Achieving bottom line growth through energy savings in a business environment
Story by Lee Marie Reinsch
Last time that Belchello’s 16-meat pizza pulled your arm in to your supermarket’s freezer, did you notice the lights?
But grocers tend to notice them, especially when the power bill arrives and never seems to get any smaller.
That’s why Piggly Wiggly and many other northeast Wisconsin companies are working to replace those inefficient lights – along with fans, motors and other things that whir, hum and glow – with more energy-saving versions.
“People are interested in saving energy; the ‘fad’ isn’t going anywhere,” said Steven Klessig, architect and vice president of architecture for Keller, Inc., a Kaukauna design/build firm that focuses on energy efficient construction. Klessig also advises the state’s building commission, which sets building codes for safety and energy-efficiency across Wisconsin.
The Pig’s freezer lights are being changed to LED (light-emitting diode) and the old magnetic blower motors are being switched out to electronic ones, all to provide energy and cost savings.
“They use probably 30 percent of the energy of the (older) motors,” said Dave Wiertzema, project manager for Menasha-based Faith Technologies, the company doing the work for Piggly Wiggly. “That’s quite a savings.”
The coolers themselves are in good shape and don’t need to be replaced, and switching out evaporator motors is a quick turnaround with a quick payback. “In two years or less, they pay for themselves,” Wiertzema said. “If you have a cooler that is 15 years old, those motors are going to fail at some point.”
The cost to replace or repair the old motors one by one through the refrigeration company or contractor would far exceed the cost of replacing with new all at the same time, according to Wiertzema.
Projects such as these tend to have a fairly attractive ROI, and that’s important to business owners, Wiertzema said. “They will want to see the return on investment on the individual measures,” he said.
Good news, bad news and more bad news
The good news about Wisconsin is that our overall energy use is down compared to a decade ago.
But twofold bad news comes with that: A big reason we’re using less energy is that many factories and businesses have shut down in the past several years. And, ironically, the less energy we use, the higher our rates go, as delineated in a report by the Public Service Commission on Wisconsin’s renewable portfolio standards.
“Renewable portfolio standards” describes the variety of types of renewable energy sources (such as wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, etc.) that Wisconsin uses, and refers to the idea that the energy comes from a collection of different energy sources, rather than just one.
The “standards” part refers to the agreement passed by the state legislature in 2006 requiring 10 percent of the energy Wisconsin buys to come from renewable sources beginning in 2015.
“Renewables are not as cheap as a coal plant or nuclear but have a value (in) that they are clean sources of power,” said Matthew Pagel, communications and policy liaison for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
We’re on target to make that 10 percent goal by 2015, according to state Department of Administration deputy secretary Chris Schoenherr. Most of our energy in Wisconsin still comes from coal, though.
Energy-efficient versions of gadgets tend to be notoriously expensive. It can take 14 to 15 years for a commercial geothermal heating/cooling system to pay for itself, according to a 2009 report by Energy Center of Wisconsin. In the ballpark of $40,000 for a home geothermal system, the upfront price tag can scare people, although some vendors say the projects can pay for themselves and even make money after just a few years.
Solar photovoltaic also can be intimidating, with a typical 15- to 20-year payback, according to Wiertzema.
An LED light bulb can cost 15 times what an incandescent one does. Granted, it uses one-quarter of the energy and can last up to 25 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And although LED light prices are down compared to when they first came out, the higher cost still can be tough to swallow.
“These devices cost more than regular devices, so if (business owners) can’t pay for it in seven years, they aren’t going to buy an energy-efficient model,” Klessig said. “The savings in energy has to pay for the extra cost of the equipment.”
The green building movement is the most significant movement in home and commercial office design to come along in a long time, he said. It’s led to many good changes in the way buildings are designed, built, powered and even in the way construction debris is disposed.
“There are a lot of people who thought the green movement was a passing fad, like artistic or design, but the green movement is so unique it really has staying power within our industry,” Klessig said. “It’s gotten a lot of traction.”
It culminated with the Green Building Alliance’s creation of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, the certification process by which architect and building owner can define, quantitatively, what “green” building is, according to Klessig.
But some business owners have been turned off by the regimen of LEED. The paperwork, expense and bureaucracy required in order to comply with its strictures can be overwhelming, especially for small or mid-sized businesses, Klessig said. And that’s where most of the new construction is happening.
“The LEED process was its own worst enemy,” Klessig said. “It’s too costly and too onerous of a system, and many building owners that want to be conscientious and good stewards of the environment are not doing LEED because of its cost and bureaucracy.”
It’s just easier being green
Bypassing the LEED merit badge doesn’t mean these rebels are any less motivated to be energy conscious – they just aren’t going to pay for someone to tell them they’re officially green.
“They want their architect and builder to tell them all the great ways the industry has come up with to save energy,” Klessig said. “They want to know what it costs and how long will it take to pay for it.
“The business community has more or less established that if an investment’s return takes longer than seven years, it’s not a good business decision, unless it’s for an ulterior motive” such as public relations or prestige, Klessig said.
So what are all these ‘great ways the industry has come up with to save energy’? Since he’s an architect, Klessig instinctively reaches for the beginning of a new construction for that answer.
He notes several factors to keep in mind when designing a building:
• Orientation (of a building) to the sun, wind and shade.
• Building into the ground.
• Taking into account the natural environment and the impact it has
on your building.
• Not facing a glass wall to the north.
• Putting the garage (or storeroom) on the north side to buffer the
space from the north wind.
• Planting a tree line to shade the building from the radiation gain
from the sun’s heat.
• Creating daylighting.
“All of those things are things an architect can do at the beginning of project design,” Klessig said.
Then there’s the building itself – factors such as the amount of insulation it has, the volume of the spaces themselves, the height of the ceilings, the amount of glass via windows and doors – that affect the amount of energy used.
“You see buildings that are much bigger than they need to be from the standpoint of energy efficiency, but they are done for aesthetic reasons or spiritual reasons,” Klessig said. “There are more influences on building design than just energy.”
Clamp down on amped-up lamps
Re-lamping with high-efficiency fluorescent lighting can usually be paid for in 1½ years, Klessig said.
“Businesses look at it and say it’s a no-brainer. Lighting is the best example of a very smart, well-designed, well-priced alternative that has really proven itself for business and commercial building owners.”
One lighting solution that keeps popping up in conversation: The solar light pipe, like the one developed by Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc.
The light pipes use no electricity and can replace artificial lighting during daylight hours. From a bird’s eye view, they sit on the roof and look like oversized soap bubbles. From the user’s perspective inside a building, they just look like recessed lights. Mirrors inside the bubbles help amplify the sun’s rays.
Barry Campbell of Kaukauna-based Security Luebke Roofing, which is a dealer and installer of the Orion light pipes, said his customers have been happy with the energy savings they’re seeing.
The light tubes can be found in some of the biggest commercial buildings in the area, Campbell said.
One of Security Luebke’s first experiences with light pipes was with Festival Foods in Suamico, which opened less than two years ago and entailed some 300 light pipes.
“If you have a 100,000-sq. ft. Walmart and you don’t even have to turn the lights on for most of the day, that is a big savings,” Klessig said.
He knows people who have re-lamped their new buildings because they started out with traditional lighting systems. “They do it because they can pay for it in a year and a half,” Klessig said. “The question is why didn’t you put it in in the first place? High-efficiency lighting has been around for 10 or 12 years. Sometimes business people make the wrong decisions – they don’t have good architects, or they go to electricians to advise them.”
To compare, a typical fluorescent light in an office delivers the equivalent of 70 candles per square foot of work surface. On a sunny day, the sun delivers the equivalent of 1,000 candles per square foot, Klessig said.
“So it’s quickly understood why daylighting is such an important design principal to incorporate into a building,” Klessig said. “It’s not just nice for people and gives them a sense of well-being, it makes good energy sense.”
There’s an app for that
Those thinking about re-lamping can calculate the energy they’d save by upgrading to high-efficiency components with a widget at the Faith Technologies website, www.faithtechnologies.com/lighting.
“We thought as long as people are researching stuff on the web, this is another tool to add to that,” Wiertzema said. “If people are looking at us, they could actually go in there and do some simple calculations.”
You or I might not know our 250-Watt MH light from our 2 Lamp T12 ES, but a facility maintenance manager would, Wiertzema said.
They save you dough (or they don’t eat)
Even before Domino’s came up with its love-their-pizza-or-it’s-free guarantee, energy-performance contractors have been guaranteeing that their customers will come out ahead by replacing old equipment with new.
Though not a household term by any stretch, energy-performance contracting has been around since the early 1980s. It’s only been the last four or five years that the State of Wisconsin has gotten into the act.
How it works: Essentially, private companies such as Johnson Controls, Siemens or Honeywell are contracted to assess current equipment such as furnaces, boilers and other energy consumption, then calculate any savings that could be achieved if the old equipment were replaced with new.
“They (the private contractor) guarantee those savings to the individual user, which in this case is the State of Wisconsin, so the risk is on them,” said Schoenherr from the state Department of Administration. “They are paid through the savings. They have to produce those savings in order to get paid.”
It’s been a successful program for the state.
“It’s something a fair number of commercial/industrial customers can do and often do, even outside the statewide program,” Schoenherr said. “So there’s kind of a private industry – a private business piece – that is also tackling the energy efficiency piece and doing it quite successfully.”
The state will have put $100 million into performance contracting over the 2011-2013 biennium to help state buildings save energy, according to Schoenherr. That’s up from $80 million the previous biennium.
No one can deny that we have more electronic gadgets and gizmos today than we did 30 years ago. With everyone plugged in, logged on and charging up 24 hours a day, what’s that doing to corporate energy bills?
Not much, says Keller’s Klessig, and he can tell us how he knows this without knowing anything about electronics.
“I used to have to put huge air conditioning systems in computer rooms because the electronic devices were creating so much heat. You know that if it’s creating a lot of heat, it’s using a lot of electricity; then if you have to use energy to cool that heat, it’s even more costly,” he said.
But today’s equipment is much more efficient and gives off much less heat.
“I wouldn’t say handheld devices and phones are anything to be concerned about,” he said. “If you said manufacturing them was inefficient, that’s a whole other debate.”
Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.