By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Adding energy efficient features to convenience stores has numerous benefits from power bill and maintenance savings to the ability to market to today’s more eco-conscious consumer.
If today’s utility rebate offerings are any indication, the wave of the future is a more energy efficient store. Today, savvy c-store retailers like Enmark Stations Inc., are looking to make those efficient upgrades each time a location is ready for a facelift, taking advantage of money-saving incentives when available.
Enmark, with 59 locations throughout Georgia and the Carolinas, recently built two new stores: one in Georgia and one in South Carolina. When it embarked on the new builds it added LED lighting inside and out for maximum energy efficiency and some cost savings to boot. In the past two and a half years Enmark has also remodeled some 20 locations, taking advantage of energy efficiencies along the way.
“With the new buildings, we went with LED all over—LED canopy lights, the back wall lights, the area and perimeter lights. We used LED lights inside the store and inside the cooler doors as well,” said Glenn Jackson, technical operations manager for Enmark. “The LEDs not only save a lot of energy, but there is also the maintenance factor—supposedly, they’ll last 10-13 years—so we won’t have nearly as much maintenance.”
That maintenance savings also translates to an additional savings in labor.
In the restrooms, Enmark now uses a motion-activated switch that illuminates the room when it senses that a customer has entered. “We don’t have to worry about people leaving the light on when they leave the restroom because it turns off in a certain amount of time by itself, so it saves energy,” Jackson added.
While Enmark completed much of the new builds on its own, it did take advantage of an equipment rebate on specific EnergyWise equipment through a local utility while remodeling stores in Georgia.
“We put a full kitchen in a couple of the locations in Georgia that we remodeled and part of that equipment does have a rebate on it, including the electric griddles and electric fryers,” Jackson said. “Even though some of the EnergyWise smaller ovens didn’t have a rebate, we still added those too because they are still efficient.”
While Enmark mostly added LEDs to its newly built stores, it also added them to some remodeled stores. During a remodel project it finished last December in a store that had large t-12 fluorescent tubes, the chain converted straight to LEDs, even though it could have also received a rebate just for upgrading to t-8, because LED offered maximum efficiency and savings on maintenance that would pay off in the long run.
It’s just that sort of forward thinking that c-store chains need in today’s market when competing not just with other c-stores, but with other channels across the board.
“We did LED lighting wherever we could,” Jackson said. “The quality of the light is fine and we have no problems with it.”
While there were once concerns about the color quality of LEDs when they first came on the market, “as long as it’s engineered and drawn out so you have enough light in the room, there’s no problem with the color of the light,” Jackson said. “In our cooler doors, specifically, I think the LEDs really make the product pop. In some of the bathrooms and over our coffee programs, we’ve started using LED can lighting instead of the recessed light that would usually go in the ceiling. So we’re trying to use LED as much as possible.”
In another store in Springfield, Ga. that Enmark gutted and remodeled, when a new roof was needed, Enmark added an energy efficient white roof that reflects heat. On some of the canopies at remodeled stores, Enmark has added an LED stripe around the canopy.
Jackson is also interested in a product called LEON. “It’s an LED that looks like neon, and I want to look into adding that to one of our next stores,” he said.
Partnering With A Utility
When it comes to upgrading efficiencies, while rebates are helpful, it’s not the reason Enmark has decided to embark on upgrades, especially when it comes to lighting. “You definitely don’t get back as much money as you put into the project from the rebate, but LEDs are supposed to last longer, they look good and they require less maintenance, all of which should save you some money in addition to the lower power bills,” Jackson said.
The ideal time to embark on an energy efficient upgrade is when a convenience store is already planning a new build or remodel, but don’t wait until the project is complete to look into possible rebate options.
Derek Kirchner, the principal program advisor for DTE Energy Co., a Detroit, Mich.-based utility company, recommends that chains looking to make energy efficient upgrades start the process by reaching out to their local utility company before taking additional steps.
“Instead of going through and doing it on your own as a c-store owner, now you can partner with a local utility and an implementation contractor to get the work done and have a quicker payback,” he advised. “But I’d say reach out to the utility first. In the example of some of our programs, in order to be able to pay for incentives or pay for rebates, we may need to come out and verify what is currently at the location, so kind of a pre-application. A company submits an application, and we’d do an inspection to confirm they are taking out a 400 watt HID (high-intensity discharge) lamp and replacing it with a 170 watt LED, and there’s savings there. We verify it, and then we would pay after the completion of the project. If a customer were to do that on his own and call us after the fact, it’s more difficult for us to pay on those incentives.”
Utilities often offer a range of programs depending on the size of the customers and the number of lights they’re looking to convert. In Michigan, for example, DTE offers a program that provides bonuses to companies that use Michigan made products.
“We have a list of contractors and lighting suppliers that qualify for additional incentives because they’re Michigan made products. So depending on the utility in your area, there may be many different ways to get through the process of gaining some rebates for energy efficient upgrades. And that’s one reason why its important to reach out to your local utility first, because working in partnership is a lot easier than trying to do things after the fact,” Kirchner said.
Most utilities also have lists of companies they partner with on the Websites.
“We have an energy directory on our Website that links customers to contractors who have worked with our program before, who are familiar with the process and can make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed,” Kirchner said.
Taking these steps up front can help you save money and help your store become as efficient as possible.