Lighting It Right

In the ongoing quest for reducing energy costs, many operators are introducing LEDs in coolers, under canopies and even inside the store, but how do you know if an upgrade is right for your chain?

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

In these tough economic times, lighting upgrades could provide a bright spot on the balance sheet for many efficiency-minded convenience stores, saving chains big bucks on the electric bill.

American Retail Services LLC, which operates 83 convenience stores, has been pleased with both the savings and the visual effect after it upgraded to LED canopy lights at two of its Oregon locations in July 2010. The chain operates three Circle K stores with the rest currently unbranded.

“We believe it gives our fuel dispensers a unique illumination that really makes them stand out,” said Jan Sucha, portfolio manager of American Retail Services.

At the chain’s Newberg, Ore. store, the installation cost approximately $7,440 with a net installation cost of $3,424. For its efforts, American Retail Services gained an annual cost savings of $643, an annual energy savings of 8,304 kilowatt hours (kWh) and a 19% annual cash-on-cash return.

To help with the upgrade costs, the chain took advantage of a Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and an energy trust incentive, which when combined shaved more than $4,000 off the price of the upgrade.

Adding the canopy lighting to the Newport store was more expensive at $11,040 with a net installation cost of $6,240. But the result was well worth the effort. The upgrade provides an annual cost savings of $1,442, an annual energy savings of 24,037 kWh and a 23% annual cash-on-cash return. For the second installation, the chain received a utility incentive of $4,800, which helped to defray the costs.

Cooler Times
LED lighting not only can make a canopy stand out, but it can also save costs in the cold vault as Eric and Tony Huppert, owners of the Spring Valley, Wis.-based Team Oil Co., recently found when they replaced 37 fluorescent tubes illuminating the doors of their beer, milk and pizza freezers with LEDs.

“We’re saving $1,200 per cooler per year on electricity,” said Eric Huppert, president and co-owner of Team Oil, which made the renovations to its largest store, a travel center in Spring Valley. “For what it cost to add the LEDs, that’s what it would have cost to re-lamp the fluorescents, which needs to be done every couple years. These LEDs should last several years, they use less electricity and they don’t put out heat, so it doesn’t take as much to cool the cooler either.”

Huppert’s sons, Christien and Sedrick, are both in Wisconsin universities, majoring in civil engineering and nanotechnology, respectively. The company plans to take advantage of all the latest steps in nanotechnology and implement them through engineering and installation into the Team Oil properties. What’s more, instead of hiring a company to install its latest LED upgrade, Team Oil Travel Center did the cooler LED installation using its own staff.

“If you have a maintenance guy who can do the work, you can do it in-house,” Huppert said, who noted that he bought the LEDs online. But he is hardly a novice when it comes to lighting. The company also runs a sign company that uses LEDs, as well as a rental property business, and used to run an electrical business, making Huppert well equipped to make educated lighting decisions.

While Team Oil Travel Center was quick to update the cooler lighting, it’s not ready to rush into a full-store lighting upgrade. “It’s a different kind of light in the store than in the cooler,” Huppert explained. “I think LED technology has a little ways to go before we use it for store lighting. For coolers it gives off a little less light, but it’s a different kind of light, so it does grab customers’ attention and it makes the labels on the products pop a little better.”

Experts agree while LEDs have helped c-stores save costs on canopies and coolers, in-store lighting can be a whole different animal. For one, it is extremely vital to the appeal of merchandise. Because all LEDs are not created equal, if the wrong colors start popping, it can affect the look of products—which in turn can negatively impact the perception of food quality.

“Many LED fixtures have poor color rendition, especially in the saturated red portion of the spectrum, and can result in food looking unappealing,” said Jim Baney, partner with lighting design company Schuler Shook and a LEED Accredited Professional. If LEDs are used to light the inside of a c-store, Baney recommended high color rendering LED fixtures (CRI of 85 or higher). “Specific attention should be paid to how the source renders saturated colors, especially warm colors and reds,” he added.

While LEDs may not be the answer for everyone, because indoor lighting plays such an important role in merchandising, operators should keep a close eye on the luminosity in their stores.

“There is no excuse for not having a wealth of high-quality illumination that is also energy efficient,” said Jerry Lawson, national manager for the ENERGY STAR Small Business & Congregations Network for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “You can get the worst of both worlds with old T-12 florescent tubes with magnetic ballasts that are expensive to run and don’t put out high-quality lighting, so lighting really comes high at the top of things a c-store wants to look at due to the merchandising aspect, as well as the energy savings.”

Efficiency Strategies
Using natural daylight can also help to conserve energy if the electric lighting in those areas can be automatically dimmed or turned off during hours when the daylight is available.

It’s best to find ways to incorporate daylight when a store is being built or renovated, because the most efficient daylight delivery techniques need to be designed into the building during construction. Some highly efficient daylighting techniques include sidelighting—where daylight enters through vertical glazing—and toplighting—where daylight enters through glazed elements in the ceiling plane.

“Some big-box retailers are utilizing toplighting to create a connection with the outdoors for shoppers and to help them use less electric lighting during daytime hours. Very few c-stores that I have seen utilize toplighting techniques that would allow for significant energy savings,” said Baney.

When considering daylighting as an energy efficiency method, it’s also important to account for the potential increase in heating and cooling loads that will result.

Changing fixtures can be another cost-saving method. Many stores use continuous rows of fluorescent fixtures mounted on a high ceiling to light the entire store equally, but this uses more energy than needed and fails to direct shoppers toward merchandise.

“Place the fixtures nearer to the merchandise being illuminated,” suggested Baney.  “This is becoming more prevalent in supermarkets and other retail environments with taller ceilings. It allows for lower lighting levels in circulation areas and higher levels on the merchandise, which accomplishes two things: One, it saves energy by putting the light exactly where you need it, and two, it provides a visual hierarchy in which the merchandise becomes a focus and draws the customers to it.  This can be done by either pendant mounting fixtures, or arm mounting fixtures off of store shelving.”

Meanwhile, many retailers are adding occupancy sensors to freezers and refrigerated display cases so that the lights turn off when shoppers exit the vicinity, thus saving energy.  “LEDs are well suited for this because they work well in colder temperatures, they are an ‘instant on’ source, and their life is not adversely affected by the number of starts,” Baney said.

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