Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2009   by Tom Venetis, Editor

How Much Are You Paying For Running That Light Bulb?

Energy Audits Can Trim Operating Budgets By Finding Energy Savings

Energy audits are quickly becoming one of the many tools in an arsenal aimed at controlling costs and reducing operating expenses, especially now when more businesses are feeling the pinch on revenues in this recession. Energy audits, when done correctly and by professionals, can save a business anywhere between 10 to 20 per cent on energy bills.

“Over the past two to three years, we have seen a big turn-around in the market (for energy audits),” says Derrick Finn, president and founder of the Toronto-based Finn Projects, specializing in providing energy solutions to institutional, industrial and commercial properties. “People are now becoming very aware of how much they spend on energy costs for their business.”

Energy costs are a surprisingly manageable part of a business’ operating costs. They are often overlooked because they are mistakenly thought of as being fixed business costs, much like taxes. You may not like paying your taxes, but you do so because that is the price of doing business. It is the same with heating, lighting and other energy costs. You may grumble about the air conditioning bill each summer, but it is either pay the cost or enjoy the sweltering heat inside the office and the bays.

The way an energy audit works is rather simple, according to Finn. His company, like many others that offer such services to businesses, will first ask the owner to provide two years or more of energy bills, everything from electricity to heating, water and the like. This is to establish a baseline of energy costs on a month-to-month basis and to take into account any unusual seasonal variations. That might include, for example, a spike in heating costs because of a particularly cold winter or a spike in electrical usage because of unusually high summer temperatures. Once this baseline of costs is determined, the more intensive part of the energy audit begins: someone from the firm will come onto the premise and meticulously go over the entire site, examining everything from lighting and equipment, to the physical structure of the building, and taking a range of measurements in order to determine where energy is being used and where it is happening.

Lighting: More Than Simply Turning Off A Light Bulb

Remember those public service announcements during the energy crisis of the 1970s, where people were told to turn off errant light bulbs? The message was explicit: turning off the bulb saved money. The sentiment is a good one and still very true. But what about the light that is left on?

Dennis Landsberg, president of L&S Energy Services in Clifton Park, New York says he finds many businesses still rely on conventional incandescent lamps or older T12 fluorescent lamps, both of which are very energy inefficient.

T12 fluorescent lamps are an older lighting technology, first introduced in the 1970s during the energy crisis at that time. While hailed as a cost-effective way to light areas using less power than conventional incandescent lights, they are now much less efficient than more modern fluorescent lights. If one were to replace this older lighting technology with the newer T8 technology, significant savings can result as the amount of energy used is less with the T8 lamp, the T12 using some 37 watts of power to produce 2,376 effective lumens of light as compared to the T8 using 29 watts to make 2,668 effective lumens per watt.

“So if you go to newer technology, you can cut your energy use by up to about 40 per cent and you get about the same amount of light,” adds Landsberg.

Another lighting technology is LED for such things as exit signs. These signs need to be kept on at all times to comply with safety regulations. Older models use a standard incandescent lamp for illumination. Switching to signs using LED technology, while a higher cost up-front, pay for themselves quickly as LED technology uses significantly less power than other kinds of lighting.

In Ontario, Toronto Hydro’s Power Savings Program ( is made to help small-and mid-sized businesses make the switch to more efficient lighting, by offering a $1,000 subsidy for retrofitting the new lights. According to the Toronto Hydro, retrofitting to new, more energy-efficient lights can save businesses save up to $400 a year on electricity costs.

Checking your equipment; how it is used

Another crucial part of an energy audit will be a careful examination of the equipment in shop and how it is used. A lot of energy can be expended and a lot of money wasted with old equipment. An older air conditioning system, for example, can be a huge drain on a business’ bottom line, which is the reason an energy audit will look at the system’s Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER). Newer equipment will look for a very high SEER rating, as it has to work at peak efficiency during the season where it will be working most.

An energy audit will look at how equipment is used. A surprising amount of energy is wasted by equipment being misused or poorly maintained. Consider the compressors used in many automotive shops. They are a common tool and used all the time, but the question is, “How are they being used?” Are the shop employees maintaining and correctly using them, thereby lessening their impact on energy usage?

Dr. John Kelly Kissock, director of the industrial assessment centre with the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio says it’s common for him to see compressors not properly maintained or being misused, the compressor used to blow things about to help in cleaning the floors, for example.

“That is a very energy-inefficient way of doing things,” Kissock says. “And I would tell them not to use the air hose as a broom; that is what the broom is for. We always look to see the end-use of the tool being used… and after we minimize all of what we think are inappropriate uses and putting nozzles on things that do not have to be in continuous use, we then look for any leaks and pressure drops. We would also look to see if the (compressor) pipes are too small and then we would look at the compressor itself, making sure the compressor is the most efficient kind for the work and tool the shop is using.”

Dr. Kissock says the most common type of energy wastage comes from shops running their compressors at too high of an operating pressure, more than what is needed for the tool being operated. This causes the compressor to work extra hard and wastes energy, effectively raising the electrical bill.

“Most pneumatic equipment use about 90 psi of pressure to operate,” Kissock says. “But you go to the compressor and you will find it set for 120 psi. It takes a lot more energy to compress air to 120 psi than it does to compress air at 90 psi or 95 psi. So we are telling people to reduce their pressure and doing so will produce energy savings.”

Another piece of advice is to avoid going for an oversized compressor. Most compressors have poor parts/ load efficiency and if a shop takes on an oversized compressor they will pay for it with increased electrical bills. It is recommended shops take on smaller compressors or multiple units and stage them to get the necessary pressures, without resulting in a huge energy spike if a single, large compressor is fired-up.

In the end, an energy audit should produce a detailed report on these issues and many others. Derrick Finn says a good audit will have a detailed and itemized report on every place in the facility and on all equipment and where savings can be had, including a set of recommendations on achieving those savings.

“The produced report will have each of the energy efficiency measures recommended; the savings attainable in kilowatt hours and in dollars; and the estimated capital cost and the payback,” Finn says. “The report is very site-specific and v
ery specific in the opportunities to be had.”


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