'Our milk is now heated entirely with recovered heat.'

Many business leaders are worried about high energy prices and need sustainable solutions. They are often unable to see the wood for the trees. EcoWise, a new subsidiary of KBC, is stepping into the breach by providing objective energy advice. 'There are still so many gains to be made in terms of energy.’

David De Coster is manager of De Zuivelarij, a cheese dairy based in Berlare, near Ghent. He started in his kitchen eight years ago, but once his grilling cheese, Berloumi, found its way into supermarkets, it quickly became clear that his operation was too small. De Zuivelarij moved to a bigger location and turned to KBC to raise the funds needed to keep up with the high demand. Last year, the company saw growth of 30 percent purely in volume terms.
Despite that, it was still an awful year,' sighs De Coster. 'The high milk price made life difficult for us, and if anything the rise in energy costs was even worse.’ As a proportion of sales, De Zuivelarij’s energy bill rose from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent. That was a wake-up call for De Coster. 'For the first few years, you’re focused on investments and dealing with logistical challenges. Once having arrived at our final location, it was time to start looking at our costs as well.’
But that turned out not to be as simple as we’d thought. 'I’m the kind of person who thinks you do things better if you do them yourself. For instance, I’m a quick learner when it comes to engineering or accounting. But I couldn’t see myself tackling this on my own. I don't even know the difference between amps and volts.’

For Frederik Goegebeur, CEO of ecoWise, it’s a familiar story. 'There’s high demand from entrepreneurs looking for knowledge and inspiration in relation to energy management. That’s driven by the steep price increases, of course, but also by the growing focus on sustainability. Entrepreneurs are increasingly being asked by their customers, suppliers or other stakeholders about what actions they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint. Tackling energy management is one of the most impactful steps you can take as a business.’
Despite this, many business leaders adopt a wait-and-see approach, says Goegebeur. 'Many businesses are approached about making an investment, for example by solar panel installers, but they do not have sufficient knowledge to judge whether this is the right move for them. Or they do want to invest in solar panels, but are unsure about the optimum dimensions or how best to fit in solar panels with the need to charge electric vehicles and batteries, for example.’ The increasing complexity of support measures and regulations is another impediment. People have sometimes heard the term ‘capacity tariff’ being bandied about, or the concept of energy sharing, but they rarely know exactly what it means. 'First and foremost, entrepreneurs have a business to run,' says Goegebeur. 'That’s where their focus is needed. On the other hand, there is a risk that they will delay making decisions that are in their interest.’

Quick wins

Enter KBC's new subsidiary ecoWise, which has been assisting entrepreneurs with customised energy advice since the beginning of this year. The company targets medium-sized companies, with a focus on large energy consumers. What makes ecoWise stand out is its guaranteed independence. 'We are not tied to any installers or partners. For customers who want it, we collect and compare quotes, but we give independent expert advice,' says Goegebeur.
What exactly does this guidance towards sustainable energy management entail? 'We work with a fixed four-step approach in which we always start by mapping the current consumption,' Goegebeur explains. 'How much energy do you consume? When do you do that? What do you use the energy for? As part of the process, we also scrutinise the client’s energy bills.’

Once we have a clear picture of the consumption, ecoWise looks for sensible ways to save. 'Often these are quick wins - for example, switching to LED lighting, or recovering heat from production processes.’ In addition to this, ecoWise's experts look closely at the peaks in consumption to make smarter use of the available energy. 'We are studying ways to intervene in business processes to smooth out the peaks, for example by not starting all machines at the same time. To avoid surcharges for large consumers, we check that the access power is set up correctly, in other words the expected peaks that are reported to the network operator.’

EcoWise then investigates whether renewable energy could be incorporated to meet the remaining energy needs. For large businesses or farms, it may be worthwhile installing a wind turbine, but in most cases solar panels are the better option. 'We don't automatically steer customers towards solar panels; we first carefully weigh up the investment costs, returns and payback time. We take account of things like the available space, consumption, and plans for the future. For example, it doesn’t always make sense to cover a roof completely with solar panels if the consumption doesn’t warrant it. It’s also important to anticipate any plans to electrify the vehicle fleet, for example, when installing the solar panels, to see how we can optimise the vehicle charging needs with the available solar energy. Energy sharing is also an option, where surplus energy is allocated to other locations rather than being fed into the grid.’
Finally, ecoWise also provides an overview of the grants and sustainable financing solutions that KBC can offer.

EcoWise brings together the conclusions of the study in a clearly written advisory report. For De Zuivelarij, the report contained a few eye-openers. 'I was amazed at how quickly they got a handle on our operation,' says De Coster. 'Take our compressed air, for example; I hear that machine running here every day, but I had no idea of the impact it was having on our final energy bill. Steven, our consultant from ecoWise, calculated during his very first visit that the machine was costing me 4 000 EUR a year in energy.’
EcoWise suggested some savings and measures that De Zuivelarij could take, and De Coster has since implemented the main suggestions. 'One of the residual products of our cheese is whey. During the production process, it reaches a temperature of around 60 degrees. We heat it up further to 90 degrees so we can make ricotta.
Previously, all that heat used to go to waste, but following the advice of ecoWise, I invested in two heat exchangers to capture the heat. Our milk is now heated entirely with recovered heat.’

Savings of up to 25 percent

What is the impact of working with ecoWise? Goegebeur makes the case: 'We can propose sensible measures for every business,' he says. 'Obviously, some businesses are further along the road than others. Some have switched completely to LED and a have had a heat pump for years, but there are still always energy gains to be made. For example, we recently helped a cabinetmaker, who had already committed to a lot of green investments, to calculate the ideal dimensions of his solar panels.’ Customers who work with ecoWise can reduce their energy costs by between 15 and 25 percent on average.

De Zuivelarij also looks back on the relationship with satisfaction

We are still waiting for the results of the roof stability survey for the solar panels, but the heat exchangers are already doing their job,' says De Coster. 'We had created space for a second steam boiler when the building was commissioned because we had reached the limit of our available energy. That steam boiler would have cost between 90 000 and 120 000 euros. Because we are now recovering heat, that investment may be off the table for good.

David De Coster - Manager De Zuivelarij

Who are ecoWise?

ecoWise is a firm of energy consultants operating throughout Flanders to guide and support SMEs and farms in their transition to sustainability. ecoWise focuses on providing advice on energy saving, rational energy use and conversion to renewable energy production.

What is KBC doing?

KBC aims to offer sustainable, tailor-made solutions and expert advice. To help it do that, KBC works with partners and continuously improves its sustainable propositions and solutions. KBC also set up a new subsidiary, ‘ecoWise', which provides independent expert advice on energy transition to medium-sized companies.
You can read about how KBC is implementing its sustainability strategy in its recently published sustainability report. Scan the QR code to read it.

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