Gas Station or Convenience Store Contractors

Working with a Contractor on a Gas Station or Convenience Store Lighting or Refrigeration Project

By Pauravi Shah

For owners of gas stations and convenience stores, reducing utility costs presents a different set of problems than it does for other businesses. The biggest issue is that most gas stations and convenience stores open their doors very early in the morning and close late at night, while many even operate 24/7. However, those longer operating hours also present an array of opportunities to reduce utility and operating costs.

The first step in the process of reducing utility expenses is to look at potential energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits. One of the best ways to maximize the financial benefits of such a project is to work with a qualified lighting, refrigeration or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor. Contractors can help assess the building's current systems and recommend cost-effective measures for energy savings for gas stations and convenience stores.

Obstacles to overcome in improving energy savings for convenience stores and gas stations
Gas stations and convenience stores have a unique set of hurdles they must overcome in order to reduce energy consumption. With commercial lighting, refrigeration and HVAC systems all running for longer periods of time every day, maintenance and replacement issues are certain to arise more often. Longer operating hours also lead to a different set of customer comfort and safety concerns.

Unfortunately, improving energy savings for convenience stores and gas stations by curtailing usage isn't practical. Those lights, refrigerators and heating and cooling units have to be operational during long business hours.

There are solutions, though. Timers and other controls can be installed to help better manage electricity usage. Stores can be retrofitted with more efficient commercial HVAC, lighting and refrigeration equipment. Interior and exterior lighting can be redesigned or replaced to make stores safer, cleaner and more welcoming for customers, while also using less energy.

Refrigeration, HVAC and lighting products to discuss with a contractor
There are several products on the market today that can help gas station and convenience store owners save money on utilities. Many of these products can be installed quickly with nominal upfront costs, and the savings in both the short and long run can be exceptional.

Some products that should be considered when working with a qualified HVAC, refrigeration or lighting contractor include:

  • Anti-sweat heat (ASH) controllers. An ASH controller is typically applied to low-temperature refrigerated display cases to help prevent fogging and condensation on the case doors. ASH controllers also reduce energy use by heating the refrigerator and freezer doors only when needed, thus avoiding condensation.
  • Advanced digital economizer controls (ADEC) for packaged HVAC units. Added to a new high efficiency packaged HVAC unit or retrofitted on an older model, ADECs and variable speed compressors can detect problems with sensors, dampers or other HVAC components and report them to either the store owner or a contractor.1
  • Light-emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are perfect for gas stations and convenience stores. They operate more effectively in cold temperatures (e.g., inside refrigerated display cases) than incandescents. They also provide higher quality white light for outdoor spaces than high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, which will make a gas station or convenience store safer both in appearance and practice while also consuming less energy.2
  • Lighting controls. Occupancy sensors and lighting timers for indoor light fixtures can keep lights from sucking up electricity when not in use, which is especially important during those off-peak hours. Photo sensors can be installed in outdoor spaces by dimming or staging lights so that only the amount of light needed is provided at dusk or dawn.

How working with a contractor can maximize energy savings for convenience stores and gas stations

Cost is always going to be a primary consideration with any retrofit or upgrade that is intended to increase energy savings for gas stations and convenience stores. But while upfront expenses are usually the first thing business owners think about, the long-term financial benefits are where these projects make their biggest impact.

Working with a qualified HVAC, refrigeration or lighting contractor is essential to getting the most out of a retrofit or upgrade, both in terms of reduced energy usage and expense. Ramos Oil, which provides petroleum products and services to businesses throughout California and Nevada, is one example of how a company can save money by working with a contractor.3

Doug Hawkins, operations manager for Ramos, worked with PG&E and one of its affiliated contractors to retrofit the lighting at eight of the oil company's stations, all of which operate 24/7. The project was a huge success, saving Ramos approximately $68,000 per year. A large portion of that savings came from replacing older bulbs and fixtures with LED products.

Among the many benefits of the lighting retrofit was that Ramos was able to secure on-bill financing from PG&E.4 PG&E provided an interest-free loan to help pay for the project. The monthly energy savings are being used to pay back the loan. Four years after the lighting retrofit, Ramos will have paid off the loan, making any future savings pure profit.

Questions and considerations when working with a contractor
Before hiring a lighting, refrigeration or HVAC contractor, there are several things to consider and questions that are worth asking, especially as they pertain to businesses that operate 24/7, including:

  • Does the contractor have experience working with 24/7 businesses or businesses with longer operating hours? Ask for references and network with other gas station or convenience store owners to find the right contractor.
  • Assess current energy consumption in the store by examining utility bills and equipment. Businesses that operate 24/7 run their equipment differently than other businesses. Understanding how specific systems operate during certain times of day can be crucial to proper project planning.
  • Ask the contractor a lot of questions. Some issues to raise include:
    • Licensing and insurance
    • Knowledge of energy efficient equipment for 24/7 businesses, particularly ENERGY STAR-certified products
    • Familiarity with financing, rebate and incentive options, including those offered by PG&E and the state of California
    • Upfront cost estimate
  • Have a set of long-term energy efficiency goals in place for 24/7 stores and ask the contractor if they are realistic.
  • Before proceeding with a project, make sure every financing, rebate and incentive option has been exhausted.
  • Ask about the expected time for return on investment for the project. Because equipment operates for longer periods in 24/7 stores, the ROI can actually be much shorter for these types of businesses.
  • Make customer and employee safety a top priority of any retrofit or upgrade, particularly a lighting project, and make sure the contractor is aware of its importance. Focus on the fact that customers and employees have a different set of safety concerns due to the store being open at night.

For more information on finding and working with a lighting or HVAC contractor, please reference the "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor" eBook from PG&E.

Referenced in article:
  1. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Learn about energy saving products and the best way to work with a contractor to cut costs in your gas station or convenience store:
  • SMB Blog Author
    Pauravi Shah
    Product Manager for Commercial Buildings in Customer Energy Solutions for PG&E, she plays a large role in the products and solutions that support the commercial segment. She is the commercial lighting products lead, and additionally possesses valuable experience with PG&E’s Energy Efficiency programs and emerging technologies.

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