Saving Energy Saves Money, Reduces Pollution

01/05/04 by John Wear

By Dr. John E. Wear Jr.

If corporations and local governments made New Year’s resolutions, saving energy and money would be a great place to start, and Craig Gammarino with the North Carolina State Energy Office would be a terrific guide.

Craig’s specialty is technical training on the efficient operation of mechanical equipment, but he has an excellent grasp of the big picture when it comes to ways to reduce energy and realize savings. This, of course, is an excellent way to improve our air quality because the less fuel we burn, the cleaner our air becomes.

Craig recently shared some of the State Energy Office’s down-to-earth, practical ideas with the Catawba College Center for the Environment. This is all part of the state’s Utilities Savings Initiative, but it is clearly transferable to any corporation or college or governmental entity.

Some of you may already be doing all these things. If so, good for you. If not, they’re worth your consideration.

The first step in any energy efficiency program, Craig says, is utilities accounting. This determines where and how efficiently energy is being used.

Discovering billing data errors and switching electric rates can save a surprising amount of money. The state owns more than 12,000 buildings and pays a whopping $225 million each year in utility bills. Officials identified nearly $700,000 worth of savings just by switching rates. Craig says you can expect to save at least 1-2 percent through these accounting efforts.

The second step is identifying and addressing energy conservation opportunities in operation and maintenance. These can be no-cost or low-cost measures with payback periods of less than a year. National numbers suggest you can save anywhere from 10 to 30 percent through no-cost, low-cost tactics.

One university with a vigilant maintenance staff discovered that when a boiler came on, the vent on
a pressure-reducing valve opened up, so they were venting a lot of natural gas outside. Correcting the faulty valve saved them energy -- and money.

One energy-saving measure which I had not considered is disconnecting the lights in vending machines. You can save more than $100 a year per machine by asking your vendor to do this. Think of how many vending machines you have in your company. How much money would you save?

Something as simple as conservation awareness training can save a company 20-25 percent of its energy bill, according to Craig. If people would do elementary things like turn off lights and computer monitors or turn down thermostats when they leave the building, that would save energy. If you want to remove the responsibility from the employees, you can install programmable thermostats on heating and cooling systems, a measure that would pay for itself in short order.

Capital-intensive energy investments, which have a payback period of more than a year, are also doable. If capital is in short supply, you can implement more costly conservation measures through performance contracts with Energy Services Companies (ESCO’s). These companies survey your buildings and propose an energy saving program. They finance it and you pay for the cost out of the energy savings that result. One of the real pluses in this arrangement is that the ESCO’s guarantee the savings, and if the savings don’t materialize, they make up the difference.

The Fayetteville Observer recently reported that Sampson County is working with Progress Energy on an energy-saving program that is estimated to save $85,000 annually in energy costs by upgrading lights, adding timer switches and changing the heating and air-conditioning controls in county buildings.

Performance contracting is clearly a good mechanism for funding energy measures, but Craig cautions that some ESCOs are more profit-oriented than others. If you’re careful, however, and thoroughly evaluate the proposals that you receive, you’ll find this to be a welcome way of making your operation more energy-efficient.

You might want to check out the State Energy Office’s strategic energy plan at www.energync.net.

That will give you a good foundation for establishing your own strategic plan.

The new year is a good time to focus on saving energy. It will help to improve the quality of our air because it will reduce the amount of energy -- and pollution -- the utility companies produce, and it will save you money at the same time. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?

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