Lighting the Way to Energy Efficiency

While LEDs have helped many businesses reduce their carbon footprint, each retailer must decide if the endeavor is a worthy long-term investment.

By: Erin Rigik, Associate Editor

There’s not a business owner that wouldn’t love to save to money on utility costs while achieving energy efficiencies. LED lighting is allowing many convenience store chains to accomplish this, all while reducing their carbon footprint, which serves the dual purpose of attracting customers focused on sustainability.

Bazzi Oil & Gas Co. owners and brothers Fadel and Hafed Bazzi went about such an upgrade when they purchased a new CITGO station in Dearborn, Mich., in May 2009.

The chain, which operates six stores in the Detroit market, and also supplies fuel to multiple stations in the region, invested in LED lighting as part of a comprehensive store redesign. In addition to overhauls to the building and forecourt, the chain invested in energy efficient LEDs on its canopy, as well as inside the 3,500-square-foot convenience store, including the walk-in coolers.

The upgrade won the chain the attention of the Dearborn City Beautiful Commission, which awarded it a Standard of Excellence award. The total cost ran them $4,000, and they experienced an ROI in about seven months.
“We have seen about a 28% decrease in the utility bill,” Fadel Bazzi told CSD. “We decided to do this from an economical standpoint to save money on the electric bill and to reduce energy use.”

In 2010 the owners upgraded three more stores to the energy efficient lighting, with plans to convert the last two locations in the near future. Bazzi said he recommends energy efficient lighting to “anyone who plans to stay in the business for the long term.”

Winning the award from the Dearborn City Beautiful Commission felt, “pretty good,” Bazzi said. “It’s nice to get something that recognizes the work you do. One of the best ways to keep up your business nowadays is not by beating the competition on price, but by having consistent service and keeping a clean, safe store that attracts customers.”

Something the energy efficient lighting has helped him achieve.

Lighting 101
While LEDs have helped chains like Bazzi Oil save money, enhance sustainability and gain positive attention in the community, before any chain leaps onto the LED bandwagon, it’s important to note that what works well for one firm, may not be the best option for another.

Leslie North, a lighting consultant and founding principal of Aurora Lighting Design Inc., based in the Chicagoland area, warns business owners not to put the cart before the horse. “If your true interest is in low energy, look at what you need to achieve lighting-wise for your business and how you can get there most efficiently, rather than deciding which solution you want, then how to make it work for you,” she said.

For example, North pointed out that adding LEDs to coolers is an excellent idea, because LEDs don’t like to be hot, but love the cold. Traditionally florescent tubes, which hate cold, have been used in coolers. “This makes LEDs the more effective choice for freezers, coolers and cold display cases because your efficiency is going to increase with the LEDs and decrease with the fluorescents in this area,” she said.

It’s also true that LEDs are improving rapidly while fluorescents have been improving marginally, North noted. But LEDs aren’t the only way to achieve energy efficiency with lighting.

In fact, North has seen some cases where the fluorescents turned out to be the more efficient choice.  In other words, focus on supplying light effectively where you need it and on the overall efficiency of the system rather than on LED versus fluorescents.

“You also need to look at the drivers and the ballasts (that control the starting and operating voltages of the lights) and compare those,” North said. “You have to put all these components together to get an effective package. We do want to use the lowest consumable energy we can, but we’re lighting for a purpose. That purpose in this case is to sell merchandise, so you need to factor that in the equation. A lot of times energy programs are only concentrating on energy use, not overall need. You have to understand the parameters that matter to you.”

It’s possible to be very efficient without adding any LEDs. A number of the fluorescents have come down in energy consumption. A T-8 florescent tube (the standard) was 32 watts for a long time, but now T-8s are available at 25 watts each, “and they run for 30,000 hours at a consistent light output and it’s a known product, and if I put it on a more energy efficient ballast I can run it at even lower than 25 watts,” North said.

Test Before You Buy
If you decide LEDs are the best route for you, remember LEDs are not created equal and quality can vary drastically from one LED product to another. “There are a lot of overblown and overemphasized claims out there,” North said. As a result, the Department of Energy is working to standardize and provide light facts that help provide more accurate comparisons between LED products.

When choosing LEDs, ignore data claims and evaluate products side by side; bring in a lighting designer or electrical engineer—who is a neutral party not selling the product or test a handful of samples in the store over a period of time before committing because, particularly with colored LEDs, colors can shift, North noted. If you’re lighting  a foodservice counter, and the wrong colors pop, it could affect customer perception of the product. “A number of groceries use florescent lamps that use color to help products look better, and you may find an LED retrofit may help you do the same, or it may go the other way,” North said.

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