All property owners and asset managers ponder over how to lower operating costs. With one of the largest expenses involved in operating costs being utilities, most know that energy-efficient systems are important. Because of the extra design time and equipment cost, or possibly the question of “Why fix it, if it isn’t broken,” not everyone takes advantage of the many savings opportunities.
What some people don’t realize is that although the cost of designing new systems or upgrading existing ones to make them more energy efficient seems like a huge up-front expense, the payback period is shorter than they may think.
The payback period is even faster for new commercial construction projects that receive cash incentives for energy efficiency through San Diego Gas & Electric’s “Savings By Design” program. Owners can earn incentives of up to $250,000 per project for integrating their building systems and maximizing energy efficiency.
Incentives begin when the building’s overall energy consumption is 10 percent better than the Title 24 minimum requirements for energy efficiency. In addition to the owner incentives, design teams can earn Savings By Design incentives of up to $50,000 per project for buildings that perform at least 15 percent better than the Title 24 baseline.
For new construction projects, designers should recommend that owners look at the cost benefit analysis for energy savings, especially for projects that qualify for the “Savings by Design” program. It is the responsibility of the architect or engineer to educate the client about the long-term benefits of “energy saving design,” because it still requires an up-front capital investment by owners.
& #711; Lighting Usually
Lighting is usually the simplest upgrade you can make to realize considerable savings on your energy bill. Upgrades to better-quality lighting not only use less electricity, but also produce less heat, which reduces air conditioning loads. With more energy-efficient lighting, you will see a higher heating bill during the winter months, but this shouldn’t be an issue, as it is much cheaper to heat a building than to cool it.
You will still see considerable savings on your utility usage. This applies to all areas of the country, not just here in San Diego.
Even if you don’t qualify for SDG & E; incentives, your energy savings alone should give your renovation a payback period of anywhere from one to three years.
A clean electrical/lighting design , coupled with the utilization of lighting controls, electronic dimming ballasts and high-efficiency luminaries using T8 lamps , should reduce electric utility bills by an average of 40 percent.
Mechanical systems, such as HVAC, are the second-most cost-effective upgrades you can make to save on utility costs. Engineers recommend that owners go with high-efficiency package units, heat pumps and chillers, variable-speed drives (VSD) , which allow your equipment to operate only at the speed needed at that time, rather than run at full speed at all times , and an energy management system (EMS).
& #711; Save 20 Percent
On Electric Bills
By upgrading from a constant-volume system with standard-efficiency motors to the high-efficiency motors with VSDs, you could save more than 20 percent each month on your HVAC electric bills.
Most facilities experience a cost savings of 20 to 30 percent with the installation of a fully functioning EMS. In addition, these systems provide you with more accurate control over temperature and humidity than a typical control system, as well as the added capability to function as a fire safety and alarm system.
Currently, average payback periods are two to two-and-one-half years on mechanical upgrades. Even if you went top of the line, you most likely would have only a maximum payback period of five years. If you own the property and plan on keeping it for a while, or if you have a 10- or 20-year lease, it is still worth it.
Sometimes on a new construction project, a developer will not make the effort to increase energy efficiency because they plan to sell the property and will not reap the payback. However, some developers are making the upgrades because they know that potential buyers are savvy to energy efficiency and will pay more for the property.
These upgrades are good for everybody, especially in new construction.
Case in point: A company, located in a state without an incentive program, spent $130,000 in materials to upgrade its lighting system. The study was not clear on the labor costs, but they had to be minimal since in-house staff was used to perform the retrofit.
& #711; Not Every Project
By upgrading its lamps, and installing a computerized building lighting control system and lighting motion detectors, the company was able to save an estimated $80,000 per year in electric utility costs.
Even if you discount the SDG & E; incentives , which although substantial, may not be around forever, and not every project will qualify , the upgrade will still almost always pay off.
Lamb, P.E. is president and founder of San Diego’s Lamb Consulting Engineers (formerly JRL Associates), a full-service electrical engineering firm specializing in interior and exterior lighting, low- and medium-voltage power distribution, emergency power, fire detection, and alarm and communications systems.