Energy Adviser: Commercial energy audits help to boost bottom line

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When Bart Hansen enters a retirement home, his iPad is in hand. He isn’t there visiting family, or settling in for his own retirement. Quite the opposite. He is there to save the retirement community money.

“I’ve been doing energy assessments for a lot of retirement homes and churches lately,” said Hansen, the commercial accounts manager for Clark Public Utilities. “Building and facility managers for both types of facilities seem more energy aware recently.”

His iPad contains a checklist and notes about the business that is prepared in his office prior to his visit. He knows their energy usage and he’s prepared to talk to staff members about how to reduce their energy use and lower the electric bill.

“The first thing I notice when I go into any business is the lighting,” he said. Lighting accounts for up to 40 percent of the energy cost for a business. So he eyes the ceilings to note whether there is too much lighting; whether it’s the right kind of lighting; whether sensors control the lights; and whether the fixtures use energy efficient bulbs.

“Every business has a unique lighting need,” Hansen said. “A floral shop might want the colors of its flowers to pop. That means installing LED lights with full spectrum lighting. However, lower-wattage fluorescent lighting may be fine for a shop selling cellphones. I want to make sure the customer has lighting that’s suited for the business needs.” Even then, he looks at the fluorescent tubes to determine if the business should switch to lower-wattage ones. Sometimes he even recommends removing some of the bulbs when lighting isn’t critical to customers.

Heating is another area where it’s often easy to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings. Many churches only have folks in them weekends and a day or two during the week. Fast-food and sit-down restaurants can have a wider range of hours. Some offices operate between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and close on weekends.

“There’s an idea out there that keeping a thermostat at one setting saves money,” Hansen said. “I want to understand how a business operates because there might be a better option.” Keeping the heat 24/7 at 70 degrees isn’t necessary for many businesses — and it’s costly. Oftentimes he finds that businesses are not taking full advantage of their programmable thermostats. This is especially true of small businesses where a stretched-thin owner carries out every task, from customer service to janitorial service, and for churches with minimal staff.

Hansen works with small and large businesses, restaurants, schools, athletic clubs, offices, churches and retirement homes to help them understand how to program their programmable thermostats. Sometimes he finds multiple thermostats working against one another. Other times it’s just showing the staff how to match the settings to their building’s needs. Usually, he programs it to warm the building a few hours before anyone arrives and then to a far lower setting after everyone’s gone.

It’s not uncommon for Hansen to poke around and find that a leased-space retail business has inherited two 80-gallon water heaters with the temperature running at 160 degrees. That’s more hot water than a business needs when washing hands is the primary activity using heated water. And it costs money to run two tanks, even when they’re not both used.

“My goal is to help businesses use less of the utility’s product, energy,” Hansen said. “It’s good for the utility because reducing energy use is the least expensive way to serve our customers, and every dollar they save goes straight to their bottom line. That’s a good feeling for everyone.”


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.