Ten tips to reduce your electric bill

Dec. 15, 2002
This list of energy-saving ideas can help reduce your facility's energy costs.

David Letterman's Top Ten list almost always gives late-night viewers a chuckle. Although this list of energy-saving ideas may not be as funny, it can help reduce your facility's energy costs.

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Use what works

Of course, not all ten ideas will pay off for every facility. They depend on a plant's operation, load profile and electrical utility rates, as well as the age and condition of its equipment.

10. Modernize lighting. If the lighting system is more than 10 years old, consider purchasing a new system. Payback can be one to three years,even less if the utility or a governmental agency sponsors a lighting rebate or incentive program. For example, T-8 fluorescent lamps deliver one-third more lumens/watt than older T-12s, and electronic ballasts use 25 percent less power than magnetics (they also eliminate concerns about PCBs). More efficient lighting runs cooler, which reduces HVAC requirements. Additionally, consider upgrading other lighting such exit signs.

9. Perform an energy audit. A thorough audit will pinpoint opportunities for efficiency that a typical electrician's or HVAC contractor's shallow walk-through will not. A true energy audit reveals exactly how you are using energy and where it can be saved.

Before selecting an energy auditor, ask these four questions:

  • "How long will the auditing team study usage? In even a modest plant, a thorough audit takes more than a day.
  • "What monitors will be used and where will they be installed? If you don't hear "wattmeters on your major loads for a significant period," you won't get a complete enough picture.
  • Can I see a sample report? Compare it with other potential auditors to isolate differences.
  • Can I have some references? Then ask the references how much energy the audit actually saved them, not just if the people were nice and if the report was completed on time.

8. Find an "energy policeman",and heed him. Regularly review the energy saving performance of energy and HVAC service providers and seek competitive proposals. Regard them as the "energy police" and measure them as such. Expect them to save energy and to keep lighting, chillers, furnaces and air conditioners running better and longer. That's a far cry from calling in a service technician if something breaks, or to run periodic checks on mechanical conditions.

Ten questions to ask your energy-service provider

The choice of an energy-service provider plays a significant role in reducing energy bills, so choose one carefully and review their performance regularly. Expect them to serve as the "energy police," and not just as an electrical or HVAC repair service. Use this list to evaluate current providers or analyze new candidates.

1. How much energy has the service provider saved you lately?

2. When they fix a heating, cooling and lighting problem, does the provider fix it for good? Do you have a lot of call backs to fix the same thing over and over again? Has the provider cured the ailment or only put in a temporary fix?

3. How proactive is the provider about preventive maintenance? The best test of this is frequency of unscheduled outages.

4. If operations are 24/7, are you getting 24/7 service?

5. What is the response time for emergencies?

6. What manufacturers' certifications does the provider have, especially for big-ticket chillers under warrantee?

7. Does the provider fix the problem with one visit or are several visits needed because the proper tools or parts aren't available?

8. Is the service technician in and out quickly,and nonintrusive?

9. Does the provider report back when work is completed?

10. If a capital investment is required, what financing help can the provider offer? A knowledgeable provider can suggest an array of financing options, arrange financing or even provide it directly, in some cases.

7. Downsize mechanical equipment. In many older facilities, HVAC blowers, pumps and chillers are oversized by design. This wastes capital, space and, above all, energy. Perform a load analysis to learn if downsizing can pay off now, even if the equipment is operating well.

6. Manage loads. If the plant operates 24/7, shift loads to off-peak hours wherever possible. In all cases, stagger the start-up of major electrical loads. Provide large exhaust fans, motors, pumps and manufacturing equipment a chance to reach full speed before starting the next one. Programmable sequencing controllers make this easy and automatic, and pay for themselves quickly. In larger facilities, consider self-generation or distributed generation to reduce peak-time consumption from the utility.

5. Outsource heating/cooling and generation operations. Consider selling off boilers and chillers and outsourcing operations, maintenance and upgrades on a long-term contract. Purchase steam, hot and chilled water as it were any other utility service. Not only does this reduce energy bills, but it also reduces capital and personnel costs, and allows you to focus on key business issues. At the least, it provides a guaranteed rate for these utilities and improves the ability to forecast energy costs over the length of the contract. Such outsourcing has worked well for many industrial plants. A knowledgeable energy services company can provide advice in this area,or may even take on the contract.

4. Install your own substation. This works on the principle that better rates are available to large consumers of electric power. At some point, the saving generated make it worthwhile to install a substation.

3. Install a setback thermostat in smaller buildings. This widens the setpoints during off-hours, saving heating and cooling costs.

2. Install occupancy sensors. They save energy by turning lights on when people enter private offices and restrooms and turning them off after they leave. However, they aren't practical in most general office areas. As people move, they turn on and off so often that they become a nuisance. They also can wear out lamps, switches and ballasts prematurely.

1. Use variable-speed drives on motors serving variable loads. Under lighter loads, they slow the motor down to reduce power consumption.

The bottom line is simple: Proper maintenance of electrical and mechanical equipment, including keeping HVAC filters clean and condenser and evaporator coils dust free, not only can reduce ownership costs and service interruptions, but pare power consumption costs as well. Don't settle for half a loaf. For every electrical or HVAC maintenance contractor focusing on service continuity, energy efficiency, preventive maintenance and reducing ownership costs, there are a dozen who don't. Make sure you have one that does.

Look for a true energy policeman for your scheduled electrical maintenance service, not just a repairman. Your energy bills will decrease and your equipment will run better longer.

Douglas Van Nest is with PSEG Energy Technologies, Inc.

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