Growth of Emerging CHP Markets

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Combined Heat & Power (CHP), an integrated set of technologies for the simultaneous, onsite production of electricity and useful heat, is an idea whose time has finally come. A perfect storm of circumstances has set the stage for its renaissance as the distributed power generation technology of choice. And it’s poised for growth, as the website Fierce Energy points out: “The CHP market covering Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific across the residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors earned revenues of $4.26 billion in 2012 and should generate $4.91 billion in 2017, according to projections from Frost & Sullivan.” 

CHP isn’t without hurdles—namely the high upfront cost and the challenge of finding suitable uses for the heat it generates. But these concerns are offset by the relatively short payback periods that have allowed many major companies to invest in these energy saving technologies.

Once the challenges can be worked through, CHP has potential to answer the urgent quest for technology that can improve the efficiency of fuel conversion. Here are the four major factors contributing to CHP’s emergence as a power player on the industrial technology scene.

1. Policy

In 2012, President Obama set a goal of adding 40 gigawatts (GW) of new CHP production by 2020, which would amount to a 50 percent increase in the resource. CHP now provides about 82 GW in the United States—about 87 percent of that for industrial purposes (in the commercial market, hospitals and institutional buildings represent the greatest number of CHP installers). Obama’s target promises a significant increase, given that the United States added only about 3.4 GW of CHP between 2006 and 2011, according to ICF International. Getting the President’s attention on CHP has been a boon for the technology. The target intends to promote investments in industrial energy efficiency, which could save manufacturers at least $100 billion in energy costs over the next decade, according to the White House. To meet the President’s 40 GW CHP goal, however, would require $40 billion to $80 billion of new capital investment in American manufacturing facilities. 

For true adoption of CHP, changes to state-level regulations and policies will be necessary. State interest in CHP is slowly growing, and many states are incorporating CHP into their clean energy policies. In 2012, the energy department announced $11 million in funding for seven regional centers that will help their local businesses develop CHP projects. Interest in the Northeast is particularly high: States have tax credits, streamlined permitting, capital incentives, and other supports for CHP. 

2. Reliability

Natural disasters prove salient reminders for the need for a reliable energy source. For example, the devastation of the East Coast electric grid by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 renewed corporate interest in securing reliable backup power during blackouts. A guaranteed power supply—a critical factor for hospitals, data centers, and universities—is one of the major drivers of CHP’s attractiveness. CHP’s ability to act as a capacity resource, balance system power fluctuations, and provide ancillary services make it a viable solution in the face of natural disasters. 

2. Natural gas supply/price

CHP’s viability depends on the difference between gas and electric prices, called the spark spread. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s website: 

“Based on the difference between gas and electricity prices, it can reveal the savings in $/MWh of running CHP, given by the difference in cost between buying electricity from the grid and generating it onsite with a CHP unit. In calculating the spark spread, the CHP plant’s heat rate is adjusted to account for the improved system efficiency as a result of using the waste heat. At a constant fuel price, the savings due to operating CHP increase as the price of electricity increases. At a constant price of electricity, the savings increase as the fuel price decreases. The best case for a CHP operator is high electricity prices and low fuel prices.” 

With gas prices having fallen dramatically and the nation’s new abundance of natural gas, CHP has much more leverage. Shale gas production has increased 14-fold since 2005, according to ICF International. CHP isn’t solely dependent on gas, though. Most CHP systems are designed for multiple fuel options: When oil and natural gas become too costly, the system can also be run on biomass or diesel. If the facility has access to a reliable renewable or waste energy source, it has even stronger buffer against a volatile market.

The winter of 2013-14 will certainly go down in history as one of the coldest in recent history. It remains to be seen what affect the added demand for natural gas will have on long term prices, but some increases in natural gas cost recovery mechanisms (a component of nearly everyone’s gas bill) seem all but certain in the coming year. Natural gas storage reservoirs are at all-time low levels and will also provide upward pressure on short term gas prices.

It seems likely that electricity bills will also feel the same growing pains. The increased reliance on natural gas for electric generation will mean that electricity prices will likely see similar increases.

What’s important to remember, however, is that the electricity, hot water and steam generated through CHP can still achieve total efficiency levels of 60-80%, compared to about 33% for conventional power plants. While there are certainly no guarantees, this relationship indicates that the spark spread advantage of CHP seems unlikely to change significantly.

3. Environmental protection

The federal government’s new or looming emissions mandates tap into another of CHP’s most critical benefits—its ability to curtail carbon emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if CHP were to supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity-generating capacity by 2030, the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 60 percent. Pressure to cut back on oil and coal positions CHP favorably, as does the desire to achieve energy independence.

With all the advantages CHP offers, it deserves to be strongly considered as a profitable path to sustainability. Its one drawback—dependence on natural gas—can be mitigated if CHP is used to supplement and support greater renewable energy development.

Systems-Thinking: The Key to Innovation

In the quest to create more sustainable institutions, systems-thinking is key. We define systems-thinking as the generosity of vision that makes all the parts relate to the whole—the meta-logic that amplifies the intelligence of each individual unit. The idea of silos within an institution (traditional separate entities) is no longer relevant. Sustainability, for example, cannot be distinct from academics. In this new paradigm, sustainability principals are interwoven through every aspect of an institution, including academic, operational, organizational, cultural, and fundraising strategies.

As Bradshaw Hovey and Robert Shibley, codirectors of University of Buffalo’s Urban Design Project say, “[Systems-thinking] takes seriously the imperative to change our culture as much as the urgency to transform our policies. It works from the bottom up and from the top down. It works to connect the ‘silos’ of the bureaucracy even as it acknowledges the traditional autonomy of units in a university.” 

As sustainability becomes synonymous with interdisciplinary approaches, the possibilities of ways for each “unit” to support and inform each other become more obvious.

Nothing in isolation

One of the first mistakes that organizations often make is to create a special designation for sustainability. This in effect boxes sustainability into a silo, instead of encouraging sustainability across all departments and branches. In a systems-thinking approach, sustainability does not belong in its own department. It becomes embedded in the job and behavior of every employee. 

To promote responsibility and accountability, invite people from all areas to weigh in on key decisions. Peter Senge of the Society for Organizational Learning advises, “Look for small steps of things you can do together with people with whom you traditionally would never have cooperated—and do something useful, no matter how small.”

Creating bridges rather than walls is the basic tenet of systems-thinking. Broadening the scope of identified participants both on and off campus to be included in development planning is one of the most important ways to transcend traditional boundaries. All sectors have something to contribute to the overall vision. Keep asking: “Who’s being left out?” and “Who should be in the room?” to make sure nobody gets overlooked. Department boundaries need to get crossed, responsibilities shared, and interdisciplinary solutions brainstormed. When disparate systems come together, collaboration naturally occurs. Collaboration is the human face of systemic change, says Senge. In other words—innovation is a team sport. 

Systems-to-buildings approach

The systems-thinking perspective also works for buildings, as in the practice of Integrated Design. Integrated Design has evolved at the conjunction of multidisciplinary architecture firms and sustainable design. In this approach, engineers, developers, architects, landscapers, builders, and other subcontractors view the building as an interdependent system, as opposed to an accumulation of its separate components (site, building framing, interior envelope, systems and use). When you solicit feedback from every party involved in the building process, the systems are much more likely to not only work in harmony but also to enhance each other. 

Whether you apply systems-thinking to universities or buildings, the outcome is similar—it’s a more nimble, more complex, more collaborative, and ultimately more effective strategy to implement sustainability. And while it’s still fairly new on both fronts, thought leaders across all disciplines are quick to recognize its central importance to creating significant sustainability impacts.

SmartWatt Energy’s Design and Installation of Blue Diamond Growers’ Lighting & Controls Project Earns Recognition for Savings, Quality and Seamless Integration

Rocklin, CA—April 8, 2014—A report was recently released on behalf of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) on SmartWatt Energy’s design and installation of an advanced lighting and controls retrofit, commonly referred to as “SmartLighting,” that took place under a SMUD-sponsored program. The scope of the project involved replacing two hundred and ninety eight (298) 250-Watt metal halide (MH) fixtures with 160-Watt dimmable LED fixtures with motion sensors in their refrigerated distribution centers. Blue Diamond’s objective was not only to save energy and cost but also to improve lighting quality and control capabilities. According to the report, SmartWatt’s design and implementation of the project succeeded on all counts and has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response.

“Blue Diamond’s proactive thinking on energy efficiency, plus the encouragement and incentives from SMUD, frontloaded this project to be a decisive success. The design and installation went off without a hitch, proving that SmartLighting technology has come of age,” says Brooklyn Stewart, General Manager of SmartWatt’s Sacramento office.

At the Blue Diamond facility, SmartWatt managed to increase lighting levels throughout, provide a total annual energy savings of 593,688 kWh, and ensure a payback period of less than two years. Blue Diamond went from having a previous system too cumbersome to ever turn off their lights—except on four national holidays a year—to a motion sensor system so nimble it can be controlled through wireless technology.

The new LED fixtures consume approximately 59 percent less power (without task tuning) than the original 250-Watt metal halide fixtures and also offer better color rendering. Some of the highlights of the project include increased employee satisfaction, a centralized control system and a self-healing “mesh” network capable of handling disruptions and glitches. Based on the results of the project, any reservations as to whether SmartLighting technology was ready for widespread adoption have been firmly allayed. In fact, one respondent at Blue Diamond predicts that hospitals, offices and food processing plants are ripe for advanced lighting and control systems.

ABOUT SMARTWATT ENERGY, INC.

SmartWatt Energy is a unique energy-efficiency firm. It provides turnkey solutions for utilities, commercial, industrial and institutional clients and also develops proprietary software that streamlines internal workflow processes and provides comprehensive program reporting. SmartWatt Energy’s three divisions use cutting-edge technologies, design and processes to take on and solve their client’s toughest sustainability challenges:

  • The Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Division works with end-use clients throughout the United States to design and install multi-measure energy-efficiency projects. Clients look to SmartWatt Energy to provide large-scale savings through turnkey energy auditing, engineering, project management and installation services.
  • The Utility Programs Division contracts directly with utilities to manage their commercial energy efficiency programs. SmartWatt Energy’s vertically integrated program delivery platform ensures utility program success and client satisfaction, because all elements of the utility program are handled by a talented, integrated, cross-functional team.
  • The Software Development Division creates customized, proprietary software applications to increase efficiencies and provide added value to utilities and national accounts clients.

SmartWatt Energy has won two Inc. magazine “Hire Power” awards and has twice been named one of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in the United States” on the magazine’s annual 5000 list. For more information, visit www.smartwattinc.com

Energy Efficiency Upgrades for Grocery and Convenience Stores

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Grocery and convenience stores have many of the same energy needs as other business sectors, but one key need that sets them apart is refrigeration. Improving the energy efficiency of a store’s refrigeration system, which uses almost 40 percent of total energy, is the No. 1 target for energy savings, with lighting following a close second. A report by E Source states that on average, grocery stores spend $3.95 on electricity and 24 cents on natural gas per square foot annually. And despite the fact that energy only represents about 1 percent of total grocery store costs, that amount is roughly equal to a typical grocery’s profit margin. But small percentages take on a whole new significance when a 10 percent reduction in energy costs translates into a 10 percent increase in profits.

Energy efficiency applies to all types of refrigeration equipment—reach-in, walk-in, and under-the-counter refrigerators/freezers—as well as food and drink display cases. The following measures are designed to help your business improve the efficiency of its refrigeration, thereby reducing operating costs, saving energy and preventing pollution. While there are upfront costs, keep in mind that refrigeration system optimization can reduce energy use by 24 percent relative to standard practice.

Floating Head Pressure

Head pressure refers to the pressure of the vapor coming out of the compressor. Allowing that pressure to “float” means the pressure drops with reduced ambient temperature. Lowering head pressure reduces the temperature at which the compressor operates and increases the efficiency of your refrigeration system. It requires an expansion valve capable of operating at lower pressures and flow rates. By minimizing the head pressure, you can maximize your system’s cooling capacity and minimize energy costs. In one study, using floating head pressure reduced annual electricity costs by almost 5 percent compared to using fixed head pressure.

Ambient and Mechanical Subcooling

Subcooling is the process of reducing the temperature of liquid refrigerant below its condensation point. You can use either ambient water or air (ambient subcooling) or additional refrigeration system (mechanical subcooling) to reduce heat from the refrigerant. The colder your refrigerant, the less you need, which means bigger savings.

Evaporative Condensers

In dry climates with low humidity, evaporative condensers, which spray water instead of air over the condensing coils, may be a cost-effective approach. Their only downside is that they require a water supply and are more high-maintenance due to the potential for freezing, clogging and mineral buildup.

Display Case Shields

Low emissivity aluminum shields can have a huge impact on the power use and thermal performance of display cases. They reduce heat transfer and increase products’ shelf life—a win-win for groceries and convenience stores. When applied overnight, shields reduced refrigeration load by 8 percent, and when applied over a 24-hour period during a holiday, they reduced the load by a stunning 40 percent.

All of these measures are good investments, sure to reduce both energy use and operation costs. Implementing energy efficiency measures into your refrigeration systems has a positive effect on your bottom line: As your electrical needs drop, you will be met with a significant rise in your profitability.

Many utilities-such as National Grid, PECO and Black Hills Energy-offer small business energy-efficiency programs that cover a substantial portion of the cost of these upgrades and their installation, include interest-free financing and make participation easy. 

SmartWatt in the News: Fulton County Considers Energy Conservation Project

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee on Thursday will review a proposed $1.2 million to $1.4 million energy conservation project at county government buildings.

The board’s Public Safety Committee on Monday heard a presentation from SmartWatt Energy Inc. of Clifton Park on an energy audit it did of all the county’s buildings. SmartWatt Energy offered last November to perform and certify the audit in conjunction with state Energy Law, at no cost to the county. Read the full article…

The Benefits of Benchmarking

Benchmarking is becoming an increasingly popular way to ensure energy compliance and motivate facilities to improve their efficiency. Last year, for example, the District of Columbia published final regulations to implement a new requirement that all large private buildings benchmark their energy and water performance annually. And New York City’s Local Law 84, instituted in 2009, requires benchmarking for all buildings over 50,000 sq.ft.  One of the key goals of the new regulations is to expand the benefits of benchmarking by making buildings’ energy ratings information publicly available to potential buyers and tenants.

Benchmarking is rooted in common sense. As the axiom goes, you can’t control what you don’t measure. It’s a low-cost way to compare the energy performance of a building with a database of similar buildings. This comparison identifies underperforming buildings as well as superior performance and provides owners a tool for tracking and comparing energy consumption on an ongoing basis. Having a context and framework for your energy use can be a powerful gateway experience to revving up your energy management program, or at least tightening up any energy slack. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that, on average, buildings that are benchmarked consistently use 2.4% less energy than those that aren’t, presumably because people are more aware of energy performance. 

Establish your baseline

What goes for buildings holds true for processing plants too. For plastics manufacturing facilities in particular, benchmarking can help assess efforts to reduce energy and water use as well as effluent discharges. The first step is to establish a baseline measurement of resource consumption and waste output. This enables you to determine a ratio for improvements made over time. You will be analyzing the specific energy consumption (SEC) from the total energy used and tonnage processed. Technically, SEC is normally expressed as kilowatt-hours per kilogram (kWh/kg). 

A simple calculation is:

  • Total energy used in 12 month–period = x (kWh)
  • Total tonnage produced in 12 month–period = y (tonnes)
  • Specific energy consumption (kWh/kg) = x/1,000y 

There are other generic performance ratios available that can calculate both the process and non-process consumption of energy and water use, as well as formulas devoted to lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The primary source for your calculations will be your utility bill. Once you establish an accurate baseline, you will be able to track your improvements by seeing a decrease in your ratios.  And for large pieces of equipment not covered under the generic ratios, you should be able to devise a similar ratio tailor-made to that particular piece of process equipment. To help you get started, here’s a checklist of some key benchmark indicators: 

  • Raw materials usage
  • Unit electrical energy use
  • Unit natural gas energy use
  • Reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy
  • Unit water use

From baseline to bottom-line

Performance data is a powerful motivator for self-improvement. Once you know where you stand in usage, you can prioritize your energy improvement projects. A recent Department of Energy study in California indicates “energy performance benchmarking prompted energy efficiency investment in over 60 percent of participants through improved energy management processes, building upgrades, and behavioral efficiency projects.”

The process of comparing your manufacturing facility with other similar facilities can also trigger a bit of constructive competitiveness. As Ashok Kamal, cofounder of Bennu, a green social media–marketing firm says, “If you are not greening, you are not competing.” The Energy Star Portfolio Manager can be used to manage the energy and water use of any building.

Be warned however—it’s important to carefully ensure that you’re using valid and comparable data. In plastics processing, many processes have varying energy requirements. You may be hard-pressed to find precisely identical conditions in other locations, and many companies may be reluctant to share detailed information with their competitors. 

Don’t get too caught up in comparisons, as the most useful comparison may be against your own facility’s performance over time. The ultimate goal of benchmarking is to focus on improved performance and give the organization specific goals to work toward.

SmartWatt Energy to Exhibit at 2014 California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO) Conference & Expo in Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, CA—April 1, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of turnkey design-build energy efficiency solutions, will be exhibiting at the CASBO Annual Conference & Expo April 2nd-5th, 2014 at the Sacramento Convention Center in Sacramento, CA. SmartWatt is working with K-12 clients throughout the state to design and build lighting and HVAC projects in compliance with Proposition 39.

Staff from SmartWatt’s marketing department and engineering group, based in their Rocklin, CA office, will be in attendance. Representatives from County Offices of Education, District Superintendents, Education Administrators and Facilities Managers are encouraged to visit the SmartWatt team at Booth 931 to discuss their energy challenges and Proposition 39 questions or concerns.

CASBO is the nonprofit source for professional development in all K-14 business disciplines. They assist their members in staying current on school news, legislation and public school advocacy efforts, while connecting industry colleagues from throughout California’s public schools. The CASBO Annual Conference is the largest trade show of its kind in the state, with over 250 exhibitors meeting the largest single gathering of California school business officials.

ABOUT SMARTWATT ENERGY, INC.

SmartWatt Energy is a unique energy-efficiency firm. It provides turnkey solutions for utilities, commercial, industrial and institutional clients and also develops proprietary software that streamlines internal workflow processes and provides comprehensive program reporting. SmartWatt Energy’s three divisions use cutting-edge technologies, design and processes to take on and solve their client’s toughest sustainability challenges:

  • The Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Division works with end-use clients throughout the United States to design and install multi-measure energy-efficiency projects. Clients look to SmartWatt Energy to provide large-scale savings through turnkey energy auditing, engineering, project management and installation services.
  • The Utility Programs Division contracts directly with utilities to manage their commercial energy efficiency programs. SmartWatt Energy’s vertically integrated program delivery platform ensures utility program success and client satisfaction, because all elements of the utility program are handled by a talented, integrated, cross-functional team.
  • The Software Development Division creates customized, proprietary software applications to increase efficiencies and provide added value to utilities and national accounts clients.

SmartWatt Energy has won two Inc. magazine “Hire Power” awards and has twice been named one of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in the United States” on the magazine’s annual 5000 list. For more information, visit www.smartwattinc.com

Energy Efficiency Key to Reliability

by Art Olson

I was struck by the title of this conference kicking off this month – in Maui, of all places (Hey, it’s tough duty but somebody has to do it, right?).  The conference features “…energy policy leaders and businesses [talking] openly and frankly about the country’s rapidly changing energy landscape…” 

How true!

Energy industry “talking heads” have long foretold the emergence of big data, the role of new technologies, declining demands brought about by slower population growth and energy efficiency, and lower fuel prices brought about by abundance of shale gas supplies.  While some of these predictions remain only predictions, it’s true that others have achieved varied levels of accuracy. 

Then came the winter of 2013-2014.

NOAA’s Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index — which some have dubbed the winter “misery index” — confirms this season has ranged from severe to extreme in almost every location.  The arctic outbreak produced days when more than 50 major cities recorded record lows for the day; some, including Atlanta and Indianapolis, recorded their lowest temperatures since the mid-1990s.

It remains to be seen what effect last winter’s record heating demand for natural gas will have on long term prices.  Natural gas storage reservoirs are at all-time lows and will require near-record injection levels this summer to bring storage volumes anywhere near what they were last fall.  This will likely provide continued upward pressure on gas prices, even as environmental concerns continue to make the future prospects for shale gas uncertain. 

So much for the continued record-low gas prices predicted?

Energy efficiency and demand response are being credited for helping keep the lights on and the gas flowing to where it’s needed as electric and gas utilities suffered equipment failures and supply bottlenecks caused by extreme weather.  Electric and gas utilities and transmission operators from New England to Texas were able to meet customer needs even as system demands far exceeded projections. 

To those of us in the industry, it’s rewarding to see energy efficiency and demand response being widely recognized for having helped customers manage higher energy costs caused by weather extremes, and bridge the gap when the chips were down, right?

Think again. 

Even as customers struggle to recover from last winter’s high energy bills, at least two states – Ohio and Indiana – are considering legislation that would crush successful energy efficiency initiatives that have been widely recognized for their aggressive energy saving goals and promoting emerging energy efficient technologies.

Perhaps William Somerset Maugham said it best: “There is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain.”

What state is next?  Environmental and energy efficiency stakeholders everywhere need to set aside differences and work together to ensure the diversity and reliability of power systems.  

Black Hills Energy & SmartWatt Energy to Sponsor the Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce March Membership Luncheon in Pueblo, CO

Pueblo, CO—March 27, 2014—Black Hills Energy and SmartWatt Energy will be sponsoring the Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce March Membership Luncheon on Friday, March 28, 2014. The event is being held at the Main Street Banquet Hall in Pueblo, CO from 11:30am to 1:00pm.

Representatives from SmartWatt’s Black Hills Energy Small & Medium Business Direct Install Program office will be in attendance during the luncheon to speak with attendees about the program.

The Black Hills Energy Small & Medium Business Direct Install Program provides an incentive of up to 60 percent to help businesses with an average demand use of 350 kW or less per month conduct energy-efficiency upgrades. SmartWatt, the contractor administering the program, provides a free energy evaluation, recommended energy-efficiency improvements and interest-free financing for the businesses’ remaining portion of the costs. Since 2012, the Black Hills Energy Small & Medium Business Direct Install Program has saved Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce members more than $165,000 in annual electric costs through energy-efficiency improvements. For more information on the Black Hills Energy Small & Medium Business Direct Install Program, please visit www.bheSaveMoney.com.

ABOUT SMARTWATT ENERGY, INC.

SmartWatt Energy is a unique energy-efficiency firm. It provides turnkey solutions for utilities, commercial, industrial and institutional clients and also develops proprietary software that streamlines internal workflow processes and provides comprehensive program reporting. SmartWatt’s three divisions use cutting-edge technologies, design and processes to take on and solve their client’s toughest sustainability challenges:

  • The Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Division works with end-use clients throughout the United States to design and install multi-measure energy-efficiency projects. Clients look to SmartWatt to provide large-scale savings through turnkey energy auditing, engineering, project management and installation services.
  • The Utility Division contracts directly with utilities to manage their commercial energy efficiency programs. SmartWatt’s vertically integrated program delivery platform ensures utility program success and client satisfaction, because all elements of the utility program are handled by a talented, integrated, cross-functional team.
  • The Software Development Division creates customized, proprietary software applications to increase efficiencies and provide added value to utilities and national accounts clients.

SmartWatt has won an Inc. magazine “Hire Power” award and has been named the “5th Fastest Growing Private Engineering Company in the United States” on the magazine’s annual 5000 list. For more information, visit www.smartwattinc.com

Best Ways for Small Businesses to Improve Their Energy Efficiency

One of the hardest parts of embarking on an energy efficiency upgrade is deciding where to begin. Do you approach it as a comprehensive system or through triage, addressing the neediest equipment first? Many factors, including age of your equipment, the type of your business, your local utility rates and your access to capital, determine the answer. If you have limited funds, waiting until you have equipment failure before you replace it may seem like the most prudent strategy, but it will usually result in the loss of utility incentives or rebates for upgrading to more efficient equipment. But if you are building or remodeling, incorporating energy efficiency measures into your design makes the most sense. Doing it right the first time is ultimately much cheaper than prioritizing upfront costs over long-term savings. Many utilities offer incentives for new construction projects as well.

Here are several areas to consider when identifying and prioritizing projects:

1. Building envelope
The building envelope tends to offer the biggest bang for your capital. When thinking about the cost, remember that new construction or major upgrades should be purchased on a “life-cycle costing” or return-on-investment basis, rather than lowest initial cost. Often times focus on the life-cycle cost can result in a better long-term solution. Plus, the golden rule of construction is it’s less costly to put efficiency measures in when building than to make even more costly upgrades to insulation, windows, walls or roofing material later.

2. Lighting
For every small business, lighting is a critical component. It affects productivity, comfort, aesthetics and performance. Lighting upgrades are small businesses’ single most effective way to achieve dramatic energy savings: Simply replacing inefficient lighting and adding lighting controls can offer lighting energy savings of more than 90 percent. And don’t concentrate only on the lamps—exit signs, lighting fixtures and lighting controls can have a huge impact on your efficiency. Many utilities-such as National Grid, PECO and Black Hills Energy-offer small business direct install programs that cover a substantial portion of the cost of these upgrades and their installation, include interest-free financing and make participation easy.

3. HVAC

Proper heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (known as HVAC) are at the heart of a comfortable, healthy and productive work environment. More than 30 percent of the energy consumed in commercial buildings goes to HVAC, making these systems an important component in reducing operating and energy costs. One of the first steps to take is to identify ways you can reduce your load (heating and cooling usage) by making your building envelope “tighter.” As Energy Star’s Small Business Guide says, “Reducing your facility’s load allows existing systems to operate less frequently and newer systems to be designed smaller, thereby lowering operating costs.” The biggest mistake you can have in your HVAC system is oversizing, which increases both your capital cost and your operational cost. Innovative, occupant-responsive control systems for HVAC in buildings are the new paradigm for efficiency. Common control strategies include programmable thermostats, multiple zones, and CO2 demand sensors. These strategies can be specified on new heating and cooling systems and retrofitted to older systems as well. Occupant responsive systems, both in HVAC and in lighting, change the notion of a standardized comfort norm and create the potential for deep reductions in energy use—not to mention greater comfort. Many utilities, like Black Hills Energy, have gas programs to help subsidize the cost of these improvements, while easing the installation process.

SmartWatt Energy to Sponsor the Texas Association of Healthcare Facilities Management’s (TAHFM) 2014 Interlink

Dallas, TX—March 25, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of turnkey design-build energy efficiency solutions, will be sponsoring the TAHFM 2014 Interlink at the Westin Galleria in Dallas, TX on March 30th-April 2nd, 2014. SmartWatt works with healthcare facilities throughout the state of Texas and nationwide to improve their energy efficiency.

Staff from SmartWatt’s marketing department and engineering group, based in their Dallas, TX office, will be in attendance. Healthcare facilities managers, project managers, engineering/maintenance personnel and other interested parties are encouraged to visit with the SmartWatt team to discuss energy challenges, questions or concerns.

TAHFM is the premiere healthcare facilities management association in Texas, providing a collaborative partnership comprised of diverse professionals who are dedicated to the continuous improvement and advancement of its membership and healthcare. Healthcare Facilities Managers consider Interlink to be one of the best and most affordable opportunities for learning and sharing in Texas. The training is meaningful and focused on issues unique to the health care physical environment. This year’s conference will feature tracks of compliance, operations/construction and facility manager basic training. The multi-track program was created for facilities managers, project managers, engineering/maintenance personnel, administrators, safety officers, risk managers, architects and engineers.

ABOUT SMARTWATT ENERGY, INC.

SmartWatt Energy is a unique energy-efficiency firm. It provides turnkey solutions for utilities, commercial, industrial and institutional clients and also develops proprietary software that streamlines internal workflow processes and provides comprehensive program reporting. SmartWatt Energy’s three divisions use cutting-edge technologies, design and processes to take on and solve their client’s toughest sustainability challenges:

  • The Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Division works with end-use clients throughout the United States to design and install multi-measure energy-efficiency projects. Clients look to SmartWatt Energy to provide large-scale savings through turnkey energy auditing, engineering, project management and installation services.
  • The Utility Programs Division contracts directly with utilities to manage their commercial energy efficiency programs. SmartWatt Energy’s vertically integrated program delivery platform ensures utility program success and client satisfaction, because all elements of the utility program are handled by a talented, integrated, cross-functional team.
  • The Software Development Division creates customized, proprietary software applications to increase efficiencies and provide added value to utilities and national accounts clients.

SmartWatt Energy has won two Inc. magazine “Hire Power” awards and has twice been named one of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in the United States” on the magazine’s annual 5000 list. For more information, visit www.smartwattinc.com

Real data is the key to successful energy efficiency measures

At the core of the new high-performance building is the notion of a continual, adjustable feedback loop between the building and its occupants. Beyond even design and technology, it’s the building’s controls and performance monitoring systems that allow a building to continue to evolve in its efficiency.

As a first step, benchmarking is a way that data can reduce energy use. Over the last decade, benchmarking has gained traction as a viable first step toward systematically reducing energy use in buildings. Benchmarking’s success identifies a need for even more data, as larger data sets on building characteristics, energy use, and case studies would be highly valuable as a comparative design and performance resource.

In the case of University of California, Merced, performance data measures very intentionally determined the design. They began by benchmarking the campus, using assessments of real world energy use of similar buildings to inform their modeling. They made use of a data-driven design process that allowed for more accurate performance estimates—and was instrumental to the optimization of the campus’s design. Merced’s case study write up explains, “The project team incorporated the energy performance targets into the design specifications for each building. This ensured the design and construction team would make decisions within this constraint and reduced the risk of having energy efficiency measures compromised through value engineering.”

Data plays an ongoing role in the life of the campus’s buildings, especially when it comes to meeting Merced’s continually evolving efficiency goals.

For all high-performance buildings, constant measurement and feedback are foundational. Controls and energy information systems that monitor building energy use and performance, diagnose problems, and provide detailed data and high-level dashboards for operators and occupants are the new standard. Real-time monitoring provides indicators by hour or 15-minute increments in order to identify schedule-related control issues. Other key controls that influence a building’s whole performance are evening and night setbacks for lighting and HVAC. All these systems help establish the key performance indicators appropriate to the building size, systems, and audience. Along with a routine of data review and action, the result is buildings that are incredibly responsive to weather, occupancy, and other variables. 

Above all it’s the feedback loop, with its ability to fine-tune energy consumption, that enables the aspiration of net zero energy to become a reality.

Data begets data. A key ingredient on the path to super efficiency is information. Whether as success or failure, information links design to performance. As the paper “Getting to 50: Drivers and Data of Measured Energy Performance” points out,

“Nothing makes the case as eloquently as real buildings backed by real data. As we bootstrap our way from energy wasters to high efficiency, we need to measure performance and use it as our yardstick for success.”

SmartWatt Energy to Exhibit at 2014 International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration’s Industrial Refrigeration Conference and Heavy Equipment Show in Nashville, TN

Albany, NY—March 18, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of energy efficiency solutions for cold storage and food processing clients, will be exhibiting at the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration’s (IIAR) Industrial Refrigeration Conference & Heavy Equipment Show in Nashville, TN March 23rd-26th, 2014.

Staff from SmartWatt’s marketing department and national accounts group will be in attendance. Attendees are encouraged to visit the SmartWatt team at Booth 902 to discuss their energy challenges.

Showcasing the latest equipment, product, services and technologies available in industrial refrigeration, the 2014 IIAR Industrial Refrigeration Conference & Heavy Equipment Show provides the industrial refrigeration industry’s leading manufacturers, contractors, trainers and other service providers the opportunity to display their products and services in front of over a thousand industrial refrigeration experts and key decision makers from around the world.

ABOUT SMARTWATT ENERGY, INC.

SmartWatt Energy is a unique energy-efficiency firm. It provides turnkey solutions for utilities, commercial, industrial and institutional clients and also develops proprietary software that streamlines internal workflow processes and provides comprehensive program reporting. SmartWatt Energy’s three divisions use cutting-edge technologies, design and processes to take on and solve their client’s toughest sustainability challenges:

  • The Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Division works with end-use clients throughout the United States to design and install multi-measure energy-efficiency projects. Clients look to SmartWatt Energy to provide large-scale savings through turnkey energy auditing, engineering, project management and installation services.
  • The Utility Programs Division contracts directly with utilities to manage their commercial energy efficiency programs. SmartWatt Energy’s vertically integrated program delivery platform ensures utility program success and client satisfaction, because all elements of the utility program are handled by a talented, integrated, cross-functional team.
  • The Software Development Division creates customized, proprietary software applications to increase efficiencies and provide added value to utilities and national accounts clients.

SmartWatt Energy has won two Inc. magazine “Hire Power” awards and has twice been named one of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in the United States” on the magazine’s annual 5000 list. For more information, visit www.smartwattinc.com

5 Reasons to Make the LED Switch Now

With a problem as large as climate change, it’s hard to believe a choice as small as lighting can make a real impact. But the fact is that energy-efficient lighting is an integral part of reducing global emissions. In fact, Philips Lighting predicts that with the adoption of energy-efficient lighting, 30 percent less energy will be used for lighting in 2020 compared to 2006. According to Philips, these savings will amount to a 515 million ton reduction in CO2 emissions.

More and more legislative measures support energy efficiency measures as the only sustainable way forward. But change has to come from within as well as without. Well intentioned commercial builders/designers choose T-8 lighting because it is believed to be the most efficient solution for an interior space. Most know that LED is the “future” of interior lighting, but claim that the technology is “not quite there yet”.  The reality is that the low cost of T-8 lighting is still a driving factor behind why many builders/designers don’t take a deeper look at LED even though factors like light quality, durability, efficiency, and rebates can mitigate the upfront costs of moving to LED sooner.

Many people don’t realize that in the last decade, LED technology has advanced dramatically, especially the fixtures themselves. In the past, merely replacing the LED tube created less than ideal results. The transformers were not designed specifically for LEDs and caused the bulbs to flicker or dim poorly. Many designers await the day when LED fixture replacements will become more reasonably priced. While comparable LED fixture pricing is still a little way out, a reliable retro-fit solution that provides all of the benefits of a new LED fixture, including improving the architectural look and feel is available now.

Reductions in cost and better designs have made LEDs the preeminent solution, while other technologies such as fluorescent should be reserved as a backup. Another benefit of LED fixture retrofits is that they make it easy to meet California’s Title 24 requirement for dimming, and utility company rebates and incentives can often sweeten the initial price outlay. Here are SmartWatt’s five favorite reasons to make the switch to LED sooner rather than later.

  1. Kind to the environment. While traditional T-8 tubes and CFLs contain mercury and are dangerous if broken or to dispose of, LEDs are mercury-free and thus safer if broken and for landfills.
  2. Long, maintenance-free life. Today’s white-light LEDs can produce up to 50,000 hours of service life with a few spot replacements. Some LED fixtures come with a five-year warranty—meaning years of worry-free lighting. Plus, LED lamps are much harder to break than fluorescent tubes.
  3. Superior quality light. With the correct fixture, LEDs reach full brightness instantly, with no buzzing or flickering. They don’t consume any energy when they are turned off—whereas frequent on and off switching can have a huge impact on the operational life expectancy of traditional lighting. On top of that, LEDs also produce light directionally instead of omnidirectionally like fluorescent tubes. That increases the efficiency of the light. Another advantage of LEDs is their range. The correlated color temperature of LED lamps, which influences how cool or warm a light appears, allows for a variety of options such as cool, neutral and warm white. That improved color rendering improves visibility—a critical safety component.
  4. Energy efficient. Conventional light bulbs waste most of their energy as heat. With traditional incandescent light bulbs that operate at 20 percent energy efficiency, up to 80 percent of the electricity is lost. LEDs keep cool and thus more efficient. And their lumen-to-watt ratio makes them the leader in efficacy—a measure of brightness based on electricity use.
  5. Elegant versatility. Inherently controllable, LEDs can be combined in any shape to produce highly efficient illumination. Plus unlike CFLs, individual LEDs can be dimmed, resulting in a dynamic control of light, color, and distribution. Another aspect of their range is their functionality under cold and low outdoor temperature settings. For fluorescent lamps, low temperatures may affect operation, but LEDs operate at ideal capacity in outdoor winter settings and freezer rooms. Lastly, LED fixtures, with their restrained clean lines, impart a modern feel that upgrades the look of any building or facility.

Energy-Efficient Lighting Saves Sangre de Cristo $456 Per Month on Utility Bill

Sangre de Cristo Hospice is saving $456 per month on its utility bill after switching over to energy-efficient lighting technologies throughout four of its facilities in Canon City and Pueblo, Colorado. The new energy-efficient lighting was installed by SmartWatt Energy via the Black Hills Energy Small & Medium Business Direct Install Program, resulting in an incentive of $7,597. Read more…