This article originally appeared in DTE Energy’s EnergySmarts for Michigan Business, a free publication for our customers.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure it out: If you use less energy, the cost of doing business is reduced. That equation is the financial carrot we’ve been dangling for years in the quest to reduce energy usage. But financial rewards aren’t the only reason business owners invest in energy efficiency improvements.
Research reveals that business owners who undertake energy efficiency projects often do so for reasons not related to just dollars and cents. Some ancillary benefits are obvious and have been described on these pages before, but in an effort to dig deeper on this subject, we spoke to Neal Elliott, senior director of research at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Elliott has his finger on the pulse of energy efficiency in business, and he pointed us toward benefits that might not be obvious at first glance.
Comfort and HVAC
Improve the efficiency of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and you will use less energy while conditioning the air more effectively. If you also eliminate cold drafts and blasts of hot air through leaks in your building’s envelope, improve insulation and install zone controls, the facility will be more comfortable for employees and customers.
The Many Benefits of Excellent Lighting
Switching outdated lighting to LEDs provides immediate energy-usage reduction and considerable savings, but there are other benefits as well. Safety is chief among them. Better lighting in work areas means fewer accidents. Improved lighting in parking lots and areas where security is a concern is a plus for workers and customers alike. Lighting enhancements improve productivity as well. When workers see better, they make fewer mistakes and complete tasks sooner.
For retail outlets, LED lighting improves merchandise displays, which in turn increases sales volume. Elliott recalls when he worked as a lighting designer, his company installed LEDs in a bicycle shop. The result was a large increase in accessory sales as the owner was able to display products attractively and make them a focal point.
Reduced Acquisition Transaction Costs
A number of organizations will be happy to direct you to the best deals on energy efficient equipment that meet your needs. You don’t have to waste time looking. Because time is money, guidance reduces the transaction cost. Elliott cites the Department of Energy (DOE) electric motor standards as an example. Although meant to reduce energy usage, the standards helped business owners save time in selecting efficient motors for manufacturing, refrigeration and other tasks. Today we get similar guidance from ENERGY STAR® and the DesignLights Consortium®.
Track Energy Use to Reduce Maintenance Costs and Waste
“When you look at energy usage, you can see where there is waste in your system,” said Elliott. The ACEEE has found that many small and medium-sized businesses are now on systems that track energy usage. The data provided enables management to measure equipment performance. If energy usage goes up, it may indicate that a machine is failing.
Electric motor maintenance is a great example. If bearing temperature is monitored with a sensor, failure can be anticipated, excessive energy use avoided and serious motor damage prevented.
The most advanced form of energy monitoring is an enterprise research planning system. Once implemented only by large companies, these systems are now being used by smaller-sized enterprises. Collecting all kinds of data, much of it based on energy usage, enables management to see how their company is functioning.
Reduce Energy Usage and Improve Productivity
Practices and equipment that waste energy can have a negative effect on productivity. Elliott cites the example of a steel-tubing producer that took part in a program where university students analyzed production and looked for environmental and energy-usage benefits. The manufacturing process involved piercing the center of a stainless steel rod and then drawing it out until the center was of the correct diameter. The tubes were then cut to 16-foot lengths. The students immediately noticed that much material was wasted in the cut-off process. They calculated a way to determine an initial rod length that would yield the correct size tube. Scrap and energy usage were both reduced by 15 percent, and productivity was improved.
“My experience working with small businesses tells me they won’t always subscribe to efficiency-improvement projects just for energy-usage reductions. They look for benefits beyond savings,” said Elliott.
Those benefits are available in abundance.