Financing Bargains

How Businesses Can Go Bargain Shopping for Energy Efficiency

By Peter Biermayer

When you hear the words "energy efficiency upgrade," what comes to mind?

For many small and medium-sized businesses, that phase indicates a large-scale undertaking. They equate it to a substantial commitment involving major equipment and significant initial expenses. But the reality of energy efficiency upgrades can be vastly different.

There are a number of highly affordable initiatives that offer California businesses immediate benefits. In fact, they can significantly reduce energy costs, improve indoor air quality and increase employee comfort and productivity.

So let's change the perspective on this type of upgrade. It isn't a major project at all. It's bargain shopping for energy efficiency.

Some of the smartest energy efficiency bargains are energy control devices, including time controls, occupancy sensors, photocells and programmable thermostats. These are cost-effective upgrades that allow businesses to effectively manage energy use and reduce energy costs.

Now let's take a closer look into each of these energy efficiency bargains and learn how they can benefit businesses.

Time controls
One of the simplest energy efficiency upgrades for any business is to install time controls. These are energy efficiency bargains because they can be used in a wide range of practical applications and can deliver significant savings for a fairly minimal cost. Businesses can employ time controls to effectively and efficiently manage heating and cooling systems, lighting, office equipment and other types of equipment. Commonly used control devices for lighting include digital time switches and digital time clocks, which are designed to control a single electrical load or several lighting zones.1 Wall-mounted digital time switches typically cost less than $100 and can replace any indoor wall switch.

Occupancy sensors
Most businesses have areas with variable occupancy patterns, such as restrooms or conference rooms. When these areas are constantly illuminated or heated and cooled as if they were in use, the business is paying for wasted energy. Occupancy sensors can be used to control lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in sporadically used areas. Occupancy sensors function in two ways: automatic on/off, which turns lights on or off based on motion detection, and manual on/automatic off, which requires occupants to manually activate the lights, and after a set period of no motion, the sensor will automatically turn the lights off.2 Manual on/off devices are good for offices where there is often sufficient light from windows. This can significantly reduce energy costs and use without compromising comfort for employees or visitors. In addition, occupancy sensors can cost less than $100, depending upon the type you purchase.

Here is a brief overview of the types of ccupancy sensors that are available.
  • Infrared sensors detect changes in a room within their line of sight. These sensors work well where the entire room is within the field of view.
  • Ultrasonic sensors use high-frequency sound to detect motion. They even work around corners. These sensors are great for cubicles and restrooms.
  • Dual-technology sensors use both temperature and high-frequency sound to detect motion. This increases the accuracy and flexibility of these sensors. These sensors are ideal for classrooms and conference rooms.

Photocells for daylighting control
These energy efficiency bargains reduce energy costs by controlling artificial lighting based on the amount of natural light in a given area. Photocells are available with different levels of lighting control technology, including simple on/off, stepped light output reduction and continuous dimming models. An analog photocell should be located where it does not see the lighting it is controlling. Photocells range in cost from under $100 to more than $500, depending upon the model and application.

Programmable thermostats
Space conditioning is the largest energy expense for many facilities. For this reason, programmable thermostats can be the most effective energy-management device available. Space conditioning systems can be programmed based on occupancy schedules. Some models provide controls for outdoor air ventilation, as well as demand management features. Programmable thermostats can also be combined with zone control systems to provide optimal comfort and efficiency throughout the facility. Costs for these energy efficient thermostats vary widely; however, many models are available for less than $50.

To maximize savings from these energy efficiency bargains, businesses should plan carefully before installation. Take a close look at the facility, energy use and occupancy patterns to apply them where they will be most effective.

You can find many more ways to reduce energy costs along with energy saving tips in the "Insider's Guide to Financing Energy Efficiency Projects"" from PG&E. This practical guide will help business owners plan, finance and successfully complete energy efficiency upgrades, repairs and replacements.

Referenced in Article:

  1. Energy Efficient Lighting
  2. Lighting Handbook and Retrofit Guide

Learn about a wide range of energy efficient bargains for businesses:
  • SMB Blog Author
    Peter Biermayer
    Senior Product Manager at PG&E for commercial HVAC and refrigeration. Peter has a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering and has over thirty years of experience in the energy efficiency field, including work at a research development and testing laboratory, a national laboratory performing analysis for energy regulations, a resource efficiency manager at a military base and now at PG&E.

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