SmartWatt Energy News

May 09

We’ve Moved!

We’ve moved our blog to a new site. The new site will allow you to sign up for our RSS feed, an email subscription to blog posts relevant to you, allow for easier sorting by topic and more. We’re working on tons of great content and look forward to your comments. Please join us!

May 07

From Burden to Asset

How universities are transforming the role of corporate social responsibility

Universities’ sustainability measures have evolved from a way to minimize environmental liabilities into a full-fledged opportunity to rebrand themselves. Colleges and universities now showcase their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platforms and use them to attract positive attention to their schools. In her white paper, “What Are We Advancing? Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education,” Eileen Joseph points out, “In the image‐conscious world of higher education, a thoughtful, proactive message around sustainability can deliver a tangible advantage in the competition for students, faculty, research dollars and private funding.”

This progressive, triple bottom line approach achieves commercial success in ways “that honor ethical values and respect people, communities and the natural environment,” as Business for Social Responsibility puts it.

As universities adopt the model of green business, the priorities of people, planet and profit get woven into the fabric of their operations. Leveraging sustainable strategies as an essential part of marketing and public relations campaign works and has real results. It turns out people want to be affiliated with schools that reflect their values and are seen as capable of making something good happen. Whether you call it the “eco-advantage,” a term coined by authors Dan Esty and Andrew Winston in their seminal book Green to Gold, or “differentiated green,” the concept is identical—organizations can distinguish themselves through an aggressive green strategy. 

Sustainability measures typically create a halo effect around a school, allowing it to distinguish itself quickly—and dramatically. Take the story of Northern Arizona University, whose popularity experienced a meteoric rise when the new College of Business and College of Engineering buildings were rated LEED Gold. The business building was a game changer in how the school is perceived by others: Applications doubled and the student investment group won its first national award. Even more telling: “Without any changes to the curriculum, the College is now listed as one of the ‘Top 25’ in US News and World Report,” writes Joseph. 

Often, the benefits that a committed CSR strategy brings are serendipitous. While a strong CSR platform, predictably enough, can strengthen existing income streams, it can also serve as a fortuitous wild card, creating new, vibrant income streams as well. Richard Bowen, Northern Arizona University’s associate vice president of economic development and previous associate vice president of sustainability, is quoted in Joseph’s white paper as saying, “Our College of Business received a $25 million donation from a donor because he was looking for an MBA program that was teaching values, not just finance.”

Not only can a CPR bring in unexpected income, it can also actually save a university money—all while enhancing social good will. Business for Social Responsibility lists some of the advantages of CSR: 

If you needed more convincing about why CSR is not a mere luxury, the research is solid. A growing body of data supports that doing good is met with an equally good return on investment. Just goes to show that for the long haul, sustainability pays—in more ways than one.

May 05

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Offices

Office buildings represent approximately 17 percent of energy use in commercial buildings nationwide and consume more energy than any other building type. With almost 60 percent of existing office buildings built before 1980, many are in desperate need of upgrades to aging building equipment, appliances and systems. Even small offices can reap a big payoff by introducing energy efficiency measures: Small businesses can typically save as much money and prevent as much pollution, per square foot, as large organizations.

Buildings may use more or less energy for a variety of reasons, ranging from equipment efficiency, energy management practices and business activities to variations in climate. Whatever the variables, all office buildings present some opportunities for energy efficiency improvements. At the heightened pace of emerging technologies, even relatively new buildings can garner savings. Successful continuous improvement of building performance requires more than just better technology—the goals of energy efficiency need to become part of the company’s culture.

Lighting

Depending on the type of business you operate, lighting may account for 20 to 50 percent of your electricity consumption. This means that significant cost savings can be achieved with lighting, which usually provides the highest return-on-investment of major upgrades. Here are three lucrative areas to focus on:

Fixtures. Though often ignored, the quality of the fixture itself is a critical consideration for improving the energy efficiency of your facility and saving money. For example, LED fixtures have a huge impact on the LED lamps’ performance, ensuring the laps reach full brightness instantly and eliminate buzz and flicker.

Lighting controls. Controls maximize a system’s flexibility and minimize wasted light. Bi-level switching, dimmers, occupancy sensors and daylight sensors are all cutting-edge technologies that adjust the light to the specific circumstance, reduce unnecessary illumination and result in significant savings.

Lamps. Conventional light bulbs (lamps) 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.

HVAC

HVAC is key to maintaining a comfortable, healthy and productive work environment. Collectively, HVAC accounts for approximately 40 percent of the electricity used in commercial buildings. Through implementing best practices and upgrades, you can improve your office’s heating and cooling performance along with substantial energy savings.

Appropriate size. Oversizing equipment increases both your capital cost at the time of the installation and the cost of operation. Proper sizing can have a huge impact on efficiency.

Life cycle costing. Estimating the total cost of ownership over the life of an asset is often a much more savvy approach that just calculating its initial cost. Focusing on life cycle costs usually results in a better long-term solution.

Office Equipment

Office equipment represents one of the fastest growing uses of electricity in commercial buildings in the United States. Businesses pay more than $2 billion annually for the electricity consumed by office equipment. Here’s a telling example of inefficient practices: The use of air conditioning to remove the waste heat generated by office equipment costs nearly $1 billion more. Here are three types of office equipment that offer substantial savings.

Copiers. Copiers, the most energy intensive type of office equipment, waste

energy by sitting idle for several hours each day. The new Energy Star models use 40 to 55 percent less energy than standard models.

Computers. Computers account for the fastest growing electric load in business world. Two practices you can put into effect immediately: Turn off equipment at night and make sure you have power management software installed.

Monitors. More than half the energy that a desktop computer uses goes to the monitor. Make sure that you right-size your monitors, as larger monitors use much more energy than smaller ones.

Many utilities-such as National GridPECO 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. 

Apr 30

The DIY Energy Audit – Plastics Manufacturing Plants

Conducting your own energy audit, or site survey, to assess your energy use is a smart way to get an overview of your facility’s energy consumption. Only by an in-depth understanding of how, when, where and why you use energy can you improve your plant’s energy practices. The goal? Walk around your site as if you were an energy manager, on the hunt for some rapid no-cost or low- cost improvements that can be made to save money. Don’t be intimidated by how qualified you are for the job—you’ll be surprised by how much you may identify as wasteful when you are observing your facility through the lens of energy efficiency.

The first step of a site survey is the walk-around. In fact, it’s a good idea to do several walk-arounds of your site at various times for a complete picture of the plant’s processes and behavioral habits of your staff. Using the checklist that follows, observe what happens mid-shift, at lunchtime, at night, and over the weekend. Checking energy use at various times gives you a better sense of the overall energy pattern and a clearer take on when energy gets wasted most.

Energy use checklist

These questions, adapted from Reduced Energy Consumption In Plastics Engineering European Best Practice Guide and Tangram Technology’s Energy Efficiency in Plastics Processing, will guide you in conducting your survey:

Turn the energy audit into energy savings
Of course, the most important step in this process isn’t conducting this survey—it’s taking action as a result of your findings. Use the survey to estimate the excess energy usage of the site, identify operating practices that cost money, and indicate improvements that can be made. Involve key members of the staff, both to identify problems and opportunities and to ensure they feel part of the process. Holding a brainstorming session to determine how to prioritize the most critical energy-saving projects can be a dynamic way of ensuring staff buy-in.

A natural outcome of the site survey is the creation of an energy policy that becomes embraced as part of the company’s broader environmental policy. Often, a designated energy manager whose main purview is energy accountability follows policy development. With improved energy efficiency infrastructure and staff, energy savings can be quantified—and promoted. A company can then leverage those savings to create a favorable climate for investing in other energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits. That’s the ultimate goal of the site survey: to set in motion an energy awareness cycle that can be a catalyst for systemic change.

Apr 25

SmartWatt Energy to Exhibit at the School Energy Coalition’s 2014 Educational Facilities Energy Emporium in Pomona, CA

Los Angeles, CA—April 25, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of turnkey design-build energy efficiency solutions, will be exhibiting at the School Energy Coalition’s 2014 Educational Facilities Energy Emporium at the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel and Conference Center in Pomona, California April 29, 2014. SmartWatt is working with K-12 and community college 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 and Brea, California offices, will be in attendance. Representatives from Local Education Agencies (LEA) are encouraged to visit the SmartWatt team at their booth to discuss energy challenges and Proposition 39 questions or concerns, such as how to get to SIR 1.05, how to best analyze current use and determine the best course of action for energy use, which technologies and systems provide the best return on investment, and which questions and data points require review in order to provide the maximum savings for each school.

The School Energy Coalition is dedicated to finding funding for school projects that will reduce energy usage, save money and produce clean renewable power for students and communities throughout California.  They fight for dedicated energy programs that will provide pathways to real dollars for school projects, along with technical assistance and training for schools that will ensure that these projects will provide the savings promised and maximum system efficiency.

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:

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

Apr 23

SmartWatt Energy to Exhibit at 2014 Association of California School Administrators North State Spring Conference in Reno, NV

Sacramento, CA—April 23, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of turnkey design-build energy efficiency solutions, will be exhibiting at the ACSA North State Spring Conference at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, NV April 25th-26th, 2014. 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 their booth to discuss energy challenges and Proposition 39 questions or concerns.

ACSA is the largest umbrella organization for school leaders in the nation, serving more than 14,500 school leaders. Their mission is to ensure the creation of communities of learning and teaching that serve both the aspirations of individual students and the greater good of society through their unique coalition. More than two dozen job-alike and issue-oriented councils and committees, a board of directors and a delegate assembly keep ACSA focused on school leadership and on education policy at the local, state and federal levels. Participants from throughout the four Northern California ACSA regions attend the North State Spring Conference. These participants include all levels of school administrators and board members from Northern California.

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:

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

Apr 22

SmartWatt Energy to Exhibit at 123rd International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses – World Food Logistics Organization Convention & Expo in San Diego, CA

Albany, NY—April 22, 2014—SmartWatt Energy, a leading provider of energy efficiency solutions for cold storage and food processing clients, will be exhibiting at the 123rd IARW-WFLO Convention & Expo in San Diego, CA April 26th-30th, 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 104 to discuss their energy challenges.

At the 123rd IARW-WFLO Convention & Expo, attendees will explore what continuous improvement looks like in today’s temperature-controlled logistics market by sharing strategies for satisfying customer demands, reducing expenses and driving growth. This year’s theme, and an all-around smart business practice, “continuous improvement” is an intentional commitment to innovate proactively. It is anticipating change and embracing it to identify inefficiencies and improve operational efficiency, customer service and overall business practices. Continuous improvement is about always moving forward with effort to make things better.

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:

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

Apr 16

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.

Apr 09

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.

Apr 08

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:

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. 

Apr 02

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:

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: 

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.

Apr 01

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:

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

Mar 27

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.