Energy efficiency in retail

The retail industry’s energy use will come from different factors depending on the type of store but generally, heating and lighting are the biggest drivers of consumption. Refrigeration also takes a big percentage of the costs where applicable. Good management could bring real results as there are often many factors that are not considered. For example, retail businesses tend to have high levels of heat gain from staff, lighting, customers and equipment, therefore ventilation and air conditioning are under pressure to maintain temperatures.

To help you become more energy efficient, we’ve included a list of steps you can take, from changes that don’t cost anything, to longer-term investment which can bring higher savings. You should be able to implement these without making your store any less attractive to potential buyers, but in such a way that you reduce your fixed costs.

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Who is this for?

Simple no cost changes

Lighting energy efficiency


  • Bright, attractive lights are believed to maximise sales and draw customers in. Despite what you might think, improving the efficiency in this area will not diminish the quality of the experience.
  • Encourage staff to turn off lights when not in use and use simple light switch stickers so everyone feels confident that they are turning off the right one.
  • Basic maintenance can reduce costs by 15%, regular maintenance by 30%.
Building fabric energy efficiency

Building fabric

  • Create a maintenance and housekeeping schedule, addressing gaps in the wall or damaged windows and doors as soon as possible and get staff involved to check and report issues.
  • Check the building for damp once a year before winter to identify things like faulty gutters and repair split downpipes.
Ventilation and air energy efficiency

Heating, ventilation and air circulation

  • Heating accounts for 29% of energy costs in non-domestic buildings, but you can be more efficient without affecting the comfort of your employees and customers.
  • Consider the outside temperature – customers wear warmer clothing when it’s cold outside so don’t make the store uncomfortably hot under those conditions. Provide staff with appropriate uniforms for the season. Turning down the temperature by just 1°C could mean an 8% energy saving. Turn the heating down by 2°C could save you £140 on a £1,000 bill.
  • If you have an open-door policy, limit it to busy times to prevent hot and cold air escaping.
  • Take advantage of natural ventilation and free cooling to halve costs. Can you safely use windows and doors to cool the air before turning on the air conditioning?
  • Take advantage of night time which is naturally cooler to delay switching the air conditioning on. Decide on an outdoor temperature range (for example between 19-24°C) when neither heating nor cooling will be turned on.
  • A reduced temperature of 10°C is sufficient during the night for most buildings.
Refrigeration energy efficiency


  • Up to 20% of the energy used for refrigeration could be cut with little or no cost.
  • Depending on the type of retail business, this could account for half of the total energy bill, so try these quick wins:
    • Don’t over-fill shelves as it makes it harder to maintain the right temperature
    • If you have insulating covers and blinds, use them
    • Switch lighting in chillers off outside opening hours as the light generates heat
    • Keep chiller doors shut – consider using reminders such as stickers for both staff and customers. Using transparent display cabinets rather than open ones has shown to have little negative effect on sales, but a warmer environment and reduction in energy use.
    • Create a maintenance schedule to include: defrosting, checking door seals, cleaning condensers and checking the refrigerant level
    • Use the recommended temperature settings as every degree below what is required adds 2-4% more cost.
    • Store items in cool places so the equipment load is lessened when transferred to customer-facing chillers

Straightforward low-cost changes

Lighting energy efficiency


  • Occupancy sensors in toilets or lesser used areas such as stockrooms could save up to 50% on lighting costs, while daylight sensors turn lights off when there is enough daylight and could be particularly efficient in car parks or for signage.
  • Keep in mind that external flood lights (for example in car parks) can cost £250 a year on their own if they're left on for 12 hours a night.
  • Replace conventional bulbs with CFL (Compact fluorescent lightbulbs) – they last 8x longer and use 80% less electricity. What’s more, LEDs could give you 30,000-50,000 hours of use.
Ventilation and air energy efficiency

Heating, ventilation and air circulation

  • Use time switches to change when heating and cooling systems work to automatically turn off outside opening hours and turn on in time for when you open again. Review the settings every month to adjust with the season.
  • Maintain boilers, tanks and pipe work and you could save 5% on heating costs. Look at insulating them where possible and you could get the money back in a few months after installation
  • Plan for regular maintenance as dirty or faulty fans, air ducts and components can decrease efficiency by 25%.
Refrigeration energy efficiency


  • Installing strip curtains could save your business over 40% of cooling costs as they keep the warm air out. Also consider investing in night blinds to keep the cold air in the open chillers when they’re not in use.
  • Use time switches for chillers that contain non-perishable food and drink to switch them off outside of working hours if safe to do so.
  • When upgrading equipment, always consider the energy efficiency rating for an indication of running costs, not just what you need to pay upfront.

Cost per lamp: LEDs vs CFLs vs halogens

  LED CFL Halogen
Watts (equivalent lamps) 6W 11W 35W
Purchase per lamp £6.00 £3.50 £2.00
Typical annual lamp use (hours) 1,000h 1,000h 1,000h
Typical lamp lifetime (in hours) 30,000h 10,000h 2,000h
Typical lamp lifetime (years) 30 years 10 years 2 years
Cost of lamp purchases over 30 years £6.00 £10.50 £30.00
Annual energy consumption per lamp 6kW 11kW 35kW
Annual electricity cost per lamp at 14.05/kW £0.84 £1.55 £4.92
Total cost per lamp per year (Averaged over a typical LED malp life - 30 years) £1.04 per year £1.90 per year £5.92 per year

*Data from the Energy Saving Trust's "Selecting low energy lighting" guide.

Long-term savings from the right investments

Ventilation and air energy efficiency

Heating, ventilation and air circulation

  • Upgrade your heating controls. For example, use a compensator which works based on external weather to regulate the temperature. Or use an optimum start controller which optimises heating based on the time it takes to reach desired temperature. These two devices will give you a return on investment in about two years.
  • Make sure you always buy the highest energy efficiency-rated equipment as that will keep ventilation costs down as well as produce less heat.
Building fabric energy efficiency

Building fabric

  • Reduce heat loss via delivery doors and docking bays with PVC curtains or even consider automating doors where suitable.
  • As 25% of a building’s heat escapes through the roof, look at installing insulation there and throughout the building. Did you know that insulating pipework can reduce energy losses by 70%?

Action plan


Start by making a note of your current consumption.

By default, your smart meter will record consumption data in 30-minute intervals. You can use this starting point as a benchmark.


Do you notice any variations during the year?

Make a note of them and think about what could cause them. For example, if your business is affected by the weather, you could save energy by investing in better insulation and save money in the long term.


Benchmark your current energy use

How does it compare to last year or last season? Make sure you analyse similar time periods (for example, December 2018 with December 2019) to make sure the improvement in efficiency isn’t influenced by other factors.


How much are you going to reduce your consumption by?

Set a realistic goal and a target date of when you’ll measure consumption again to track how you’re doing.


Choose the steps you’ll take to achieve those goals

Use the categories above to put advice into practice and involve your employees. To motivate staff, try to make it into a competition. Why not offer a free meal out to the team that comes up with the most energy saving ideas or commit to donating the savings to a local charity that they choose?


Make the changes and measure the results

Communicate all improvements with your staff, no matter how small, to encourage an energy efficient state of mind. And when you're ready to make more changes to become energy efficient, come back to this action plan and start again.

The facts, figures and advice have been sourced from the Carbon Trust, Energy Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly known as the Department of Energy and Climate Change).