Adopting “Green” Practices

MotoMart, Sunoco and Rutter’s Farm Stores are among the top convenience store chains making energy efficiency a priority.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

With operating costs rising at an alarming rate, convenience stores are getting serious about energy efficiency. From LEDs that help brighten stores and reduce maintenance costs, to energy management systems and skylights, storeowners are growing increasingly savvy in implementing energy-friendly steps that bring massive savings, as well as community and customer recognition.

Daniel Duncan, vice president of facilities for MotoMart, knows just how rewarding going green can be for a business. In May, Duncan and Rob Forsyth, president of FKG Oil—which operates the 75-store chain across six states—won the “St. Charles Employer of the Year Award” from the St. Charles, Mo., Chamber of Commerce for the energy efficient features at its New Town MotoMart in Missouri.

Duncan said the award was “icing on the cake,” after building a store with energy conservation features that both looked good and made long-term financial sense for the company. “We felt that what we had was unique not only for St. Charles, but for c-stores in general,” he said.

Saving Energy
The New Town MotoMart, which opened in 2009, contains a number of energy efficient elements, including Kalwall, insulated translucent skylight panels to allow for natural light; parabolic fixtures using an electronic ballast and T-8 lamps in the store; and energy efficient Xcelarator air hand dryers in the restrooms.

The store’s cold vault features LED strips that require 50% less electricity compared to conventional T-8 florescent fixtures and 75% less energy compared to T-12 fixtures.

“We first though we’d just save the money on energy with LEDs in the coolers, but now the lights themselves are becoming less expensive,” Duncan said. “When we first bought them for our stores we paid over $400 for those strips, but now they’re down to $210, because LED lights are the industry standard now in the coolers.”

The building employs two rooftop Carrier Weather Maker HVAC units that use Puron non-ozone depleting refrigerant, incorporate outside air economizers that electronically control outside air intake and use energy efficient heat pump technology.

Outside, the fuel canopy uses three eight-inch skylights to reduce the need for lights during overcast days. The site uses LED fixtures by LSI Industries for canopy down lights and soffit lights around the building. MotoMart decided to add the LEDs, both for the quality of the light and subsequent curb appeal, as well as the cost savings, longevity and reduced maintenance requirements.

For its effort, MotoMart gets a big bonus in energy savings. In fact, MotoMart compared its New Town store to an almost identical site it owns in Springfield, Ill., that also has a car wash, the same size c-store and canopy, but uses conventional metal halide fixtures instead of LEDs. In comparing the energy usage of the two stores in 2010, the analysis showed the LEDs resulted in a reduction of 121,620 kilowatt hours (kWh) for the year.

Duncan estimated it would take about 3.8 years to get a return on investment for the LED displays at the New Town site. As a result, all new MotoMart stores will include LEDs, and the company plans to retrofit 3-4 stores a year on average with perimeter LED lighting and LED canopy down lighting.

“We retrofitted five stores last year, and we did that for the energy efficiency as well as the quality of light,” Duncan said. “The quality of light is brighter, looks better at night and the energy we save pays for the additional upfront costs,” Duncan said.

Reduced Electricity
Rutter’s Farm Store’s, with more than 55 stores in Pennsylvania, is also on the cutting edge of energy efficiency at its locations. Its Fayetteville, Pa., store opened in May and marks its “greenest” store to date.

The store features a white reflective roof, triple glazed windows that are tinted to keep out heat, heaterless doorframes in the coolers and 22 skylights.

“We use the Emerson climate control energy management system, so we have sensors outside that monitor the amount of daylight, and each of our ceiling fixtures on our floor has three bulbs, so depending on the amount of natural light available, it can turn one, two or all three of those lights off,” said Tim Rutter, president of M&G Realty, the real estate arm of Rutter’s Farm Stores.

The store uses three different HVAC units that allow Rutter’s to control the temperature in different areas of the store. “They work independent of each other that way when we have heat in the kitchen and in the deli area we can send in additional cooling,” Rutter said. “The Emerson system controls the temperature in the store and the humidity, the lighting outside the store and monitors every refrigerated case so if we have an issue we get an instant alert.”

The Fayetteville store is also saving energy in the restrooms with an infrared detector that lights the room only when body heat is detected.
The exterior of the store is illuminated with LEDs, including the gas canopy, pole lights and gas price sign. “The LEDs are much more energy efficient and more maintenance free,” Rutter said. “The Fayetteville store is the 4th store we’ve put them in and we have yet to change an LED bulb. Depending on the climate, you get a minimum 5-7 year life expectancy.”

Measuring two comparable stores, Rutter’s found a 38% savings in electricity thanks to the LED lighting alone. At its car washes, Rutter’s reclaims and reuses about 85% of all wash water.

For retailers wondering how to begin the journey toward energy efficiency, Rutter advised, “the easy, low-hanging fruit is LED lighting.”

Sustained Excellence
Sunoco Inc. is inclined to agree with him based on results of its latest LED upgrades. The Philadelphia-based refiner-marketer, which has 4,900 branded retail locations in 23 states, upgraded 43 sites to its new LED lighting standard in 2010. In 2011, it plans to upgrade to LED lighting at another 50 retail store locations.

The LED retrofits are estimated to reduce each site’s electric bill by 10-15%. “LED makes our operations more efficient, and it’s also the right thing to do in terms of the environment,” said Thomas Golembeski, manager of corporate communications for Sunoco.
But the cost-savings doesn’t hurt either. The total estimated savings for the retail store LED lighting upgrades in 2010 is 181,000 kWh or 2.1 million kWh annualized.

Earlier this year Sunoco was honored with the 2011 Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its continued efforts to protect the environment through energy efficiency. Sunoco has been an Energy Star partner for 16 years and has now been recognized by the EPA for three consecutive years.

“Energy efficiency is something we take seriously and we look to be more energy efficient by selecting better materials and improving the way we operate,” Golembesk said. “It’s a nice recognition of the work we have done and progress we have made.”

Historically, when evaluating retail equipment, Sunoco looked at cost (the dollar value of buying, installing and maintaining it), quality, product availability and safety. “However, as we have gotten more aware of the benefits, we now look at total cost of ownership, which includes purchasing, installing, maintaining as well as utility usage involved in certain equipment, all of which is now factored into our evaluations,” Golembesk said. “We’ve found that practice has been especially beneficial when evaluating light and HVAC equipment in c-stores and that is really the driving force behind our new standard of lighting investments. The upside is just too good to ignore.”

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