It is well known that energy efficiency is not of high priority within SMEs and energy management tools are scarcely applied (Bröckl et al., 2014). Energy efficiency improvement investments in SMEs are quite limited. This is mainly due to the low relevant economic and time resources, as well as the low awareness of the multiple possible potential benefits. Additionally, SME decision-makers consider energy efficiency improvements to have a low priority compared to other investments, while there is a lack of SME staff with the appropriate skills and expertise to monitor and access the energy footprint. In the COVID-19 pandemic period, in particular, where the majority of the SMEs are struggling to survive, adopting energy efficiency measures is not affordable (Southernwood et al., 2021).
In this section, case studies of successful implementation of measures to reduce the energy footprint of SMEs from different sectors are presented. The desk research, which has been carried out by UPRC, has identified a number of relevant case studies related to different SMEs operating in different sectors both from Europe and the rest of the world.
SATECMA, a chemical producer with several production lines operates with an environmentally friendly vision for over two decades. At first their strategy was more reactive and was mainly focused on limiting the amount of environmentally dangerous or toxic components in their products. Later, they decided to follow a preventive approach even at the early product design phase. Recently, the company has implemented a number of measures to improve its energy use. More efficient climate control systems were installed, LED lamps in conjunction with better exploitation of natural light strategies were adopted, while a photovoltaic solar energy generation plant was implemented. All of these changes have allowed the company to reduce its energy consumption by 20%. This resulted to not only significant economic savings but also to the organization’s image improvement among customers, public institutions and suppliers (Green Revolution – Medium-sized companies show the way. Lessons from two spanish companies in the chemical industry, no date).
In the process of achieving an ISO 14001 certification, a UK chemicals company managed to decrease its energy consumption by more than 30%. The identification and elimination of leakages helped also to improve the thermal efficiency of its boilers resulting to considerably lower gas and steam bills (Calogirou, Constantinos, Sørensen et al., 2010).
Wacker Chemie AG decided to employ a highly efficient gas and steam turbine power plant in a combined heat and power generation mode. Thermal energy is distributed in the form of steam at different pressure levels. The heat released by the chemical reactions, in various production phases of the company, sometimes exceeds its own thermal energy needs. This energy surplus is utilized to cover the heat requirements of other companies, thus resulting to a lower primary energy consumption in the company’s power plant. The company has initially determined the relevant heat sources and heat sinks at the Burghausen site in Germany. Then, it integrated the heat generation of the central waste gas and residue incineration plants into existing steam networks. It also connected the surplus heat sources with heat sinks via local heating networks. Namely, thermal energy produced at the company’s site covers the thermal energy needs of a public swimming pool, an indoor tennis court and a gymnasium. The implemented changes resulted to significant energy savings. A saving of 421 000 MWh comes from the steam processes, whilst another 44 000 MWh saving comes from facility heating and hot water preparation (Energie – Atlas Bayern – Wärme Verbindet, 2011).
The world-leading producer of Scotland’s national dish haggis conducted environmental and energy audits in 2008, which helped the company to identify the key cost-saving measures to be implemented. Regarding the energy efficiency measures, more efficient cooking methods were introduced resulting to gas bill reductions of the order of 15% from 2006 to 2008. The company also implemented several other measures such as staff training, installation of technologies to use waste heat of refrigerators, active, schedule-based, control of heating, cooling and lighting, and replacement of the lighting systems with more energy-efficient ones. The adoption of these measures led to the reduction of energy consumption and the associated carbon emissions. Additionally, the company participates in the Bright Green Placements (BEP), a placement program, where a student from an environmental field of study works for eight weeks on a particular environmental management problem, helping the company to achieve some of its main environmental management targets (Calogirou, Constantinos, Sørensen et al., 2010).
A brewery located in the city of Aying, Germany, is using a combined heat and power (CHP) system to cover its energy requirements. The company decided to redesign its CHP system to improve its efficiency. Specifically, the brewing and industrial hot water preparation units, as well as two other heating circuits were connected to the cooling circuit of the CHP system. An insulated tank with a water content of approximately 30000 litters was also installed, in order to store the thermal energy that is readily available and cannot be ‘consumed’ within the production processes. The installed CHP system provides an electrical output of 200 kW and a thermal output of 230 kW. Most of the electricity generated is used directly for the brewery’s energy needs. The excess electricity is fed to the public electricity grid and remunerated. Compared to the heat generation via a gas-fired boiler and a separate electricity supply from the public grid, the CHP system, which was installed, resulted to a reduction of production related CO2 emissions by more than 100 tons per year. The corresponding electricity consumption was also reduced by 20% (Energie – Atlas Bayern – Equitherm spart energie beim bierbrauen, 2018).
Another German brewery, Krones A, has developed an innovative process, called EquiTherm, with which primary energy requirements are reduced, via the recovery of waste heat from the brewing process itself, employing a specifically designed heat exchanger. At the same time, cooling energy and thus electricity are saved, while the fresh water requirements are drastically reduced. The developed system extracts energy from the brewing process itself at a particular point and it feeds it back at another point. As a result, savings of about 30% in thermal energy and 20% in electricity were achieved in the brewhouse (Energie – Atlas Bayern – Equitherm spart energie beim bierbrauen, 2013).
Rager bakery located in the city of Ansbach, Germany, is another example of a small company with less than 10 employees that was motivated by the environmental awareness and the rising energy cost to find creative solutions for potential savings. The company optimized the baking processes and the oven utilization, reduced to the minimum the utilization of refrigerators, improved the insulation of cold rooms, recovered waste heat from the refrigeration system in order to prepare hot water, adopted LED lighting technology, reduced the duration of the dishwasher’s short program from 2.5 to 1.5 minutes and employed a hybrid transportation vehicle. The achieved energy savings resulted to an annual approximate saving of 2500 € (Energie – Atlas Bayern – Bäckerei: Kleine Massnahmen, Grosse Wirkung, 2011).
Regarding another bakery in Germany, it was estimated that it could achieve an annual reduction of about 6.5 % in the total energy bill (≈ 4000 DM) and also lower the energy consumption per kg of processed flour from 1.36 kWh/kg to 1.28 kWh/kg by implementing simple energy management measures, such as appropriately maintaining of bake ovens, introducing LED lighting, improving hot water utilization, improving the insulation of pipes and recalibrating process thermostats (Kannan and Boie, 2003). This particular case study represents a very good example of the non-energy benefits that could be achieved in small enterprises through the implementation of energy-saving measures. It is reasonable to assume that the proposed changes could have the following positive effects: improved product quality and reliability (which could be attributed to better heating conditions of new ovens and to better lighting), increased productivity (due to lower heating time of the ovens) and improved workplace comfort and safety conditions (due to ovens and pipes insulation). Obviously, improved comfort leads to employee’s higher productivity and loyalty. Also, improved work safety conditions reduce the risk of accidents, which in turn leads to a reduction in insurance premiums (Cooremans, 2015).
Cupcakes of Westdale Village, in Canada, is another very small company that looked for ways to increase its efficiency and reduce the operating costs through the improvement of its lighting equipment. The shop took advantage of a program and upgraded its lighting equipment. Improved lighting conditions did not only result to an annual saving of almost $400 in the shop’s electricity bill, but it also made its products more attractive to customers (Lighting Upgrades Helped this Bakery Shine | Save on Energy | Case Study, no date).
In steel re-rolling sub-sector in India, the adoption of new technologies led to significant energy costs savings. Coal demand was reduced by almost 30 kg per tonne of product. Also, the new technologies introduced helped to improve the overall productivity of relevant processes through the reduction of metal losses because of scaling and oxidation. This case of the Indian SME steel rerolling sub-sector indicates the significance of non-energy benefits achieved by the adoption of energy efficient technologies (Crittenden, 2015).
AMB Alloys Ltd is a ferroalloys producer and supplier located in the industrial city of Rustavi, Georgia. The company planned a capital-intensive investment in a new production plant. Nevertheless, the company was looking for a relatively short payback period in order to proceed with the investment for the new plant. AMB Alloys took advantage of a technical and financial support program. The company analysed the expected energy and cost savings, as well as the techno-economic aspects and the associated risks of the investment. The proposal was for an 842,000 € investment that could lead to a reduction of its energy requirements by about 4.3 MWh per year, which is equivalent to an annual saving of 220,000 €. Thus, the repay period of the investment through just the associated reduction in energy consumption is almost four years, a time period which is acceptable and meets the company’s targets. The new facility will also have lower CO2 emissions; namely, 1.7 tons per year lower (UNECE, 2021).
Lagodekhautogza Ltd is a Georgian construction company which specializes in road construction and the production of asphalt-concrete and cement-concrete. The company had to increase its asphalt-concrete production capabilities in 2020. However, the available production machinery was quite old and could not provide the required production volume. The company was also looking to find a way to decrease its manufacturing cost. The company received a free of charge technical assessment for the project through a government administered technical and financial support program and made an investment of 254,000 €, which was directed to the upgrade of its outdated machinery. The new equipment, with the higher production capabilities, was more energy efficient. The volume of production was increased by 55%. An annual energy saving of 160 MWh (equivalent to 10,000 €) was also achieved (UNECE, 2021).
Asphalt producing company “Mshenebeli 2019” located in Khashuri municipality, Georgia, implemented measures to improve efficiency. They decided to replace a 3000 kW natural gas burner on a rotating furnace with a solid fuel heat generator assembled at the Georgian Technical University. The heat generator uses agricultural waste -grape cake- as a (solid) fuel. The installed heat generator ‘consumes’ 600 kg of grape cake/hour which is equivalent to 300 m3/hour of natural gas. The objective of the company is to be able to substitute natural gas burner (requiring 480 000 m3 of natural gas/year) with the solid biomass fuelled heat generator. The grape cake is waste product of wine making and is currently quite happily provided by the wineries free of charge. The only cost associated with the grape cake, considered as a solid biomass fuel, therefore, refers only to the cost of transporting the grape cake from the wineries to the asphalt production site. The annual expenditure for the transportation of biomass fuel to the production site is about $33 600, while the annual expenditure of the natural gas consumed in the gas burner is about $160 000. The installation of the solid fuel heat generator, which use as a fuel renewable biomass instead of imported natural gas, results to an annual saving of $126 400. The implementation of the project, especially during the COVID pandemic, which is characterized by the increased tariffs for energy carriers, is very important. Apart from the economic savings for the company, one has also to take into account various other aspects, such as jobs preservation and enhanced competitiveness in the market of construction materials (UNECE, 2021).
Elmwood, a company in UK, has an informal environmental policy, according to which the company focuses on investing in new technologies. Despite the relatively high initial capital cost, the adoption of new technologies could quite happily lead to significant saving, by improving process energy efficiency, as well as the utilization of materials. One of the company’s major investments was a CNC router. Work that was previously carried out on several machines could be carried out automatically and in a more efficient manner on just a single machine, inevitably leading to both energy and materials savings. Another energy-saving action was the introduction of a new exhaust system, which, unlike the old one, shuts down the vents when the machines are not in operation. This particular intervention had to do more with the well-being of the workers, rather than an energy saving aspect (which anyway is welcome an added benefit). Other interventions are rather low-key; utilization of low-energy light bulbs, staff training to be energy sensitive, i.e. to turn off the lights when they leave a room or building, etc. (Calogirou, Constantinos, Sørensen et al., 2010).
A company in Denmark, dealing with the production of liquid gases, decided to carry out a project aiming at reducing its energy consumption. A technology combining an ozone unit and a sand filter was implemented allowing the company to decrease the temperature of the required cooling water. As a result, the company achieved a reduction in energy consumption of 153 MWh/year, which is equivalent to an annual saving of $12,000. The implemented energy efficiency improvements led to additional benefits. In particular, there was a reduction in the amount of required process chemicals, the need for corrosion inhibitors and corrosion damage implying additional annual cost savings of $50,000, $12,000 and $20,000 respectively. The company also reported further (non-energy related) benefits, such as lower labour cost, less down time, lower negative environmental impacts and enhanced working environment (Fawkes, Oung and Thorpe, 2016).
Firozabad, a cluster of SMEs of the glass sector in India, implemented a simple waste heat recovery system exploiting the high furnace and exhaust gas temperatures characterizing glass manufacturing. Almost all the cluster units have installed a counter flow metallic recuperator made up of 5 stainless steel modules which would result to an annual energy saving of 25-30% for a payback period of 0.5 years (Crittenden, 2015).
Druckerei Senser, a printing company in Germany, reduced its power consumption by 30% installing particularly energy-saving printing machines. Since January 2008, Senser has been exclusively operating with hydropower green electricity. In addition, it has installed a new solar power system which produces almost 25% of its own electricity requirements. The roof of the entire production area was insulated before the installation of the solar power system in order to minimize heat losses. The company has acquired two new energy-efficient printing machines. Nonetheless, the company also decided to implement a system to extract the machines’ waste heat generated during printing and to use it as a heating source for neighbouring rooms. The heat is directed using a decentralized distribution network of suction pipes. The implementation of these measures resulted to the reduction of energy requirements for heating by 20% through the recovery of waste heat (Energie – Atlas Bayern – Klimaneutrales Drucken, 2011).
A study focused on analysing the energy saving potential of specific SMEs in energy intensive industrial sectors in Sri Lanka has been carried out. Results of the study showed that incorrect power factor adjustments, poor practice of switch off policy on lights and fans, inadequate modifications on lighting systems, compressed air systems, boilers, and machinery were the most significant factors contributing to energy inefficiencies. Furthermore, if prompt actions were to be taken for the above issues, it was estimated that the total energy saving potential for the selected firms would be about 20% – 30% of the total energy consumption. Moreover, this accounted for about 10% – 15% of the energy cost of the selected firms (Dilhani, Dissanayake and Pallegedara, 2020).
Reunion Island Coffee Roasters, a company located in Oakville, Canada, looked for ways to make its roastery, shipping and distribution facility more energy efficient. In late 2015, the company updated the lighting in the plant with new energy-efficient commercial LED lighting. The old lighting used to take up almost half an hour to reach full brightness, while the new LEDs created a brighter environment that made the relevant 75 employees of the company to feel safer. Additionally, the company installed six motion-activated occupancy sensors that turn on the lights in different sections of the plant only when people are working or passing through the corresponding area. That reduces the number of hours the lights are on which, in turn, leads to energy savings. It should be noted that the electricity cost associated with lighting was reduced by almost 25%. The company installed five smart thermostats in order to manage facility’s temperature in a more efficient way, i.e. to maintain a lower heating level when nobody is using the building. It also applied reflective tint to facility’s windows in order to reduce air conditioning requirements during warmer months. Reunion Island has also upgraded coffee roasting procedure itself. The company invested in an energy-efficient roasting machine for all of its whole-bean specialty coffee. This machine operates with 80% less energy than larger machines. Thus, Reunion Island could test out new roasting procedures, in a more efficient way, wasting less coffee in the process, and present its clients with better and more tasteful products (Coffee roaster serves up energy savings | Save on Energy | Case Study, no date).
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Southernwood, J. et al. (2021) ‘Energy Efficiency Solutions for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises’, p. 19. doi: 10.3390/proceedings2020065019.
Calogirou, Constantinos, Sørensen, S. Y. et al. (2010) SMEs and the environment in the European Union, European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry.
Energie – Atlas Bayern – Bäckerei: Kleine Massnahmen, Grosse Wirkung (2011). Available at: https://www.energieatlas.bayern.de/energieatlas/praxisbeispiele/details,37.html.
Energie – Atlas Bayern – Equitherm spart energie beim bierbrauen (2013). Available at:
Energie – Atlas Bayern – Equitherm spart energie beim bierbrauen (2018). Available at: https://www.energieatlas.bayern.de/energieatlas/praxisbeispiele/details,257.html.
Kannan, R. and Boie, W. (2003) ‘Energy management practices in SME – Case study of a bakery in Germany’, Energy Conversion and Management, 44(6), pp. 945–959. doi: 10.1016/S0196-8904(02)00079-1.
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Crittenden, P. (2015) Promoting Energy Efficiency in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Waste Heat Recovery Measures in India, 6th workshop for Energy Management and ActionNetwork (EMAK).
UNECE (2021) Guidelines and Best Practices for Micro-, Small and Medium Enterprises in Delivering Energy-Efficient Products and in Providing Renewable Energy Equipment in the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Phase, UNECE. doi: 10.18356/9789210052559.
Fawkes, S., Oung, K. and Thorpe, D. (2016) Best Practices and Case Studies for Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement, Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency. Copenhagen.
Crittenden, P. (2015) Promoting Energy Efficiency in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Waste Heat Recovery Measures in India, 6th workshop for Energy Management and Action Network (EMAK).
Dilhani, N., Dissanayake, J. and Pallegedara, A. (2020) ‘Energy saving potential in SMEs: selected case studies from the industrial sector in Sri Lanka’, Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, 20(3/4), p. 310. doi: 10.1504/IER.2020.112595.