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27542632_xxl_PPElectricity generates a significant cost to dental practices, but as Angela Tufvesson details, there are ways to reduce your spend.

Running a dental practice is implicitly energy intensive thanks to the lighting, air-conditioning and, of course, dental equipment required to operate a successful business. But as electricity bills and consumer awareness of environmental issues continue to rise, reducing your carbon footprint is becoming greatly more important.

So, what’s the best method for practice owners looking to curb electricity costs? Decreasing usage, installing energy saving equipment and investing in renewable energy-in that order-will help to reduce your bills by as much as one third.

“In my business, I guarantee that if the property hasn’t had an energy audit or any work done, I can reduce their energy bills by 20 per cent with no capital outlay-or there’s no fee,” says River Bradshaw-Milnes, managing director of energy efficiency consultancy Thinq Tanque. “There’s such a margin that I can say unequivocally that if the proper work is done on any property, they should be able to reduce their energy bills by at least 30 per cent.”

Understand your usage

In order to cut back, it’s important to understand your electricity usage. Bradshaw-Milnes estimates that in a typical dental practice, about 30 per cent of the energy consumed powers heating and air-conditioning, 20 per cent goes towards lighting, 10 per cent keeps computers running and the remaining 40 per cent is chewed up by dental equipment and other miscellaneous uses. If you run a dental practice in the San Jose area and are worried about the amount of money you have to pay for your electricity, then it may be time to think about having solar panels installed to your business.

Your electricity bill will detail the amount of kilowatt hours used by your practice, and many energy companies also offer nifty online tools that chart usage patterns. For a more accurate picture of your consumption, Bradshaw-Milnes recommends an energy audit, which typically costs about $1500.

“An energy audit will tell the business how much energy is being consumed by which items,” he says. “So, if there are five computers in the practice, an energy audit will be able to tell you the amount of watts per day that they’re using over 365 day of the year. After that, it’s possible to calculate the monetary value as carbon emissions of the devices.”

Switch off

After you’ve looked at usage patterns, the next step is to get practice staff into the habit of switching off lights, computers and equipment that is not being used. This includes equipment left on stand-by mode, especially overnight, which can amount to 10 per cent of your electricity bill.

“Look around the practice-is there anything running that doesn’t need to run?” asks Barbara Albert, director of Sustainable Business Consulting. “Anything that gives off light or heat probably consumes electricity. This is the easiest way to reduce your energy bills because you don’t need to change anything. It’s simply
a matter of turning things off.”

Upgrade equipment

Next, look at upgrading your equipment Sustainable Business Consulting-including heating and air-conditioning units, lighting, computers and dental equipment-to energy-efficient models where possible. Surprisingly, making the switch now rather than waiting until equipment becomes faulty can lead to significant savings. “If you’re running a really old air-conditioner, throw it out and get a new one as they run 30 to 40 per cent more efficiently,” says Bradshaw-Milnes.

Albert agrees that upgrades that focus on the total cost of ownership -the acquisition and running costs combined-will lead to long-term savings. “For example, upgrading from fluorescent tube lighting to LED tubes will reduce energy consumption. It’s more expensive to purchase LED tubes but the running costs are so much better. They might also give you better output from the light as LEDs are brighter, meaning less lights are needed.”

After completing the upgrade, establish a maintenance schedule to protect the efficiency of your equipment, and make sure it’s operated correctly. “If you have five split-systems in the property and each is running at slightly different temperatures, each of those systems is fighting each other to maintain a specific temperature,” says Bradshaw-Milnes. “So, it’s recommended that each split-system is set to the same temperature. The recommendations are to have your air-conditioning set to 24 degrees during summer and your heater set to 18 degrees in winter.”

And to make sure your air-conditioning units aren’t working too hard, consider passive design upgrades to your building to help it stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Shade windows during summer, and install ceiling insulation and draught-proof windows and doors. Ceiling insulation alone can reduce your electricity bill by 20 per cent.

Invest in renewables

Once you’ve reduced your energy consumption to the smallest possible amount, consider generating your own electricity rather than buying off the grid. For most dental practices, this means installing solar panels, which Bradshaw-Milnes says can reduce electricity bills by 70 per cent and offer a three-year return on investment.

Solar panels are well suited to dental practices because peak harvest times coincide with the daytime opening hours of most practices. “Solar panels are extremely beneficial for dental practices because production peaks around lunchtime and starts revving up at around 9am,” says Albert. “There’s not a lot of maintenance, either-the system gets installed, connected and just runs. It’s very simple. If you have the option, the roof needs to be ideally north-facing and can’t be obstructed by trees or other obstacles.”

Due to low feed-in tariffs-the payment per kWh made to businesses and households generating their own electricity-Albert says there’s little value in exporting excess electricity to the grid, which means practices will need to fork out for electricity outside of peak harvest times and on cloudy days.

But the good news is on-site storage systems are expected to come onto the market within the next two years, says Bradshaw-Milnes. “This means dental practices will be able to go off grid,” he says. “The future is really bright. There is the potential for 100 per cent savings within the next three to four years.”

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