With so many choices now available, retailers must make sure they select wisely when upgrading canopy and interior lighting.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Lighting technology is undergoing a rapid expansion, with more energy-efficient options appearing in the marketplace. Many retailers seeking cost savings on their electric and maintenance bills are flocking to their utility companies to take advantage of expert advice and incentives that allow them to make the switch inexpensively.
NOCO Express, which operates 32 convenience stores throughout the western New York region, has seen first hand the benefits of energy efficiency.
In December, NOCO unveiled a newly rebuilt state-of-the-art c-store across from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The chain demolished the 1,600 square foot store that formerly occupied the property in September and replaced it with a 5,000-square-foot store, featuring green building technologies to reduce energy consumption. The store’s energy-efficient features include low watt LED lighting under the canopy, a refrigeration energy management system and white roofing for increased light reflectivity.
A light harvesting system was also installed that employs skylights to bring natural lighting into the store and an energy management control system that automatically dims the store lighting during the daylight hours. This allows the store to use ambient light, when possible, to illuminate the sales floor.
Due to the proximity to the airport, the store was limited in the number of outdoor lights it could use. The forecourt features 16 LED canopy lights and two LED spotlights off the back canopy to light up the front of the store, and an LED-powered parking lot light. “With the energy system, and LED on the canopy, we should save between $10,000 to $14,000 a year on energy costs,” said Scott Robinson, NOCO’s manager of real estate.
Benefiting the Bottom Line
Currently, NOCO is participating in a program with National Grid through Lime Energy to convert its fuel canopy lights to LEDs at all 18 of its stores on the national grid. The company expects to be finished with the rollout by the end of summer. At presstime, it had just finished the first installation in Tonawanda, N.Y.
“The store had 30 460-watt canopy lights and we reduced it down to 18 125-watt LEDs,” Robinson said. “At that store alone we will save about $6,000 a year.”
But the big savings will be in eliminating hefty maintenance costs. “At the new store, in the past, we spent about $2,500 a year just in maintenance on the ballasts and bulbs,” Robinson said. “LED bulbs should require very little maintenance, so we won’t have that added expense anymore. The LEDs are under warranty for the next five years.”
Robinson noted the LEDs are brighter than traditional bulbs, which means the store is also getting more bang for its buck. “It’s a much whiter light. At the store in Tonawanda we reduced our fixtures by 12, and it’s still significantly brighter,” he said.
Retailers thinking about investing in LEDs or adopting other eco-friendly programs should know that there are quite a few programs out there for them that will help them test the waters and ease their way into upgrades without significant up-front costs.
“Talk to your utility companies and see what incentives they are offering,” advised Robinson. “The LED fixtures themselves are very expensive, and with the program we’re involved with, they’re paying us to put them in.”
Jacob Hannan, senior program associate for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), agreed that retailers looking to upgrade their lighting should speak first with their local utilities to find what incentives are available.
Utilities base subsidies on the amount of power savings. “If they gave an incentive on a compact fluorescent (CFL) product it would be based on the power consumption between a CFL and a standard incandescent,” Hannan said. “Well, if standard incandescents are being improved by turning them into high efficiency halogen incandescent bulbs—which is what is happening—that could mean the subsidy is slightly smaller. It could also be your local utility isn’t incentivizing LEDs at all. They may be incentivizing a high-pressure sodium to metal halide, for example.”
Benefits of LED
LEDs are known for their energy-efficient benefits, long lifetimes and reduced maintenance costs. Typically the LEDs are quoted by manufacturers as providing a lifetime of about 50,000 hours.
In outdoor lighting, traditional illumination technologies, such as high pressure sodium or metal halide, can result in an uneven lighting pattern with brighter spots of light directly under the fixtures. LEDs, on the other hand, can be designed to achieve more uniform lighting, so you can have a lower amount of light right under the fixture and control where the light is going in order to gain an even, consistent light across forecourt.
LEDs also help reduce light trespass, where the light you’re generating crosses your property line in an undesirable way. “LED technology, when designed and installed in a proper manner, can offer a crisp, fine line that runs along the edge of your forecourt,” Hannan said.
More Brightness for Your Buck
When shopping for LEDs, remember a wide range of product qualities exist. “Manufacturers are appearing and disappearing at a rapid pace,” Hannan said. “There are some products that are still going strong after 15,000 hours and they’re at 98% of the initial light output, while other products that may have claimed a significant amount of time are down to 10% of their original brightness within 1,000 hours, which is how long a standard incandescent bulb lasts.”
As a buyer, seek out products that are tested according to standards. “Utilities are only interested in giving incentives to products that are high quality, so they will have lists of products they approve for use,” Hannan said. “Using products on of those lists and working with a qualified designer can help in making a smart choice.”
Furthermore, if your utility isn’t offering LED incentives, retailers can check with the Designlights Consortium. “They act as an Energy Star for commercial lighting, so if your local utility is not providing any help, that could be a place to look,” Hannan said. “If a product is on that list you know it has undergone tests and performed well in accordance with a high standard of performance.”
Efficiency Bottom Line
Its important to remember it is possible to be energy efficient even without LEDs. “In certain cases the best choice may not be LED at the moment; it may be high efficiency fluorescent or it may be metal halide, or some other technology,” Hannan said. “LEDs right now are advancing at an incredibly rapid rate. If you last did your cost benefit calculation 12-18 months ago and you still want to act, it may be worth looking at it again because the performance of the products is rapidly increasing and the cost of the products is rapidly decreasing.”
Hannan noted that the price of LEDs has dropped by half over the course of the last year. “It’s like with a personal computer— if you just wait another 12 months, there will be a better model, but you have to buy at some point,” he said. “So when you evaluate it for yourself, if it doesn’t work now, and you see the cost of waiting isn’t too high, hold off for six months. Chances are the cost benefit could be right by then.”
Shedding Light On the Rules
In December, Congress passed a $915 billion spending bill that included a rider that stopped enforcement of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act —which phases out the use of incandescent bulbs in favor of new more efficient alternatives—until Sept. 30, 2012.
But despite the reprieve, businesses and utility companies are continuing full steam ahead toward energy efficiency.
“What Congress did was put on hold the funding for the government agencies to enforce the law, but the law is still in effect. The national lighting associations have taken the stand that their members are law abiding companies and are proceeding as though the law will be enforced,” said Jacob Hannan, senior program associate for Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA). “What Congress did really doesn’t have an impact on the standards. Supply chains take a long time to gear up, and that halt in enforcement was a last minute thing, so the gears were already in motion to comply with the law.”
Secondly, for both retailers and manufacturers, even if Congress has pulled away from enforcing the law, it would still look bad for those companies if they were publicly revealed to be violating the law, so they should comply.