Energy Plays A Growing Role In Cost Control for Business
More and more companies are realizing the importance of taking a holistic approach to energy management today, and the benefits can be significant both economically and environmentally.
"Economics create focus for business owners," says Bobbi Michels, a New York-based energy-efficiency consultant. "Energy economics dictate frugal use, conservation and wise acquisition. The rising cost of energy creates focus on the carbon footprint of buildings and processes."
Energy is a major cost item for all business owners, Michels notes. Developing and implementing an all-encompassing energy strategy ensures effective economic use of a scarce, expensive resource. "That strategy should include technology, equipment and process projects that will pay for themselves from the resulting energy savings," she says.
Proponents of holistic energy management have been promoting the strategy’s benefits for some time. What’s changed recently is the receptivity of their audience.
"We’re starting to see a new emphasis on energy efficiency in the commercial and industrial sector," says Thomas Redburn, a business development specialist in HVAC services. He has seen energy efficiency evolve into a C-level issue in his dealings with customers recently.
Businesses take all kinds of approaches in migrating to holistic energy management plans, including opportunistic ones. That was the case for Cash America International Inc., the market leader in secured non-recourse lending to individuals, when it needed to upgrade aging chilled water production equipment at its Forth Worth, TX, headquarters.
The company chose to replace its old equipment with a Smardt chiller system, featuring a highly-efficient, oil-free compressor that is lightweight and very quiet. J. Leo Kinney, Cash America’s onsite property manager, says energy usage, lack of tear-down maintenance and oil-free operation were important factors in the decision. The unit is also much quieter then the 280-ton AC compressors it replaces, and it eliminates future concerns about CFCs.
That included re-lamping the entire building; installing motion sensors in all offices and lighting timers in shared-use areas; switching to auto-valves on toilets, sinks and soap dispensers; upgrading switch gear to a compact 30-amp breaker system; and greatly improving the energy efficiency of the building’s envelope.
As a result, Cash America has achieved more than $114,000 in annual direct energy savings, reduced annual maintenance costs by more than $22,000 and received a one-time rebate of $40,000 from its electric utility. Its total first-year savings surpassed $176,000, Kinney reports.
AGGRESSIVE APPROACHOrganizations in the public sector are pursuing—and achieving—similar results. The City of Toronto, for example, has developed a “Climate Change Plan,” which is an aggressive approach to reduce environmental impacts throughout the city.
As part of that plan, Toronto’s Social Housing Unit is committed to facilitating innovation and improved energy efficiency throughout its portfolio of 245 privately owned social housing providers, says Glenn Courtney, manager of the city’s social Housing Program Administration.
"Since the city does not own these housing projects, our role is one of encouraging, offering incentives and assisting housing providers to that end," he explains.
When the Margaret Laurence Housing Co-operative (MLHC) needed to replace its air conditioning system in the summer of 2007, managers realized the building’s heating system would also require upgrading shortly. The City of Toronto got involved to help MLHC realize the significant opportunity for improved efficiencies it faced.
Only six weeks were available from the beginning of the planning process to the September 15 deadline by which heat must be available to residential units in Toronto, as required by law.
Working with a local engineering firm, the co-op’s energy contractor oversaw the installation of a new high-tech chiller system to replace an aging 250-ton gas-fired absorption chiller. MLHC also upgraded its energy management and control system to energy-usage monitoring capabilities.
One of the charms of Reata, an exclusive restaurant and meeting space in historic downtown Forth Worth, TX., is the historic Sundance Square building in which it is located. But “charmed” doesn’t exactly describe how the engineer responsible for the building’s facilities and equipment felt about its antiquated cooling system.
John Pribble, chief engineer for Sundance Square, needed to update the system, and he wanted a chiller that would be quiet, reliable, cost efficient and energy efficient. 'It had to provide reliable comfort for Reata’s patrons and staff, couldn’t be noisy due to the mechanical room’s proximity to the restaurant’s meeting rooms, and its components had to fit in a passenger elevator and through tight spaces," he says.
Pribble learned about the generation of chillers through its energy supplier and Quantum Mechanical, the local contractor who installed it. The new chiller uses a compressor that is up to 30% more efficient than other compressors in its size range.
It can be monitored on site or remotely through a state-of-the-art Web-based monitoring and diagnostics system. It’s oil-free, about one-fifth the weight of conventional compressors and operates so quietly (70 dBa), it can barely be heard turning on against typical equipment background noise.
SERIOUS DOUBTS"Frankly, I had some serious doubts about the whole concept," Pribble admits. But after seeing a working cut-away model, his skepticism began to wane. "Then when I went to see some units in operation out in the field and talked to their owners about the chillers’ performance, energy savings and reduced maintenance, I was sold," he says.
Since installing the chiller, he’s seen about a 30% reduction in chiller energy costs and has had "practically zero maintenance," Pribble reports. "I couldn’t be more pleased. We are looking for more applications for these chillers throughout our properties."
Experiences like those of Cash America, the Margaret Laurence Housing Co-operative and Reata in adopting holistic energy management strategies are not atypical, and there are plenty of resources available to organizations from both public and private sources.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), for example, devotes an entire Web site to holistic energy management for residential, commercial and public sector organizations (www.getenergysmart.org).
Organizations in both the public and private sectors are embracing the concept of holistic energy conservation. In some cases, nonprofit agencies are stepping up to take the lead.