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Ten Tips For Facility Managers To Cut Energy Costs

By Brandon Lorenz, Senior Editor - October 2009 - Energy Efficiency


Even though the recession appears to be easing, facility executives know that budgets for owner-occupied buildings will remain tight, while commercial real estate seems likely to face economic strains even after a recovery is underway.

Because we know how much extra pressure the economy has put on many facility executives, we asked users of MyFacilitiesNet.com earlier this year: What are you doing to cut costs in your facility organization?

The ten tips below, edited for space, represent best of the submissions for cutting energy costs. They run the gamut from lighting to kitchen operation. To see the complete list of ideas, visit MyFacilitiesNet.com.

—Brandon Lorenz, senior editor


1. Cut Night Site Lighting

If you have a facility of reasonable size that is occupied 24/7/365, there are some simple ideas to find real savings cutting operating expenses.

Our site covers more than 28 acres with approximately 20 acres of parking and drives. We have anywhere from 30 to 200 representatives on our property overnight at a call center working about seven different shifts.

Depending upon how your site lighting is operated and circuited, you can create an "economize mode" for overnight when the site is at its lowest occupancy. Keep perimeter site lighting on around your property and all entrances and main drives lit. You need to make certain that the lighting up close to the building and all entrance and exit doors will remain on along with any emergency fixtures lighting pathways. Look for the site lighting in between these zones and make accommodations in your lighting automation controllers to be able to shut off zones or circuits that are least occupied.

Depending upon circuiting and how the site is wired, you may be able to turn off some areas completely, or every other fixture throughout the main body of parking. If you have high occupancy with rolling shifts, this may not be feasible, but consider areas that could be taken off the main contactor or controllers and made into separate zones. While the occupants of your building are heading home for the evening make sure that areas being used remain lit until traffic and density decreases in those areas, then shut off those in between spots, rows and sections.

In the winter with short daylight hours, keep in mind the controllers will have to be adjusted to accommodate safety for your occupants during these months. Look for creative and sometimes simple ways to cut operating expenses. These are dollars that are going to be spent and never seen again, along with the kilowatts being wasted in unoccupied areas. Be sure to keep safety and liabilities in mind when reviewing your exterior site lighting and how it will affect your occupants. We all have families and want everyone to make it home safely every day, and back to work.

— Mark Sanderson, operations manager, EMCOR Facilities Services

2. Retrocommission Your Facilities

"What kind of savings can one typically see from retro-commissioning (RCx)?" Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory did a study a few years ago and found of the 600 projects they reviewed the median annual energy savings was 15 percent. A new study by LBL of 634 buildings found a median savings of 16 percent. At Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a major California IOU, we use 8 percent as a conservative estimate for our incentive program assumption.

"What kind of paybacks do you see?" RCx measures usually pay for themselves in less than a year. The cost of discovering and analyzing the problems can be significant since the energy-wasting problem may be hidden. Our PG&E program pays for this work as part of the incentive to overcome this barrier.

"What types of problems will it typically uncover?" Eligible measures in our program include a lot of "no brainers" like scheduling equipment off when not needed, repairing controls out of calibration, adding or enabling features to existing controls to improve system efficiency, and repairing insulation, seals, dampers and valves on equipment or systems to eliminate wasted energy.

— Don Amuzie, program manager supervisor, PG&E

3. Involve the Entire Community to Trim Energy Costs

We have teamed up with our custodians, security officers, maintenance personnel and the staff and faculty to keep lights off, power usage down and waste down. We have moved most of our custodians to night shift and they clean rooms in a sequence where they finish a room, turn off all equipment and then move to the next area. Security watches buildings and makes sure all equipment is off after personnel leaves.

The biggest obstacle that we had to clear was portable heaters in office spaces. One person gets cold and puts a heater in their office and it happens to be the office that has the thermostat in it. And so all of the other offices that are controlled from that unit freeze until they bring in their own heaters. When we see a heater, we politely explain the situation to the occupant and make adjustments accordingly.

The best advice I can give is to go out to the buildings and STOP, LOOK and LISTEN. You will see things that are out of sorts and hear pieces of equipment running that shouldn't be. When someone comes in with an idea of saving energy, give them an "atta boy" or send them home early with pay one day for coming up with the idea. Then others will think "Hey, I could have thought of that!"

— Gary Stark, assistant director, facilities, North Idaho College

4. Turn Off Vending Machine Lights

Remove light bulbs from all vending machines as an energy-savings initiative. Each machine with the lighting removed was posted with a notice that the machine was in operating condition and the light bulbs had been removed to reduce electric energy consumption.

Removing the lights reduces electric usage that is non-essential to facility operations and ensures that the facility is not paying for a portion of the electricity provided to a vending service to operate privately owned equipment.

Finally, it aligns the facility department with broader efforts to be environmentally conscious.

— James Vetter, vice president, accountÊmanager for Grubb & Ellis Management Services

5. Data Centers: Create Zones in Your Raised Floor for Better Control

We have a data center that is approximately 13,000 square feet that uses 10 CRAC units. The room was set up in the old style with a 24-inch-high raised floor. All 10 CRAC units blow underneath to pressurize the underfloor and push air up through the floor grates and racks.

Rows of racks were installed with the heat from row one feeding the cooling of row two, etc. This worked OK in the old days but with the newer blade servers, which are like toasters, this had to change.

So we installed baffles under the raised floor to section off the one big underfloor area into six new areas. We also started the hot/cold aisle layout in a newer section of the data center.

With monitoring and tweaking we were able to go from 10 CRAC units running 24/7 to six units. The four that are not in use are still maintained and are used as backup if we need to service one of the others.

All this involves is cutting a few nylon traps under the floor and letting the baffles lay flat for airflow. Unfortunately, I cannot give an exact amount that we have saved in the data center because it is not separately metered. We have also done some minor changes throughout the building and are netting a 15 to 20 percent reduction in the electric bill. The bulk of the savings is from HVAC, I believe.

— Robert A. Flores, Lockheed Martin STS

6. Use Process Improvement to Reduce Kitchen Energy Use

If you have a commercial kitchen in your facility, then it's likely to be your most energy intensive operation. In fact it's probably using five times more energy than any other area. Here are a few thoughts on cutting kitchen energy use.

1. Observe. How is the staff using the ovens, refrigeration and other equipment? Are they turning it all on when they start in the morning? Are they leaving it all on after the busy period of each meal period? Are the refrigerators and walk-in doors constantly open? Is the cleaning crew turning the equipment on to clean it?

2. Plan. Review the kitchen's use and busy periods with the chef or manager. Work out and execute kitchen equipment procedures relating to the use of every major unit. For an oven, figure out its preheat time, optimal cooking settings, and operation/shut-down procedures. When is it really needed? Can they bring it down to a warming temperature when slow and when should they start turning off ovens at the end of the day? Put a "preheat" label on it: "This oven pre-heats in 20 minutes." Then it doesn't need to be turned on at 6 a.m. if it's not used until 7 a.m. Does all the refrigeration need to be on? What can be consolidated? Qualify what equipment needs to be on during what mealtime. Shut down what isn't being used. If you have four gas fryers, shut down two or three between lunch and dinner, for example. Your overall approach should be exactly the same as how you are operating your physical plant. Ramp down whenever possible while being energy efficient.

3. Maintain. Properly maintained equipment is more energy efficient. If you don't have one in place, set up a PM program for the entire kitchen to ensure optimal performance. Get daily feedback from the staff.

4. Measure. If you don't have submeters on your kitchen, look at the manufacturer's specification on each piece and manually calculate what the impact of two to three hours less run time would be. Consider that one mid-sized fryer, drawing 100,000 Btus, turned off three more hours per day could save more than $1,450 per year. Review your monthly bill to see what you've realized.

5. Follow-up, communicate, and follow-up again. Show the kitchen staff "their savings" and review your plan every few months to adapt it to your business changes.

— Michael Schulz, profit improvement manager, Hyatt Hotels

7. Hotels: Shut Out Solar Heat Gain

In hotels a quick and no-cost way to reduce energy consumption is by assuring drapes are closed to shoulder width in the summer to prevent heat penetration. This can also prevent the loss of heat from the guest room through the windows in the winter.

— Dean Gerstein, profit improvement manager, Hyatt Hotels

8. Cut Refrigeration Energy

If you have a water-cooled refrigeration system at your building, you are running water and money down the drain. If you have a cooling tower system, you can save thousands of gallons of water and money. To do it, install a small pump and connect it to the cooling tower water supply and return it to use cooling tower water to cool down the refrigeration system.

We have a chiller system that was designed to run all year long so we tied all of the small condensers into the circulating system and they work terrific using 42 degree F water. We have about 30 small 1,000-pound icemakers, six walk-in boxes and our kitchen under-counter refrigeration units tied in and have experienced no adverse conditions. We just had to make sure that all pumps and units were connected to emergency power. The first power outage we had, the circulating pumps were tied into the main panel and shut down, rendering the whole system useless, causing all the high pressure switches to reset. The chillers are air cooled and fairly efficient.

— David Black, director of facilities, John Muir Health

9. Set Refrigeration Units to the Proper Temperature

We have our engineering department log the temps on the shift report every shift so it is out there for everyone to see. And it has made a tremendous change. We have seven food venues here and most are 24/7 operations. It is amazing how the food operations people will lower temps if left on their own.

Roughly 30 percent of electrical consumption in the restaurant is used by refrigeration. The proper temperature ranges for refrigeration is between 37 to 40 degrees F and freezers between 0 to 5 degrees F. Ice cream should be stored between -10 and zero degrees F. Refrigeration kept lower than recommended temperatures is wasting electricity. For every degree difference in temperature, you are using approximately 1.5 percent more in energy. Check your temperatures, save your dollars!

— John Christoffersen, project manager, Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino and Dean Gerstein, profit improvement manager, Hyatt Hotels

10. BYOT: Bring Your Own Transformer

If you are a high user of power, consider purchasing your transformer from your power provider. You can cut your kW rate by a few cents and help offset increases due to the deregulation of the power industry.

— Doug Snell Sr., VP of facilities & purchasing, D&E Communications Inc.





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