Bright ideas

by John Watkins
John Watkins oversees product development, sales and marketing for FSC Lighting.

Is your company’s building doing everything in its power to ensure energy efficiency? Commercial properties with large-scale lighting, HVAC, and computer and electrical systems consume a lot of energy, and have the power bills to prove it.

Here are several effective strategies you can pursue to reduce the amount of energy your building uses on a daily basis, so that you can see big reductions over time.

1. Conduct an energy audit

To start saving energy, you first need to identify how much you’re using. An energy auditor can help. These pros identify exactly where your facility’s power is going, pinpoint which systems are burning the most and help develop a strategy for cutting down power usage. The cost of an auditor’s services varies with the size and scope of a facility, but generally an energy audit will cost between $1,000 and $15,000. Prepare all required documents in advance of your appointment to cut down on unnecessary hours.

2. Improve energy practices

On average, 20 to 30 percent of the energy used by commercial properties is wasted. Extend that for five years, and you’ve wasted enough to power your building’s functions for more than one year. Obviously, this is a very bad habit.

How do you stop energy drain? Identify the practices that incur the most waste. Typically, the most common culprits are HVAC, lighting and bad habits.

HVAC systems are notoriously inefficient, especially if they’re older. Proper maintenance is key; make sure to replace old filters, repair faulty parts and minimize any unnecessary heating or cooling.

Lighting habits can also result in energy drain. If it’s not necessary to the security of your business, turn lights off at night, in unoccupied areas and at times of the day when natural light is sufficient.

Finally, as much as you can, try not to power up your systems during “peak demand” times. Your energy auditor can offer advice on how to spread out system activation to reduce power costs.

3. Invest in automation

While automated lighting and HVAC timers have been around for a long time, recent integrations of the Internet into “smart” building technologies have taken automation to greater effectiveness. Because they run on software, new features can be installed as easily as new apps, eliminating – or at least significantly reducing – the need for a full system overhaul every few years. New programmable features include:

  • Zone scheduling: turns systems off and on based on location usage;
  • Automated seasonal temperatures: adjusts baseline temperatures to shift with the external climate;
  • Daylight harvesting: automatically adjusts the brightness of lighting systems according to the availability of natural light;
  • Card entry activation: uses key cards, not times of day, to launch systems;
  • Central monitoring: allows operator to monitor all controls from a single device.

4. Implement energy-efficient LED lighting

Once you’ve improved your lighting habits, it might be wise to convert fluorescent, halogen or incandescent lighting systems to LED. LED uses a third of the energy of fluorescent lights, and less than a tenth of the power of halogen or incandescent bulbs. They also last longer than any other
light on the market – up to 50,000 hours if properly installed.

LEDs are easily programmable with the new “smart” automation technologies. Older fixtures can often be retrofitted to operate as smart LED systems.

Real change

One North American plastics molding company was able to significantly reduce energy costs across its facilities by updating the lighting to an LED system with automated controls.

Before the improvements, all of the lighting across its two-building manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution centres was controlled by one main switchboard. The inconvenience of this setup often resulted in poor lighting practices and unnecessary energy burn. Furthermore, the lighting was poor, creating shadows that caused safety hazards for workers.

To address these issues, the company retrofitted its facility with a more efficient LED system. They then linked this system up to a cloud-based, remote-access, wireless management system for indoor lighting, which allowed operators to identify usage patterns and adjust them from any area within the compound.

The result? Over US$14,000 saved in only three months of electricity bills. That translates to an ROI of just over one year. No matter what the size or scale your property is, you can save a lot by implementing efficient practices. Even a minor adjustment can result in big savings down
the line, especially for large commercial facilities. Take stock and see what your company can do to improve its efficiency. Your power bill and the environment will be all the better for it.