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[00:00:13.650] - John Bates

Hello. Welcome to the Green Business Programme podcast. In February 2022, we hit the recording button and said hello to you for our very first episode. And here we are bringing you the 9th in the series. In the first episode, we talked to Jonathan Howell, Energy Advisor at the Green Business Programme, about the support the programme offered to businesses based in Coventry and Warwickshire. I'm John Bates and today Jonathan joins us again to tell us how in 2022 that's been for the Green Business Programme and how businesses have reacted to this year's unsettling series of events.

[00:01:33.000] - John Bates

Hi, Jonathan. Welcome back.

[00:01:35.520] - Jonathan Howl

Good afternoon John. Good to speak to you again.

[00:01:36.980] - John Bates

Brilliant, thank you. And just for the benefit of listeners, just share a brief overview, if you would, about the Green Business Programme and the work that you and your colleagues do.

[00:01:48.130] - Jonathan Howl

Yeah. Thank you, John. So, just to go through what we do and how we operate, our programme started in 2016 and essentially, we're all about giving support to the SME business sector in Coventry and Warwickshire. And we're all about energy efficiency, basically, which, of course, at the moment is very, very topical. So the support that we offer to business is effectively twofold. Firstly, we engage with businesses and we give them advice on how to be more energy efficient and reduce their consumption. To do that, we offer free onsite energy audits where we'll work with the business, look at their current energy use to work out a baseline, and we're all about identifying areas where they can improve their energy efficiency and reduce their use. So it's not rocket science, honestly, but we're looking at things such as LED lighting, improved insulation, improved heating, better machinery, and then also the nice new, shiny, renewable things such as solar PV panels and heat pumps. So we'll work with the business on site to look at that and then we'll give them a report, which, again, is free of charge. And we like to give businesses those key headline figures.

[00:02:53.120] - Jonathan Howl

So we'll work out annual savings that they can achieve by implementing those recommendations, such as lighting, and from that, we can work out payback periods for the return on the investment so they can make an educated decision on what to prioritise in terms of their energy reduction. And then secondly, the important bit, the nice bit is about leveraging grant funding to put towards those chosen improvements. So typically, we can give up to 40% towards the capital cost of the improvement measures. And it works to try and get that project off the ground, basically, and reduce that payback period. So our time is free and the grant is that the grant is a grant, there is nothing to repay. So it's basically a win win for our business community.

[00:03:36.540] - John Bates

Jonathan, rather unexpectedly, the first quarter of this year arrived, frankly, with Europe going into an energy crisis following the beginning of the war, sadly, in Ukraine. How have businesses reacted to the crisis? Have you seen a spike in businesses seeking support from the programme?

[00:03:55.870] - Jonathan Howl

Absolutely, we've seen a steady increase in interest of the programme. Certainly lots more calls and lots more interest and lots more engagement, which is great for us, because obviously we know it's tough out there, we do feel for our business community and we're glad that we're actually able to help them, basically. So we've seen the main interest in the programme driven by, obviously, the rate rise. I mean, as we all know, it's been pretty bad out there at the moment. I've seen some rate rises by at least a tenfold increase in energy rates for some businesses, and that's having a massive impact on the viability of businesses and on their bottom line. So it's good that we can help and give people tangible and free advice moving forward. What we have noticed, though, of course, if you work it from a simple mathematical point of view, rates are increasing, but that then means that the payback periods for our recommendations have decreased considerably as well. Simple mathematical formula, basically. So we're seeing things like Led lighting and solar panels. They're effectively now almost a no brainer. We're seeing paybacks of less than a year for lighting and two to three years for solar because of that increase in energy price rise.

[00:05:03.660] - Jonathan Howl

So if anyone's out there listening, engage, get involved with us. We are here to help sort of combat those energy hikes.

[00:05:11.530] - John Bates

So, without wanting to make light of a very, very serious situation, quite clearly, every cloud has a silver lining.

[00:05:18.370] - Jonathan Howl


[00:05:19.590] - John Bates

How many businesses have you supported this year? Perhaps that context around the number of grants that you've given out.

[00:05:27.100] - Jonathan Howl

Yeah, I've got some nice headline figures for you. So far this year, we have given support to 74 businesses, and that includes not only the grant themselves, but also we give those free audits I mentioned previously. So the 74 companies we've engaged with and given them guidance and the report and possibly a grant to we have saved for the region just under 765 tonnes of carbon. For those who are unsure about how the carbon tonnage works, one tonne of carbon is effectively the same as driving around the world in a car once. So there's a lot of carbon saved for our region, which obviously is good in terms of the green agenda. And we have so far offered 63 grants out to our business community, totalling just under three quarters of a million pounds of support. So quite a considerable amount of support there for our business community.

[00:06:15.750] - John Bates

So of those 63 grants then, what sort of energy efficiency measures were the most popular?

[00:06:22.450] - Jonathan Howl

Well, the one that we find is the most popular is LED lighting. A lot of companies out there, especially in the Coventry area, are manufacturing and industrial businesses that have got big factory spaces, warehouse spaces, that have all those old fluorescent strip lights in place. So Led lighting is a really quick win. LED, as a rule, tends to be a low capital input for a quick return. So, as I've mentioned before, it's really pretty much a no brainer for people. So a quick return on investments, less maintenance on your bulbs, they don't need replacing as often. And also the government is starting to phase out those old fluorescent tubes as well. So lighting is definitely the one that we do the most of, and it's something that we pretty much always recommend on all of our reports.

[00:07:09.050] - John Bates

Okay, so you've talked about the repayment periods decreasing considerably because, of course, the cost of energy has gone up so considerably. Now everybody understands that and everybody's looking to save money. So what does that look like for the people that you're working with and the businesses you're supporting? What's the sort of the average saving, or indeed the biggest savings.

[00:07:29.870] - Jonathan Howl

Of course, every business we work with is bespoke in terms of their energy usage and their size. But as a rule, that the largest savings we see are associated with installation of solar PV. I work with a business sort of four or five months ago now, down in the Leamington area, and I've got some headline figures here which sort of perhaps show people that are listening how effective solar is, basically. So I work with this business where their solar investment was £175,000 for their solar array on their roof. We gave them a 35,000 pound grant towards that investment. The energy savings on there, though, were £45,000 a year for the business. So really big savings. The payback was just over three years. So really good payback for the business. But interestingly, when we started to look at it in a bit more detail and take the actual projected savings over a 25 year period, which is actually the lifespan of the solar, the solar panels themselves, the actual savings or the combined savings for the business, was nearly £1.5 million in energy costs. So really valid and obviously a really good return for that initial investment from the business.

[00:08:33.890] - Jonathan Howl

So it's a really good thing to look at grants or no grant, that's one of the things that we obviously promote and that would obviously be one of the main things we push in terms of savings, a huge amount of carbon and a huge amount of money for each business.

[00:08:49.850] - John Bates

I mean, clearly there's a compelling argument, sort of on the financial side, you've just explained that, but there are lots of challenges that businesses face, so achieving net zero probably sounds like an enormous task as far as some businesses are concerned. So just tell us about some of the challenges.

[00:09:08.050] - Jonathan Howl

Yeah, I think it's difficult that do feel for our business community because they've had so much to go through with Brexit and COVID and now there's this new buzzword of net zero around, very difficult to know where to get started. What I will say in my experience is now that energy price rises have gone up so much, the driver is now cost savings. It's now economically suicidal, effectively, not to get involved in the net zero narrative and net zero pathway because you will obviously look to save money in terms of your energy use, in terms of your recycling of parts on site, the circular economy. All of these things now are so important to get involved in, because it will save the business money moving forward and it will set them up for the next 5 or 10 years, because net reserve is only going to become more and more and more important. But the main challenge is engaging initially, so you've got to get involved, find information out and get some professional advice and some advice from the likes of us in order to find out which bits to cherry pick to start to start on.

[00:10:11.510] - Jonathan Howl

But in essence, it has to happen, basically, because if people businesses don't do it, they're going to become uncompetitive and they're going to get left behind.

[00:10:20.150] - John Bates

So let me pick up on that advice point then, Jonathan, because you're giving advice to local businesses and people listening to this might be interested in starting or even completing their net zero journey. What's the advice? What are you actually telling them?

[00:10:38.040] - Jonathan Howl

Engage. There's free advice out there which we offer ourselves, our webinars, our podcast, obviously, our in person events from the Green Business Programme. We like to start the discussion and we can then help triage people to other free places they can get advice from. They may wish to employ somebody internally that's an expert, they may wish to go and get some consultants they've got to pay for to get that advice. But either way, the cost savings are now so huge, whatever they do, start the engagement process, basically, because it will pay dividends immediately and then further down the line. So get engaged, get involved and reach out for assistance where they can. That is my advice.

[00:11:18.770] - John Bates

It's great advice, Jonathan, and it's great to talk to you again on the podcast. Thanks very much for sparing the time.

[00:11:23.800] - Jonathan Howl

Good to talk to you. Thank you, John.

[00:15:30.330] - John Bates

Please use the link in the description which accompanies this podcast and let us know if you're interested in accessing the Green Business Programme or becoming a member of the Green Business Network. The network allows businesses to come together, share ideas, promote energy, resource waste and water efficiency, as well as engage on low carbon environmental and green sustainability initiatives. The network is free to join and open to everyone. The Green Business Programme is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Coventry City Council, Coventry University and Coventry University enterprises. This podcast was produced by Maria Covlea. I'm John Bates. Thanks for listening. You.

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Published date
December 2022