Meet Peter, Virgin Active SA Head of Health, Safety and Engineering
- Oct 28, 2011
Name: Peter Schilder
Company: Virgin Active SA
Role: Head: Health, Safety and Engineering
Length of working: 1 year
Loves: Real Canadian maple syrup, steak with mushroom sauce.
Recommends: A sustainable energy reduction strategy needs to make financial sense… Always!
What do you do at Virgin Active, South Africa (SA)?
I head up the Safety and Engineering team of Virgin Active. We are responsible for health and safety, maintenance and engineering in the Virgin Active South African business.
This week is Energy Saving Week, what has Virgin Active SA been doing to improve energy efficiency?
Virgin Active has always focused on energy efficiency. Most heating in our clubs is free as we recover it from our air-conditioning systems. As the air-conditioning units cool the clubs they create heat, which we capture and use to heat the water for our showers and pools. This saves us a huge amount of energy and money.
With our biggest consumption of energy sorted, we are now working at the easy, low hanging fruit which are often overlooked - such as switching things off.
Energy has always been very cheap in South Africa compared to the rest of the world. This is no longer true. The price of energy in South Africa has almost doubled in the past three years. This sparked a focus on energy reduction in many companies, including our own. This also gave rise to many consultants that became “energy experts” overnight. We opted to attract the skill into the business and now have a great team looking after our energy reduction program. Although we are ahead of the curve in energy reduction, we acknowledge that we still have a long way to go.
We have tried many technologies on the market, and not all have worked. For example we explored controlling our air-conditioning with carbon dioxide sensors which turns down the fans when the club is not busy. Unfortunately they did not make a huge difference in most of our clubs, as they are so loved many remain packed all day. We have also looked at voltage optimisation but find it very capital intensive.
Our biggest drive at the moment is to exploit new lighting technology we are even exploring the use of smart paint on our roofs to reduce the heating load.
What energy savings milestones have you reached so far?
In South Africa, most energy is consumed as electricity. We have set ourselves the “Million KiloWatt Hour Saving” target, to reduce our monthly electricity consumption by one million kWh, compared to the same month last year. Well, it took only three months to smash the target by reducing total electricity consumption for Virgin Active SA by 1,066,000 kWh in September. This saved 6% of its total electricity consumption and nearly R1m per month (£80k). The entire Safety and Engineering team now pays for itself!
What is your big energy target at the moment?
The current target is 1.25 million KWh per month. We are watching the clock for midnight at the end of the month to see where we are. In the meantime, everyone is working day and night to manage our energy.
Many people suggest that you should link up the spinning bikes to generate electricity – is that possible?
Yes, this is very possible. It is the same principal as a bike dynamo to power your bike light. However a typical output would be around 0.1 KWh per person in the class. Although every little helps, the infrastructure would be quite expensive and wouldn’t make much of a dent in our one million KWh per month target.
As we know, our Virgin culture drives us to seek innovative solutions and I am sure someone soon will come up with a novel way to collect the small bits of energy and to convert it to useful energy in a way that makes financial sense.
Do you use any renewables in your clubs?
Up to now, we have not invested in renewable energy sources. This may be about to change as we are now getting access to renewable technology such as Photovoltaic technology that is starting to make financial sense. As usual, we will be kicking the tires to make sure we get the right technology.
Where has it been hardest to drive efficiency?
It is well known that one starts to drive energy efficiency campaign by changing people’s behavior, after all, it is the least expensive intervention and can add significantly to the bottom line. Yeah right! Most people change behavior after 21 days, the psychologists tells us. This has been very hard in South Africa as we do not have a culture of switching things off when they are not in use. We found that it was easier to set a timer to switch things off that to remind thousands of staff for 21 days.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to make their home or business more energy efficient?
Always start with the basics, learn to switch things off when they are not needed. We have teams of engineering staff sneaking around our clubs at night to sniff out were electricity is being wasted. It is also vital to keep monitoring your performance. We have a web based near real-time energy logging system for most of our 95 clubs. We are so fanatical about monitoring that club managers can expect a phone call the next morning if they forgot to roll out the pool covers the previous night. Yes, we can see it on the energy graph!
At home or any with business, the same principles can be applied. Monitor your monthly electricity account. Once you have done this, find out where most electricity is used and ask around if it is needed or if there is a more efficient technology. We found that the biggest impact is made by the least expense interventions.
Who is your biggest hero?
There are so many people that touch my life every day that it is impossible for me to pick just one! Being a proud South African, Madiba (Nelson Mandela) ranks up there as one of my biggest heroes.
Want to hear more about what Virgin Active are doing in the UK? Read our interview with Mark Donovan