By Joseph Lajewski, NH Electric Cooperative
Energy efficiency is a sustainable business opportunity that can provide measurable financial returns directly to the bottom line for decades. These projects make better use of resources and will often also provide many other benefits like improved comfort, a better working environment, and reduced maintenance.
Implementing an energy efficiency plan is often not a priority for businesses who are faced with the challenges of demanding daily schedules. In addition, the lack of technical expertise to know where to start and how to decipher between legitimate energy efficiency opportunities and lofty unrealistic claims by some companies end up resulting in inaction and lost opportunity.
So where and how do you get started?
The first step is to identify the potential opportunities within the building and to prioritize them. Taking this approach allows you to create a multi-year plan instead of addressing emergency issues as they arise.
In many cases, opportunities may have already been identified by in-house personnel and are the foundation of the energy efficiency project such as a problematic boiler. Often, the majority of the opportunities to improve efficiency go unnoticed, but there are several approaches to help identify these opportunities.
The first step should be some self-analysis which can identify opportunities.
Start with lighting. Do you have old inefficient incandescent, HID, or fluorescent lighting? Does your exterior lighting operate all night long? A retrofit to LED may provide up to 75% energy savings while delivering years of maintenance free lighting. Also, unlike traditional fluorescent and HID lighting, LED’s do not contain mercury so they do not have special costly disposal requirements and are environmentally friendly.
Do you have a need to cool or heat a space? An air-sourced heat pump or “mini-split” may be the solution. These units have cooling efficiencies as high as 33 SEER which is 2-3 times as efficient as a traditional ENERGY STAR window AC’s. They can also provide heating at a very high efficiency since they are not creating the heat, they are just moving it from one space to another. In many cases this can become your primary system while your current system is left in place as a back-up or just to provide supplemental heating and cooling.
Do you have ice dams on your roof, or are you using heat tape to prevent them? Ice dams are an indication of significant heat loss through the roof and can lead to high heating costs, leaks, mold, and structural damage. If you are using heat tape to prevent/melt the ice dams you are not solving the problem, you are wasting energy twice—first with the heat loss that causes the ice dams, and second with the heat tape to prevent/melt them. The solution to the problem is to weatherize the building and focus on stopping the air leaks within the building. This can provide significant energy savings, vastly improving comfort, and help minimize water damage.
Upfront Cost vs. Operating Cost
Budget constraints generally dictate that the lowest upfront cost option is the option that is chosen. While this may seem like the fiscally responsible option, it often turns out to be the most expensive approach. Because most equipment will be in service 10-20+ years, you will pay higher energy costs for a long time when you chose the “cheap” option. The utility incentives for the higher efficient piece of equipment will pay for a majority of the additional cost and yield long term energy savings.
Your local electrical or gas utility may be able to provide a walkthrough audit at no charge to assist you in identifying opportunities. They may also be able to provide a design build contractor that can prepare a detailed job proposal and energy savings analysis. In addition you may be able to receive a 35%-50% incentive on the installed cost of the project. Program funding is very limited and is on a first come basis. All projects need to be pre-approved prior to starting in order to qualify.
The bottom line is that implementing energy efficiency programs can support other sustainability efforts by providing the revenue stream from the energy savings. Watch for our webinar series later this spring with more ideas!
Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (EEP)