Illuminating Energy Savings

Energy Saving Performance Contracts can be an effective mechanism toward enabling projects that advance the federal government’s sustainability and energy savings goals.

 

 By Andy Wakefield, M.SAME

 


 

The nation’s largest energy consumer, the Department of Defense, is taking a leading role in setting new standards for energy effi­ciency, pursuing Net Zero installations, and improving operational energy security. The utilization of Energy Saving Performance Contracts (ESPCs)—a public-private part­nership between a federal agency and an Energy Service Company (ESCO)—can be an effective mechanism toward enabling projects that advance these energy goals.

ESCOs help to audit, design and imple­ment energy-efficient improvements with no upfront cost to the government. ESPC projects are financed by energy savings achieved over the duration of the contract (typically 15 to 20 years) rather than by an initial capital investment. Once the dura­tion of the contract is realized, the govern­ment benefits from any additional savings.

Lighting energy savings

Research by the U.S. Energy Information Administration has found that lighting consumes nearly 38 percent of the electricity used in commercial buildings. IMAGE COURTESY LUTRON / SOURCE: U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION, 2003 COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS ENERGY CONSUMPTION SURVEY, RELEASED SEPTEMBER 2008. 


 

The long-term nature of ESPCs makes it critical to use energy-saving strategies—including lighting control—in such a way that they maximize energy efficiency and mission effectiveness over time. Failure to do so can be problematic, resulting in large areas of an installation getting locked into technologies that save less energy overall, and are unable to support future infrastruc­ture initiatives. For example, a facility may not be able connect with the smart grid or building management systems, respond to emergency scenarios, or compile and report energy usage data for almost two decades.

Digital communications are revolutioniz­ing the lighting industry. Wireless controls and LED light sources offer benefits that go well beyond energy savings. But, unless a strategic plan for the long-term use of these technologies is specifically addressed in a performance contract, they cannot easily be added and the benefits remain unattainable.

The good news is the cost of these light­ing control solutions continues to decrease. In addition, wireless controls are easy to install and reduce labor costs. These solu­tions can achieve a payback of less than five years and the technologies will save energy and money over the contract duration.

 

CONTRACTING DETAILS

A typical Energy Savings Performance Contract is negoti­ated for 15 to 20 years. Because the Energy Service Company guaran­tees the results, and is ultimately responsible for the promised energy performance, the contracts may be voided if a facility alters the perfor­mance aspects of the building or the installed materials.

The contract duration is an advan­tage because it allows a facility to incorporate items that have a longer payback such as renewable energy sources or new chillers. But in this age of digital control and connectiv­ity, it is also crucial to make sure that the timespan does not limit future opportunities.

 

MANAGING CONTRACT DURATION

Think about the types of technologies that were used 20 years ago: mobile phones that were only phones, bulky stereo players, and televisions weighing upwards of 150-lb. Imagine how limiting it would be if we were still required to use those devices.

This same scenario applies to lighting technologies in buildings. Yesterday’s approach to lighting control is becoming obsolete. New technologies are converg­ing to make buildings more efficient and provide dynamic data to facility manag­ers. Lighting controls can automatically respond to emergencies, be easily repro­grammed and repurposed, and enhance occupant comfort and productivity.

Early in the ESPC evolution, energy conservation measures that focused on lighting were simple and offered a great payback. By retrofitting inefficient T-12 fluorescent fixtures with more efficient T-8 fixtures, an ESCO could get a very predict­able and short return. This improved the blended payback of the overall project and helped fund longer payback items. While some T-12 fixtures remain, most ofthat opportunity has been realized. More recently, ESCOs have used lower wattage lamps and occupancy sensors to reduce the lighting energy consumed. This strategy made sense since occupancy sensors and low wattage lamps offered a quick and predictable payback, and there were no major source or technology changes that demanded a more innovative approach.

Historically, this offered the shortest payback. But at what cost? Look at the potential savings available with an energy conservation measure that goes beyond occupancy and switching. U.S. Energy Information Administration research in the 2003 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, released in September 2008 (the 2012 report is expected to be released in 2015), found that lighting consumes nearly 38 percent of the electricity used in a commercial building.

By layering integrated control strate­gies—high-end tuning, occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting, automatic dimming control, demand response and load shedding, and HVAC integration—lighting control can deliver energy savings of up to 60 percent, which is a total savings over 20 percent.

Another factor to consider is the rapid migration to high-efficacy LED fixtures, with costs coming down to where they are more compelling to use in performance contracts. Why does this matter today even if the ESPC does not include LED fixtures? While most fluorescent fixtures are not controllable beyond on and off, almost all LED fixtures are. Even if the cost of LED fixtures removes them from immediate consideration, the same digital system that can be installed to control fluorescent fixtures today can be repurposed in a few years, without rewiring, to control LED fixtures. A forward-thinking ESPC should include lighting control technologies that allow an installation to use fluorescent fixtures, yet still have the capability to retrofit LED fixtures in the future.

This is critical because if the ESPC misses the opportunity to include a dimming control system as part of a project initially, it may very well preclude any future LED opportunities and cost an installation considerable efficiency gains with either fluorescent or LED fixtures. Installing only occupancy sensors may offer an attractive initial payback. But installing a digital lighting control system assures broader future performance by enabling a number of benefits, including: software upgrades; retrocommissioning of the lighting in a space; the ability to connect to and enhance a smart grid implementation; demand response and load shedding; integration with building management systems; usage and energy data recording, reporting and analytics; and LED upgrades.

 


 

Think about the types of technologies that were used 20 years ago: mobile phones that were only phones, bulky stereo players, and televisions weighing upwards of 150-lb. Imagine how limiting it would be if we were still required to use those devices.


  

LEVERAGING DIGITAL CONTROLS

In addition to energy savings, military bases are equally concerned about energy security. This involves planning for microgrids and smart grids.

When properly planned and imple­mented, digital lighting control can help automatically balance lighting energy, create flexibility within a microgrid, and enhance security in almost any situation. Simply put, the system can communicate with the grid to ensure that the right lights are powered at the right levels depending on the situation and energy available. During a natural disaster, a digital lighting control system can be set to automatically maintain full lighting power in a medical facility, and illuminate shelters and staging areas for first responders, while reducing light levels in all non-essential areas. Automatic, responsive control is only possible if the lighting control system can go beyond simple energy-saving measures to include advanced control opportuni­ties. These decisions have to be made at the beginning of the ESPC process—or they typically cannot be made at all.

 

SPECIFICITY MATTERS

The Department of Energy suggests that each project include an onsite energy champion who is committed to maximizing the benefits of the ESPC by fully integrat­ing energy-saving practices into building operations. To create a successful long-term strategy, these champions must become experts and articulate a clear vision. They need to be well versed on lighting control, HVAC and water usage.

Ultimately, they are the resource when it comes to understanding the needs of the installation and ensuring ESPCs meet both current and future needs.

All of this expertise and planning needs to be reflected in the final contract language. Careful attention must be paid in the request-for-proposal specifically requiring respondents to describe how the proposed lighting technologies will be able to accomplish future smart grid and build­ing management system integration, data reporting, system upgrades and retrocom­missioning. While it is true these solutions will have longer paybacks than traditional lighting energy conservation measures, careful planning and system design should still be able to deliver a payback that keeps them within an ESPCs’ scope.

ESPCs can be invaluable in reducing the U.S. military’s environmental impact and minimizing energy waste while improving operational efficiency. They can deliver a more connected, intelligent installation that enhances mission effectiveness, person­nel security and comfort with little or no capital output. But they must be planned carefully—and with an eye to the future.

  


 

Andy Wakefield, M.SAME, is Director of Government and OEM Solutions, Lutron Electronics; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..