Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Efficiency upgrades to lighting, heating and air or other operating systems can lower expenditures for convenience stores in the long run. However, operators should consider more than just start-up costs when choosing which enhancements make the most business sense.
Stripes LLC began efficiency upgrades at many of its convenience stores about two-and-a-half years ago, according to Susser Holdings Corp.’s Richard Sebastian, senior vice president of facilities, construction and Applied Petroleum Technologies Ltd.
Susser operates 627 convenience stores in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, with more than 580 under the Stripes banner, plus another 47 Sac-N-Pac locations. A subsidiary of Susser, Applied Petroleum Technologies works closely with its retail and wholesale divisions on construction, maintenance and environmental planning.
“We’ve been converting from the old T8s and T12s to LEDs. In 2013, we converted about 45 stores legacy stores, some interior, some exterior, some both, and we implemented LED lighting at the 29 new stores we opened,” Sebastian said. “In 2014, the capital is set aside for approximately the same number of conversions—45 legacy stores—and any new stores we open, which traditionally is between 28-33 stores.”
Compared with incandescent lights, fluorescent bulbs are relatively inexpensive and use less energy. For these reasons, fluorescents are often used in industrial, commercial and public facilities. The most common straight tube types are T5, T8 and T12.
In preparing for its lighting conversion, Stripes LLC in 2009 joined the AEP Texas Commercial Solutions Program (AEP)—a no-cost program that provides technical and financial support to help commercial facilities identify and implement energy efficiency upgrade projects. As a result, the company received an incentive of $39,192 from AEP to retrofit its indoor and outdoor lighting to LED and improve HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems at many of its Texas-based Stripes stores.
The monetary incentive was computed figuring the total amount of energy the Stripes stores will save, which is significant. Once done, the conversion will save at least 1,599,173 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, equivalent to the amount of electricity used in 101 homes per year, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculations.
In evaluating what legacy stores to retrofit, Stripes looked at those buildings with the largest spaces and highest volume, with the lowest energy efficiency ratings (EERs).
“When we talk about energy management, we always default to talking about lighting, but our HVAC is really just as important regarding energy costs,” Sebastian said. “As you can image, here in south and west Texas where we have 3-4 months of triple-digit weather, HVAC efficiency is very important. That’s where we’ve spent probably more capital. We replaced 490 roof top units. The average store will have maybe three, five-ton units, and that’s a combination of legacy and new stores.”
Sebastian noted that the growth of technology alone in the past five years has made today’s HVAC units more efficient.
“If you think of how today your car does 25 miles per gallon (mpg) as opposed to the 15 mpg it did years ago. It’s the same sort of thing with HVAC units,” Sebastian said.
Also, converting to LED lighting significantly impacted the stores’ overall EER.
Stripes joined AEP through CLEAResult, a partner that helps utilities and businesses use energy wisely. “The almost 1.6 million kwh (kilowatts per hour) in annual savings continues for the life of the stores. So, it’s not just a one-time reduction—it really pays the annuity for the next 25-30 years,” Sebastian said.
While the capital investment in a large-scale lighting or HVAC project can be significant, Sebastian advised other retailers to think long-term.
“It’s typically going to be about a three-year pay back. You’ll get about a 30% reduction in kwh, so it’s an investment in the future,” Sebastian said. “As a company, we also feel it’s the right thing to do for our community. It reduces the demand on the electric grid and helps preserve natural resources.”
C-stores looking to become more efficient and save on energy costs, can adopt environmentally-friendly measures at the same time. One means is LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), a green building certification program.
“Start by evaluating the lowest cost of ownership,” said Tom Reddoch, senior technical executive for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute Inc. Or in other words, examine all costs for each potential lighting upgrade, including energy use, start-up costs and life expectancy.
Most commercial businesses today use fluorescent lighting, which historically has had short-life expectancy.
“Every time you do a replacement there is a significant cost. If you pick a technology with a shorter life, then you may have to content with high maintenance costs,” Reddoch said. “Those maintenance or replacement costs would add into the cost of the lighting and, you’d accumulate some larger total costs.”
Fluorescent lighting is significantly less expensive to implement than LED, but Reddoch estimated LED lighting is between 10-30% more efficient and requires less maintenance because it has a longer life—a total of 50,000 hours. In addition,LEDs operate without ballast and don’t contain hazardous mercury that fluorescent bulbs use.
The cost of lighting disposal also must be factored into the equation. Fluorescents should be recycled, usually at a cost to the retailer.
Overall, LEDs and fluorescents are improving in quality and construction.
“One of the big things fluorescent lighting has done is extended the life expectancy, which has allowed fluorescents to hold certain pieces of the market they already had or to recapture some of the market,” Reddoch said.
Stores can gain significant energy cost savings simply from going from the traditional T12s to the more efficient T8s, a savings Reddoch estimates at 50-60%. When moving from T8s to T5s, Reddoch put the energy savings at 20-30%.
“If someone has already moved from T12s to T8s, the gains are substantially less when moving to LED,” Reddoch said.
If a c-store currently uses T12s, chances are, they also still have older ballasts that will likely need to be replaced. This is because the ballast in old fluorescent lighting is magnetic, and newer lights, like the T5s, have electronic ballasts.
Color is a key factor when considering LEDs. While early LEDs had a color rendition skewed more toward blue, today, many LEDs have better color balance and visual appeal. Still, not all LEDs are created equal.
“The wrong color lighting can make people look pretty harsh, and that may not be the message that operation wants to convey. You want your customers to feel good. One should never forget the color impact in a commercial space,” said Reddoch, who explained that such a message goes double for c-stores trying to entice customers with foodservice products.
“Some lighting products may be cheap, but they may be cheap for a reason,” Reddoch said. “When you’re buying the product on the front end, don’t just be swayed by the cost of the product—look at the total cost of ownership. You need to think about all these other pieces in order to determine which option is your best option.”