Best Practices for Reducing Operating Costs
There is a lengthy list of general maintenance items retailers should have to maximize cooler efficiency. Jerry Lawson, national manager for Energy Star Small Business and Congregations Network, a division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, recommended the following no-cost tips that are designed to help reduce operating costs, save energy consumption and prevent pollution:
• Reduce door openings: Repeated fluctuations in temperature will damage food quality and will cost money.
• Check temperature settings: If settings are lower than necessary, energy is being wasted. The most commonly recommended settings are between minus-14 degrees and minus-eight degrees for freezers and between 35 degrees and 38 degrees for refrigerators.
• Clean cooling coils: Dirt accumulation impairs proper heat transfer and lowers the efficiency and capacity of refrigerators.
• Check door seals: Tight seals and properly closing doors prevent warm air from entering the unit, which reduces cooling energy and prevents frost buildup. Use this as a rule of thumb: if you can easily slide a dollar bill into the seal, have the seal adjusted. Replace worn seals and gaskets on refrigerator and freezer doors, install automatic door closers and use night covers on both vertical and horizontal display cases. Add strip curtains to walk-in doors.
• Maintain equipment: Perform any scheduled maintenance on the units and keep evaporator coils clean and free of ice build-up.
• Do your homework: Learn how other convenience stores and restaurants have saved energy on their refrigeration systems.
• Reduce air leakage in refrigerated cases: Leaks and improper control regimes typically provide opportunities for savings in refrigeration systems. Refrigerant leaks are not just an emissions problem: incorrect refrigerant levels can compromise efficiency by 5-20% and raise the risk of early component failure.
It was in the mid-1980s that the commercial lighting industry began to work under the premise that instead of adding fixtures for brighter areas, it could upgrade existing fixtures.
The improvements began with using less energy to achieve more light. Upgrade kits, rather than new fixtures, came to the market stocked with improved reflectors and lenses combined with the natural evolution of lighting technology.
Today’s LED lighting uses energy more for light than heat, the opposite of incandescent light. With this development, energy-saving possibilities improved from a reach of 20% annually to a realistic 70%.
The Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance (NGLIA) estimated that LED, or solid-state lighting (SSL) technologies, hold the potential to save 348 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity by 2030 versus the incumbent technologies of incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
This is extremely important to industry operators. According to the 2010 NACS State of the Industry report, about 40% of a facility’s operational expenses come from lighting.
LSI Industries, of Cincinnati, is a leading provider of lighting services to the convenience store and petroleum industry, counting many of the country’s best-known chains as clients—Shell, BP, Chevron, Texaco, MAPCO, Pilot, Casey’s and QuikTrip.
About a year ago, the technology firm reached an outdoor LED partnership with Dallas-based 7-Eleven that included overhauling canopy fixtures and all exterior lighting at more than 2,400 locations, with a goal of covering all U.S. stores.
“We are realizing a savings of several hundred dollars per store per month from reduced energy consumption,” said Steve Hall, 7-Eleven’s vice president of construction, store planning and facilities. “Obviously this amount increases with seasonal change and decreasing daylight hours.”
As 7-Eleven continues to move toward being a franchise-only operation, it pays all the utility bills for franchisees. Federal legislation in 2005 (Energy Policy Act) created the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction, which allows building owners to deduct the entire cost of a lighting upgrade in the year the equipment is placed in service.
This meaningful tax break highlights the other side of energy-saving—the public-relations halo such sustainable actions place on a company. This was not a factor until LED became a viable option for businesses.
“It is a true win-win opportunity,” Hall said. “While 7-Eleven is clearly demonstrating our commitment to sustainability through this significant investment, we are realizing the benefits of reduced electrical consumption and reduced maintenance expenses.”
That last benefit—realized through longer life of fixtures—combines with better-colored lighting and dimmer switches to make the move to LED the inevitable choice. And with its 2008 Crossover series of LED lighting, LSI is working on an ROI of 18 months to two years, though Hall is working with an estimate of five years.
The technology involved in winning an account like 7-Eleven is not only in the lighting source. Great care in design has to be taken to ensure a seal in the fixture housing against moisture. Hall lauded LSI for understanding how light must be used for gas station exteriors—under the canopy, and in the space between the store and the canopy—as well as keeping in mind a site’s attractiveness and safety while effectively highlighting a store’s brand and making sure all lighting regulations are followed.
“LSI brought many important attributes to the table,” Hall said of the bidding process. “Familiarity with our store base, a demonstrated capacity to meet aggressive timelines and execute within established budgets, a proven record of executing work while minimizing impact to store operations and competitive pricing.”
Chain Size Not Important
Operators who think they need to have hundreds of stores to benefit from this technology should know solutions exist for chains of all sizes. The Parker Co.’s of Savannah, Ga., and Quik Mart of Tucson, Ariz, are LSI customers, and each have less than 30 locations.
Another LED supplier, Beta Lighting, of Sturtevant, Wis., has shown the way with gas-station projects in Texas, Nevada, Kentucky, Wisconsin and California.
C&R Distributing Inc., the El Paso, Texas-based marketer of 32-store Howdy’s Food Marts, now operates El Paso’s first inside and outside LED store. Not only did the company experience an average monthly energy savings of 64% last year, it expects an ROI of four years. In Howdy’s other locations, canopy fixtures were reduced in number, as much as two-thirds at one station.
Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons Inc., with more than 150 locations in five states, also uses Beta’s LED products. In the partnership’s initial 13 sites, the project saved an average of 62% on energy costs compared with traditional 320-watt metal halide fixtures. At each of the 13 sites, the LED fixtures will reduce carbon emissions by roughly 30% and eliminate disposal of mercury found in conventional lighting sources.
In 2009, Santa Clara, Calif.-based LeoTek partnered with Couche-Tard to retrofit hundreds of the company’s Canadian sites with LED exterior lighting. LeoTek’s LCN1 canopy fixture produces an industry-high 100 lumens per watt, a measure of the fixture’s efficiency.
The higher the number, the more efficient a product leaving the company extremely optimistic that it can significantly slash operating costs asross its vast retail network.