Go Green to Stay Black

January 20, 2012

Marie Mischel, Utah Business

Going green can help you stay in the black. Not only are more consumers supporting energy-efficient companies, but cutting therms and watts saves companies money as well.

“We’re seeing in our research that the wise use of energy and our resources is something that consumers want, so it’s definitely a selling point and a marketing point for businesses to say that they have energy-efficient systems,” says Kevin Emerson, the energy efficient program associate with Utah Clean Energy, an independent, non-profit based in Salt Lake City.

The first step to developing an energy-efficient business is to conduct an audit to determine what needs to be done, Emerson says. He adds that the process will differ according to each individual company. “For businesses, there’s probably not a typical plan,” he says. “They probably want to start with lighting because it tends to be the easiest thing to do, and the least expensive. Oftentimes it’s something that folks can do in-house more easily than some of the other projects.”

Controlling heating and cooling systems also is at the top of the list for businesses looking to conserve energy and cut costs, Emerson says. One Utah firm offering products that makes it simpler for businesses to change their energy conservation in these areas is Ad Hoc Electronics, a three-year-old Orem firm that was among the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum’s 2008 Top Five Under Five. Ad Hoc’s Illumra product line, launched last May, is a battery- and wireless-free way to control lighting and HVAC systems.

“They offer a lot of advantages that are specifically helpful to companies wanting to adopt a green stance or reduce their impact on the environment,” says Jan Finlinson, Ad Hoc vice president. “The most substantial way that they do that is by making it very easy to integrate occupancy sensors into a space so that lights and the heating and air conditioning systems can be turned off in unoccupied spaces.”

The products also reduce the carbon footprint because they don’t require batteries and, for retrofit projects, there’s substantially less new product such as conduits and copper wire.

A typical Ad Hoc system includes light and occupancy sensors, switches, and the actuators that communicate between the sensors and the heating and lighting electrical systems. The sensors allow the lights and HVAC systems to turn off automatically when people are no longer in the area. Though often used to control lighting and HVAC, this technology can be used for any device operated by a switch.

Finlinson says a substantial benefit to wireless technology is that it can be installed with almost no interruption to the workforce itself. “An electrician doesn’t have to take apart walls or anything at all to run new wires. They just get up on a ladder and there’s a 15-minute interruption right where the ladder is.”

Another benefit is that lights can be controlled individually. Rather than having an entire floor lit for one person working at a desk, with the Ad Hoc system each cubicle occupant can dim or turn off lights over their area.

The wireless systems are particularly attractive in retrofit situations, Finlinson says. “Even though these intelligent controls cost considerably more than a standard light switch, in many cases that is more than offset by the labor savings of not having to cut through walls and run additional conduit and copper wires to the locations where they want sensors and switches installed.”

Green Gold
Emerson believes the trend toward energy-efficient products and practices will continue as federal and state agencies continue to regulate energy consumption and says that in addition to controlling lighting and heating and air conditioning, businesses can turn to the federal government’s EnergyStar program for help with reducing energy consumption One tool that he recommends is the Portfolio Manager, a free, online energy management program that allows bus-inesses to track their energy or natural gas consumption, as well as compare their usage with like businesses across the country. “There’s no barrier to using it except that a lot of businesses don’t know about it,” he says.

Many manufacturers now offer of-fice equipment lines that qualify for an EnergyStar rating, which indicates the equipment is designed to use less energy to perform regular tasks and automatically turn off or hibernate when not being used. It’s estimated that $200 million would be saved annually if every home office product purchased this year in the U.S. had an EnergyStar rating.

Equipment that can qualify for the EnergyStar ratings range from water coolers to computers.

“There’s still a little bit of a myth that letting a computer sleep or hibernate is bad because it damages the computer, but that’s not the case,” Emerson says, adding that power management software is available for both individual computers and networks.

The Website, www.energystar.gov, lists the manufacturers who offer Energy Star rated equipment, and offers tips for conservation as well. In addition, Rocky Mountain Power and Questar have comprehensive energy-efficient programs to make it easier for businesses to undertake energy conservation projects, Emerson says.

Rocky Mountain Power also offers savings for EnergyStar qualified models of lighting fixtures and appliances such as air conditioning units and ceiling fans.

Another program that can aid executives looking to expand their green reach is EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), which evaluates computers and monitors based on 51 criteria, including 23 mandatory environmental criteria.

Federal agency purchasing contracts require EPEAT products, and in De-cember, EPEAT announced that it had registered its 1,000th environmentally preferable computer product.

Products that earn the EPEAT registration have less cadmium, lead and mercury than traditional computers, are more energy efficient and are easier to recycle. The EPEAT system is managed by the nonprofit Green Electronics Council in Oregon. The Website is www.epeat.net.

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