Here in Northern California we are served almost exclusively by PG&E Company. It is a private company owned by PG&E Corporation, which is a publicly traded company vowed to make money for their investors. They have been in business over a hundred years, and as a public utility controlled by the Public Utilities Commission, they have had plenty of time to build up political power. That is why your electric rates have climbed at a compounding annual rate of 5% per year for all the years the rates have been posted on the PG&E website, 2001, when the energy crisis hit California thanks to Enron.
“So what”, you say? Well, PG&E has some of the highest rates in the country, including Hawaii. They are two and three times as much as some neighboring states for no other reason other than they have good political connections and a legacy of raising prices, even during the great recession and a period of dropping natural gas prices. https://www.pge.com/tariffs/electric.shtml#COMMERCIAL
So what can you do about it? In order to stay competitive with companies with much lower electricity rates in neighboring states, you need to reduce your electric costs. The nice thing about California is that the environmental consciousness is high and therefore laws are in place to encourage ways to lower your electric bill.
The best way to lower your electric bill is to conserve what you use in your operation. This means use simple time-tested techniques such as timers, photocell and occupancy sensors. Talk to the manufacturer of your equipment to see if there are standby modes or other ways the equipment can be made to use less electricity.
The next step is to be sure you are on the right electric rate. A good place to start is your PG&E Business Representative. You can get one by calling PG&E and asking them to send a business rep to your business.
Since all commercial rates are time of use in PG&E territory, you should understand how the price of electricity changes throughout the day and week. Basically, power from noon to six Monday through Friday from May 1st to October 31st costs a lot more than power at any other time. Nights from 9:30 to 8:30am are the lowest rates, the same as weekends and holidays. You might want to examine your usage patterns and change your processes slightly to address these differences. I never suggest you change your core business just to save money on your electric bill, but some nuances can make a big difference.
Another feature of every large commercial rate is a demand charge. That is a number based on the largest amount of electricity you used during any 15 minute period in that month. If you have a pattern of having your plant manager turning on every machine at once every morning, that will most likely set the demand charge for the month. Your Business Rep should be able to explain this to you, but understanding the basic concept is simple. Try and minimize the maximum amount of electricity you are using at any given time.
That is where LED lighting comes in. This costs half as much as fluorescent lighting while at the same time giving you better, brighter light. The efficiency comes from the fact that LED lights generate almost no heat, since they only create energy in a narrow frequency spectrum, all in visible light. You aren’t paying to heat your facility with lighting. An added bonus is the amount of maintenance you save. If you have a lighting maintenance company, and they haven’t told you how easy it is to go to LEDs, then you need to call a company like ours to get a reasonable quote for upgrading your lighting to LED fixtures. Lighting maintenance companies are not good companies for LED retrofits because of their structure. It will not only modernize the look of your facility, it will raise light levels, which in turn improve safety, moral and quality.
Once you have conducted an overall audit of your electrical usage, made sure you were on the right rate, and installed LED lighting, the next good move is to install a solar system on or around your building so that you can generate your own electricity. This will increase the value of your building, shield you from future rate increases, and decrease your monthly bill to a small fraction of what it is right now. A solar system is designed to generate electricity while being connected to the grid, so you have your normal power at all times, even at night. It allows you to sell power back to the grid at full retail rates at any time you are generating more than you are using. This is called Net Energy Metering, which has been in effect in California for more than 25 years. We design systems to over-generate in the Summer months with the high rates and buy back the power in the Winter at the low rates. Even on any given day, you generate at the high daytime rates and buy power back at the low nighttime rates. This is so much better than batteries. This is like a battery that you charge with one kiloWatt-hour and it gives you back two kiloWatt-hours.
We hope these suggestions answer some of your questions about how to lower your electricity bill. We are here to help as Energy Consultants, whether you are a client of ours or not. If you have a question, let us know, we would love to answer it for you!