In his monthly column, Chris Johnson, founder of Shambala, says that now is the perfect time to reduce your event fuel bill and energy-related emissions. Check out his easy steps to success…

We burn an estimated five million litres of diesel at UK festivals each year. Research repeatedly has found that the majority of generators run at loads of 25 per cent of their capacity. Power is typically one of the five largest single production costs for a festival. It is one of the few payments not known pre-event, and it is left to a third party to report on, often without safeguards or proper scrutiny.

According to Powerful Thinking’s Smart Energy Guide, events and festivals can typically reduce fuel use by between 10 per cent and 50 per cent, and there are numerous examples, including The Showman’s Show, Towersey Festival and Festival Republic’s Reading Festival, that demonstrate just what can be achieved with some thought and planning.

Perfect time

Using more fuel and equipment than what is needed is generally the result of poor advance planning and limited information about power requirements, a lack of transparency in relationships and a lack of focus on energy efficiency.

For many organisers of summer events, now is the perfect time to think about putting measures in place to ensure you can minimise fuel use this year and be in the best position to make good decisions. There are two key elements to get right now; your contract with the power provider and ensuring energy is monitored properly.

Step one

Firstly, have a full conversation with your energy provider. Make energy efficiency a stated priority. Be clear about your intention to work with the power provider(s) and agree a realistic target for fuel reductions. With a clear focus on efficiency on both sides, and with contractual obligations and/or stated targets in place, there will be a better likelihood of achieving savings without compromising either party.

As events are all different in type and size, targets are best based on last year’s fuel data – if you have it. And you also need to take into account any significant changes for this year. Another approach is to use a comparable unit of fuel consumption such as “litres per audience per day” – i.e. total amount of fuel consumed divided by the number of audience and days. There is a simple and free tool to work this out online at www.powerful-thinking.org.uk/fueltool. You can use your information to compare your event to the industry average as a guide. This will help you to create a target.

Step two

The next most important step is to specify power requirements in the contract with the power provider. At the risk of stating the obvious, contractors can plan a more robust and efficient power system with good information. I say this because perhaps surprisingly, it’s not necessarily normal that they get good information. Research has repeatedly revealed that generator sets are oversized, and fuel is wasted due to a culture of inaccurate information, often with a chain of stakeholders adding a margin for safety – that margin usually ends up being huge.

Supply the power provider with a detailed site map and full list of end-users of power and consider making it their responsibility to contact each one and establish what they need. There may be online systems that they can use, or you set up for them, to aid this process. Alternatively, you could take on collecting information yourself, but make sure you know and understand what you are asking for. It’s more important to know the total or peak kW rating of all the users’ combined equipment than what connection they say they need – gone are the days when all we need to know is whether contractors require a 16 or 32A feed.

Step three

Another crucial element of efficiency is energy monitoring. Knowing how much power is demanded (at any one time) compared to generator capacity helps to assess changes in future. A study by De Montfort University found that 60 per cent of generators were twice or more the required size. Whilst in the dynamic environment of festivals, a contingency will always be required, but achieving an efficient system requires the need to reduce this extra capacity to sensible levels.

Many power providers now offer monitoring as standard, and newer generators have inbuilt monitoring systems and telemetry – SIM cards that can transmit the monitoring data in real time. It’s also becoming more common to have software to view energy data in real time – this is great for safety too, as they can monitor if a generator is too close to capacity and may fail. The information that needs to be collected is the size of each generator, energy demand, preferably in real time or every minute, and fuel consumption, preferably hourly.

If you organise a small event, or for any reason the power provider cannot offer monitoring, or the equipment is very old, it’s perfectly acceptable and useful to assign a member of staff or volunteer to take hourly readings on generators, although you will need permission and a briefing from the power provider for safety. If you are doing it yourself, make sure you still ask the provider for total fuel consumed for each generator set individually so you, or they, can work out the efficiency of each set post-event.

Knowing the peaks or spikes in energy demand is incredibly valuable. Often you can identify what causes a short period of peak demand and find ways to eliminate them, making it likely and easy to reduce the size of the generator, and reduce fuel consumption.

Be efficient

There is often an absence of reporting about energy performance in the UK festival sector. Stipulate a full post-event report as part of your contract, presenting the monitoring data and recommendations for efficiency savings in future years. We have to ask ourselves why this hasn’t been normal for years?

If you ask your power provider to collect end-user requirements in advance, monitor energy on-site and provide detailed reporting, be prepared for your provider to charge more. But also bear in mind that efficiency savings are likely to cover any extra costs. I recommend that organisers should consider longer-term contracts. Most suppliers would welcome a multi-year contract, and it provides confidence to commit to changes in approach, which may take more than one year to achieve and yield results. It may also help create a willingness to invest in energy-efficient equipment.

Exciting times

Fuel efficiency through better planning and data is certainly the best first step. But there are lots of other ways to reduce fuel consumption and energy-related emissions, such as integrating batteries into your power system, using a grid connection or solar energy, switching to renewable fuels, and demand reduction.

It’s an exciting time for energy at outdoor events, with power providers improving practices, introducing new technology and new fuels emerging. There are also a growing number of experts and consultants available to organisers, and there’s a general step across the industry toward doing things smarter.