Reducing Consumption is Where Energy-Savings Start

Published on Friday, 9 May 2014 03:00:03    Written by Marc
The title of this blog might seem trivial; however, in the past few days, I must have received a dozen emails from people sending me stories on global warming and how the environment is changing. True, the environment is changing, and not always for the better. What I realize; though, is how little energy saving is really talked about.

Night lightsThere is a new report available titled “Climate Changes Impact in the United States” that was recently published by the US National Climate Assessment/U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) at http://www.globalchange.gov/. The report is an 841-page document, which contains information on changing weather, carbon emissions, and risks. While the report highlights the trends, and what is actually happening, this is almost no reference to what people could do. It may be good to talk about weather change, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, growing problems with access to clean water, risks that energy production might face, and for the average person or company, the concrete actions they can do to help, which basically boils down to reduce energy consumption.

If I manage a company that has manufacturing and office buildings, I might not be able to do much except to do my share in reducing my energy consumption. Doing this will have a positive impact, but I am surprised by how little all the environmental reports talk about energy reduction. They talk about renewable energy, but these do not come at zero cost. We know that to produce solar panels, we need to use energy in the first place. However, if we reduce our energy consumption, this is a net gain. If I turn off a lamp for six hours, I saved six hours of energy for that lamp. Should we not start there?

Each time I look at shops and office towers at night, I cannot help but think of all the energy wasted for nothing. Many years ago when I was working for a real estate developer, we started an initiative to save energy, and after we found and implemented our “low hanging fruit” (see blog …), we quickly started to look at what other processes we could change. Turning off the lights in our high-rise offices quickly came to mind, and so we started to inquire as to why we were keeping the lights on at night.

At first, some of us were thinking it was maybe for the airplanes, and then we were thinking it could be for security and cleaning teams. Then, when we started to talk with our security and cleaning contractors, we learned that complete building lighting was not required at all. Cleaning people normally went from floor to floor (sometimes with a few crews doing a few floors in parallel) and most could easily turn on and off the lights when they went into an office. Knowing that our contractors were not a roadblock, we then looked at what we would save.

Some of us were debating the fact that lights actually help to heat in the winter, but that was quickly dismissed after some calculations. It turns out that building heating systems are more efficient than lighting, so using lights to heat is not the most economical way to do it. In addition to this, keeping lights on at night in the summer has a double negative effect because not only does it use energy for nothing, it puts an extra strain on your cooling systems so they need to work harder to cool your building.

With this information in mind, we started initiatives to turn off lights after business hours. We also worked with security and cleaning to ensure that they implemented these measures as well. On some occasions, we installed motion detectors to assist our contractors, but when done right, the cost was more than acceptable. In the end, we managed to get good energy savings, which were passed along to our tenants. Today, when I pass by some of these office buildings, I still notice their lights out at night because they contrast sharply with some of the buildings next to them that remain entirely lit.

If there is an urgent need to reduce energy consumption, or at a very minimum, a good incentive for companies to reduce their energy cost, why is a practice like this not widespread? Is it because energy is so cheap in North America and companies do not even bother?

I tried to find answers, so I did some research in places where I knew that energy was more expensive. I started with France, knowing that the price of electricity in that country was higher than in North America and that this is a country that has often been proactive in promoting energy saving. Surprisingly, France’s electricity rates are among the lowest in Europe. When compared with countries like Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom, France’s rates actually seem almost reasonable.

Still, at approximately 13 cents (give or take a penny) per KWH for the average consumer, that is still much higher than the average cost in North America. So with this in mind, I started to search to find what they were doing with their buildings at night and turns out they were not doing much more than what is done in North America… at least until July 1, 2013. That is when a new law became active. . The new law states that all commercial businesses (actually, anything non-residential) must turn off their lights at night. While there are some exceptions (like holiday periods), high rise offices must turn off their lights one hour after the last employee leaves. I am not sure what happens if one IT guy needs to stay all night. I guess there are more exceptions for zones. For storefronts, they must shut off from 01:00 AM to 07:00 AM and for other buildings, they can only turn on their lights after sunset and remain open until 1:00 AM. Other exceptions are for high touristic zones, streetlights and some governmental sites, which must remain on.

Therefore, what I take from this is that although France is paying almost double for their energy than what we pay here, they still needed a law to force them to turn off their lights at night thereby forcing them to save money. Downtowns might look a little darker after 1:00 AM now, but if the goal is to save energy and reduce carbon emissions, it makes sense. Companies that want to get serious in reducing their energy consumption sometimes have their solutions right in front of them; they only need to drive by their building at night to get a hint on what they could do…