The government-funded Carbon Trust, which helps companies reduce energy costs, says it costs bakeries nearly £100m a year. Smaller craft and in-store bakeries account for almost 40% of that. When gas prices plummeted earlier this month it was big news for bakers. The average price of natural gas in September was 26p a therm, which immediately fell to -5p on 3 October, as traders were paying to have gas taken off their hands. Britain’s storage capacity was 96% full due to an inflow of gas from the new £5.5bn Langeled pipeline from Norway to the UK’s national grid.

However, consumers may not see price reductions until next year, regardless of the 80% price increases occurring during the past three years. Electricity and gas regulator Ofgem has warned that it usually takes about nine months for rising prices or cuts to be felt by the customer.

== eyes wide open ==

Scottish Association of Master Bakers’ (SAMB) chief executive Kirk Hunter said: "Energy is one of the largest costs next to labour that bakers face and the increases during the past year have been nothing short of horrendous and appalling. I think all of the industry will be looking to their gas suppliers to cut prices."

SAMB encourages its members to shop around to get the best deal on energy prices. "It’s certainly true that there have not been many good deals recently, and even though there is hope that prices will fall, this is still not going to wipe out all increases that have taken place during the past couple of years. We want to see companies moving quicker to reduce costs," said Hunter.

To add to this, many customers are locked into contracts so if the price of gas goes down, they may not immediately feel the benefits. Hunter warns: "The baker will need to look at their own business and strike a balance between paying full price for energy and dealing with an inflexible contract. If they choose a contract, they should go in with their eyes wide open, having thought through all the options available."

SAMB says that its members have been struggling to cope with the huge price increases and have had to use a variety of methods to offset them, including being more energy efficient and buying energy-efficient machinery. Energy costs the industry millions of pounds a year and ovens are the largest consumers of energy. An oven, on average, takes about three quarters of the gas used in a bakery, according to the Carbon Trust. Immediate savings can be made just by putting extra insulation on the oven door and, once or twice a year, ovens should be tested on their effectiveness and assessed for any leakages.

Tesco says that it is designing energy-efficient stores throughout the country, with energy-efficient bakeries. The first, which opened in Diss, in Norfolk, in December 2005, has wind turbines on its roof. Tesco says it is the most energy-efficient supermarket in the UK.

The energy-efficient bakery ovens, which use 50% less energy, are Mondial Forni and are distributed in the UK by Eurobake. They are 50% more efficient because the oven walls are thicker, ensuring heat insulation is more effective. The ovens automatically turn themselves off when not in use but retain the heat ready for the next batch.

During the past year, Tesco claims to have invested £20m in an extensive range of schemes, including technology to cut energy consumption by 135m kWh a year, saving £8.1m in costs.

Brace’s Bakery in Crumlin, Newport, produces and delivers produce to more than 2,500 stores in Wales and the south of England. It estimated that by installing new compressors it could save more than half its existing annual energy costs. The new technology, Boge Compressors, helped reduce costs by more than £18k a year, said Brace’s engineering manager Adrian McGrath.

Brace’s paid for this by applying for the Carbon Trust’s interest-free energy-efficiency loan, aimed at small UK businesses making a commitment to save by investing in energy-efficient technologies. The trust, an independent company funded by the government, says: "It is estimated that 10% savings could be achieved by improving energy efficiency in bakeries. Since the main processing plant - ovens, provers and mixers - is the most energy intensive, it offers the greatest savings opportunities."

== strengthen and secure ==

Allied Bakeries, which has a third share of the UK bread market, is certified energy efficient through the Energy Efficiency Accreditation Scheme (EEAS), which has been taken over by the Carbon Trust. This is the UK’s only independent award scheme which recognises achievements in reducing energy use by leading organisations in industry, commerce and the public sector. "EEAS has benefited Allied Bakeries by strengthening the case for securing a budget for energy-reduction projects," says Tony Turner, Allied Bakeries’ engineering controller.

The Carbon Trust has produced a guide, Reducing Energy Costs in Industrial Bakeries, with advice on improving energy efficiency in bakeries. Attention is drawn to ovens and provers, especially in bread bakeries with applications for heat recovery.

See [] to order a free printed copy. Free help and advice is available to all organisations to save money by reducing energy use. Call on 0800 085 2005 or log on to [].


=== Tips to encourage savings ===

1. Compare companies: Price comparison websites make the process of comparing and switching easier, including Energy Helpline, Energylinx, Home Advisory Service, Money Expert, Simply Switch, UK Power.

2. Pay by cheapest method: Save with online account.

3. Get help: Phone your local energy efficiency advice centre on 0800 512 012. Contact Energy Information Centre, [], for market intelligence, procurement and energy management.

4. Energywatch: Independent watchdog. Helps small businesses choose/change supplier, deal with brokers, negotiate contracts, make sense of meters/bills, and lodge effective complaints. Free, impartial advice.Can take up cases concerning unfair treatment. In 2005-2006, Energywatch claims to have recovered £6.7 million for users in compensation. See [] or helpline on 08459 06 07 08.

5. Carbon Trust: Helps companies address carbon reduction and lower energy costs, from improving staff awareness to looking at the impact of the carbon policy on brand value. Contact 0800 085 2005.

6. Interest-free loans: Up to £100,000 (£200,000 in Northern Ireland) for small to medium-size companies to invest in energy-efficient equipment. Check: Carbon Trust, Energywatch and government energy sites.