Energy Efficiency Hits Home without Hitting Wallet

Energy Audits, LED Retrofits Cut Energy Costs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — High-efficiency furnaces, alternative sources of power such as solar, and more options for customers in the electrical market are helping to change the habits of once energy-hungry consumers.

Sometimes reducing energy consumption is as simple as turning down the thermostat, remembering to shut off the lights or electronics when you’re not in the room using them, or keeping a close eye on how much you spend each month.

As technology becomes more sophisticated – and more affordable – energy users, both residential and commercial, are investing in new ways to lower their costs as they reduce their carbon footprints.

“One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is a lot of retrofits on a national level for LED lighting,” says Eric Carlson, president of Dickey Electric Inc., an electrical contractor based in North Lima. LED – an acronym for light-emitting diode – fixtures are being phased into the consumer market at an accelerated pace, replacing the traditional lighting sources throughout American households and businesses.

“A while back, the big push was to go from T12 fluorescent bulbs to T8 or T5 fluorescents,” Carlson says. “Now, the big push is from T5 to LED.”

Above: Eric Carlson

The reason for the transition is clear, Carlson says: LED lighting substantially reduces the wattage used to illuminate a room or space, thereby providing a much longer maintenance-free life on the bulb. And because the light is of lower wattage, it uses less energy, reducing energy costs in the home, factory or office.

“In some cases, you could get 13 to 15 years out of one of these,” Carlson says. “We’re actually pricing ourselves out of the maintenance market.”

A national maintenance company recently hired Dickey to retrofit with LED lighting some 50 Chase Bank offices in the region and another 150 Circle K convenience stores. In the case of Circle K, a store should realize between a 50% and 60% reduction in energy consumption just because it replaced its exterior security lights with LED bulbs.

Consumers need to be cognizant of what type of LED bulb they’re buying, Carlson says, noting it’s best to trust the standard manufacturers with the best reputations.

“All of the major producers have switched to LED technology,” he says. “Just because you buy LED doesn’t necessarily mean it’s up to standards.”

Many consumers remain shy about committing to LED lighting because the upfront costs are higher and the standard white bulbs and tubes are much brighter than traditional fluorescent fixtures.

Jim DeRosa, general manager at Yesco in Austintown, relates that LED has changed the industry dramatically over the last several years and today LED tubes come in several shades and colors that reduce the amount of light emitted. “They just don’t come in a bright white bulb anymore,” he says.

Newer technology allows LEDs to connect with dimmer switches so the user can adjust to the desired level of light in a room or a business, DeRosa says.

As for upfront costs, consumers most likely would recover their initial cost in full in three years through savings in their electrical bills, DeRosa says. Plus, those planning a radical overhaul of their lighting systems could qualify for rebates through electric utilities such as FirstEnergy.

“The idea is to get the cost of equipment down,” DeRosa says. “We’ll help them do that.”

Often Yesco comes in and performs what is called “an energy audit” on a company – say a commercial warehouse, DeRosa says. “We’ll go onsite – a lot of times it’s a 25,000-or 30,000-square-foot building that might be using high-discharge lighting,” he says. “We’ll count the fixtures, look at the fixture types, look at how much wattage is being used and when it’s used.”

The next task is assessing which part of the operation uses the most energy and which areas the least, DeRosa says.

In the case of lighting, an area of the warehouse that attracts less traffic could benefit from motion sensors that activate the lights only when someone is working in that part of the building.

“We often work with a warehouse manager or the owner,” DeRosa says, “and a lot of times they’re surprised how this works.”

A large distribution center, for example, might need improved lighting because of a need for greater safety. Retrofitting the entire warehouse could cost between $20,000 and $30,000, DeRosa says. “A lot of these are expensive projects, so these rebates can make a difference,” he says.

Under the rebate programs – depending on the energy supplier – an electric utility could write a check for half of the cost once the equipment is installed and in operation.

“If you spend $20,000, and get a check for $10,000, plus you’re saving money each month on use, your payback period is about three years,” DeRosa says.

Controls are equally important when managing energy costs, says Jeff Carine, owner of Carine & Co., an electrical wholesale business in Sharon, Pa. Everything from motion sensors, timers, vacancy sensors and dimming controls that adjust to levels of natural light are all ways residential and commercial customers can keep a watchful eye on energy consumption.

Daylight harvesting systems, for example, can automatically dim the lights based on the amount of natural light that enters an office or room. “When the sun is bright outside, it lowers the light on the inside,” Carine says.

Moreover, consumers can monitor energy consumption directly on their smartphones and can turn off lights – even run a machine in a plant remotely – through the touch of an icon on an app.

Other areas where consumers can save money each month is performing routine maintenance on equipment they have in place, such as the furnace, says Chris McKernan, president of Price Heating and Cooling, Girard.

“Doing things such as changing a dirty filter helps out a lot,” he says. “When your filter is dirty, your motor is working much harder.”

Should a homeowner replace a furnace, he’d find that new heating units today are as efficient as they can get, McKernan says. “We’re already at about 98% efficiency,” he says, while some of the newer blower motors use 80% less electricity to power a furnace. Other more intricate systems use heat pumps and new compressor technology that rival some of the more sophisticated geothermal systems, he says.

Another efficient way to heat residences – especially older houses that once used boiler heat in the basement – is a ductless system that has proven extremely effective in addressing larger dwellings. With a ductless system, a homeowner can heat the residence by zone, using heat just when needed anywhere in the house.

“It’s extremely efficient to heat and cool a home this way,” McKernan says. “It comes with a high price tag, but it’s much cheaper than a geothermal zoning system.”

Renewable energy sources have begun to improve their market share, says Andy Schell, marketing manager for Paradise Energy, based in Lancaster, Pa. The company, which recently opened an office in Sugarcreek, Ohio, specializes in installing solar technology for the agricultural market.

“Farms are our biggest market right now,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of rooftops and ground mounts as well.”

Solar power remains a viable alternative for commercial and agricultural interests, Schell says, especially because customers can still claim federal tax credits toward their projects. “If you’re a commercial business, you could also qualify for accelerated depreciation, which helps,” he notes.

On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers grants designed to help farms reduce their consumption of energy and become more profitable.

Recently, the company installed a 532-kilowatt system for a dairy farm in Virginia and is in the midst of installing a solar array for Teardrop Trailer in Sugarcreek.

“From our standpoint, we see the market for solar improving,” as installation and equipment costs continue to come down, Schell says. “It’ll continue to move forward.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.