Vary the Load

by Nate Hunter

7 low-cost strategies to lower energy use.


If you own a retail facility, the U.S. Department of Energy says you now make up the fastest-growing category of energy users. Strip malls, enclosed malls and standalone retail shops spend more than $21 billion in energy each year, which means there’s lots of room for improvement when it comes to managing consumption.

There are several ways to reduce energy use and utility bills without spending a lot of money upfront. And some of the approaches that do require an upfront investment offer a fast return on investment.

To see an immediate effect on your bottom line, here are some quick ways you can save energy without inconveniencing customers or employees.

1. Reduce Lighting Levels by Delamping

Retrofitting or upgrading the lighting in your facility might not be an option due to cost, but de-lamping might be a good compromise. By removing lamps and disconnecting unused ballasts in areas that are over-lit, you can save energy and reduce lighting levels without making major changes to the lighting system. This practice is often implemented in hallways, offices, storage areas and closets, and exit stairwells, but it can also be done in other spaces. De-lamping may also reduce cooling requirements for your facility. If less heat is being given off by lights, the air-conditioning won’t have to cycle as often to keep the space comfortable.

2. Keep Up on Cleaning

According to the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Maintenance Committee, if lighting systems were properly maintained, 10% fewer fixtures could be installed in a building. Lamps and fixtures gather dust quickly due to heat and static charge, but they’re often overlooked when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.

JPExteriorWhen dust and grime build up, the amount of light reflected on these surfaces lessens: the dirtier the fixture and lamp are, the less light output that’s being provided. It’s estimated that light output can be reduced by 50% or more if the fixture and lamp aren’t clean. Your operating costs would inevitably go down if you eliminated that 50% reduction in light output.

The same goes for HVAC system cleaning. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy recommends that filters be changed or cleaned monthly during peak cooling and heating seasons; dirty filters can cost up to $5 extra per month (in addition to overworking HVAC equipment and circulating dirtier air).

Investing in more efficient air filters is another option for improving HVAC function. The Mall of America now uses filters that eliminate the need for pre-filters to be changed every year. The new filters are also thinner, so they require less power to push air through.

3. Start Equipment in Sequence

Reduce peak energy demand for your building in the morning by bringing equipment online sequentially throughout a period of 30 to 45 minutes versus starting everything at once.

4. Pay Attention to Thermostat Location

If thermostats are located near sources of hot or cold air (windows, storefronts, office equipment, electronics merchandise, etc.), they could be sending incorrect information to the HVAC system. Relocate thermostats near return air ducts, if possible. Also check the system’s vents and grilles by walking through the building to make sure shelving, merchandise, boxes, carts, displays or other items aren’t blocking airflow.

5. Integrate Daylighting

By incorporating daylighting into a retail environment, you can reduce reliance on artificial lighting. If you’re going to do this, extra care should be taken to make sure glare, fading and uncomfortable interior temperatures don’t interfere with employee productivity or the customers’ shopping experience.

Consider installing window film to control the daylight coming into the store. It will protect the merchandise, displays, carpet and signage from fading; it will also ensure that glare doesn’t bother employees or shoppers, and will reduce solar heat gain to prevent areas from becoming overly warm.

Although window film does involve upfront costs, you can often expect to see a return on investment within 2 to 3 years due to the energy savings it provides. Window film can reduce the need for electric lighting, but also cuts HVAC costs by keeping warmth inside in cooler months, and keeping the sun’s heat outside during summer months.

6. Control Plug Load

Plug loads in retail environments present a unique challenge when compared to plug loads in offices or more traditional commercial building environments. Several of the devices that cause an increase in retail plug load are items that are for sale (TVs, laptops, monitors and other electronics). The easiest way to reduce plug load is to turn off equipment when it’s not needed. Retail, custodial or other staff members can be recruited for this effort. Assigning a specific staff person to a piece of equipment makes that person accountable, which means they’ll be more likely to make sure equipment is turned off. For example, power to TVs or stereo equipment could be shut off completely at night by using power strips. JC Penney’s “Monthly Utility Mania” involved employees in energy reductions in each store; by employees making sure power strips were shut off at night, the program saved more than $500,000 in the first month alone.

Vending machines are another source adding to plug load. Although it might seem like one vending machine doesn’t require much energy, consumption builds quickly when retailers have several machines onsite. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), soda vending machines use approximately 10 kWh per day, but the total load of 12 soda vending machines is approximately 120 kWh per day. By removing vending machines that aren’t used very often, de-lamping machines, and making sure outdoor machines are located in shaded areas to keep the sun from affecting the cooling cycle, you can save more than $100 per machine per year.

7. Participate in a Demand Response Program

Signing on with your local utility to reduce energy consumption during critical peak periods is a no-cost option that will not only save you money, but will reward you for not using energy.

There are several ways to participate in programs offered by utilities. In many situations, when the utility declares a demand response situation, signals can be sent to your facility’s energy management system. The system then makes necessary changes to reduce power consumption, and participants receive rebates and incentives for complying. Retailers like Safeway and IKEA have had success with demand response programs, and use rebates to invest in other energy-efficiency solutions.

By putting some of these ideas into practice, you’ll notice a quick reduction in your electricity bills. But the changes are subtle enough that the customers spending time in your stores won’t notice negative changes or side effects. And what could be better for a retailer than managing energy and cutting costs while still keeping shoppers comfortable and employees productive?






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