better manage its energy consumption. If you then monitor this and compare usage from year to year, you can see if you are using more or less energy and quantify the change in usage and costs.

An in-depth energy audit would evaluate the cost and usage levels of all forms of energy used. We encouraged participating businesses to first understand and manage electricity consumption as this typically represents the biggest part of the money spent on energy sources. However, the template makes provision for tracking the cost and usage levels of other energy sources.

Usage : Occupancy correlation

The analysis done thus far doesn’t tell you whether changes in energy consumption and costs are due to fluctuations in the number of guests you host or whether they are due to fluctuations in how much energy is used per guest.

Given that the number of people staying in a guesthouse or hotel usually varies from night to night, you have to correct or normalize energy usage for occupancy. Figure 2 represents the bednights sold for 2015 for the business we are using in the example.

Occupancy graph

Figure 2: Bednights sold

If we compare Figure 1 and Figure 2, we can see that August is the month with the highest overall energy usage and cost. but the bednights sold during August is only the fifth highest.

We then correlated the business’ overall consumption with their occupancy data (Figure 3). This gives the usage and costs of energy and other resources per bednight (i.e. per person per night), which helps to explain some of the variation in consumption and cost data. From Figure 3 we can see that the energy cost per bednight was highest in June. Even though the overall monthly electricity usage in June was fifth highest for the year, June had the lowest number of bednights sold.

Electricity per bednight

Figure 3: Electricity per bednight

In this example of a GeePee Responsible Tourism Challenge participant, the average cost of electricity used per bednight was R12.94, but the monthly average varied from as little as R6.50 in February to as high as R25.40 in June. One would expect higher costs in winter because of the costs of heating, but the business manager can still use a graph like this to track usage and try to reduce it. Interestingly, December has the third highest usage per bednight. That month may have been exceptionally hot requiring the use of air-conditioners.  Or, we know that the particular business is a popular venue for year-end functions and the higher usage rate could be related to more electricity used for cooking.

The main aim of putting energy efficiency actions to work in a business is to reduce the energy used per bednight sold.  In this example, the monthly average usage data tells us to target the colder winter months and popular event months for energy efficiency actions.

Although more complex energy audit and management processes may be suitable for larger properties, getting started with simple management tools like these proved to be a worthwhile exercise in the GP RT challenge.

DIY or get help

Analysing utility bills against business volumes gives us valuable insight into energy usage patterns and is the starting point to finding ways to reduce consumption and save money. The basic templates developed for the businesses participating in the GeePee RT Challenge enable them to do their own simplified utility bill analysis. A specialised resource efficiency company like Evolve can also provide the following additional professional analytical services:

  • checking that the businesses are on the correct tariff structure
  • comparing off-peak consumption and peak consumption
  • determining seasonal consumption patterns
  • normalise energy use data for fluctuations in weather (more about this topic in a future post).

Going beyond electricity bills

Although electricity bills tell us the total energy usage and charge for a billing period, we wanted to also understand energy usage during the day, the energy consumed during the night, weekend use versus weekday energy use and much much more.  The energy smart meters that were installed at the businesses monitor the amount of energy used at regular intervals during the course of the day, enabling the businesses to see immediately and directly how operational habits impact energy usage and ultimately their energy bill.  Read more about the benefits of using energy smart meters to better manage energy usage in the next blog.