Any facility operator contemplating an energy efficient lighting project will justifiably ask questions concerning the project’s viability. From projected demand reduction to energy cost savings and payback, plus everything in between, the operator seeks to mitigate risk, maximize returns and improve the overall lighting environment for associates and customers.
It all starts with a good audit -The single most important element to ensure that a lighting project is properly planned and executed is the facility audit. The landscape is littered with unsuccessful re-lighting projects whose roots can be traced to a poor audit.
A properly executed audit not only insures accuracy in projecting demand reduction, it serves as the critical foundation for all subsequent financial analysis associated with return on investment. When equipped with an accurate audit, the engineering team can optimize a design specific to that facility. Professional, engineering-grade audits also offer a complete road map for installation, insuring proper quantities of materials, manpower and the resulting time to complete the project. Changes to any of these elements due to a less than stellar auditing effort will produce project delays and cost overruns which ultimately impact the financial analysis. Audits are a pre-requisite for all facility types – manufacturing, warehouses and distribution centers, office buildings, retail establishments and institutional facilities like schools and hospitals. Each of these environments carry unique requirements and lighting variables that only an engineering grade audit will reveal.
Auditors are made, not born. A properly trained lighting practitioner will be steeped in knowledge of the latest lighting and control technologies, will have served as a “shadow” to a senior auditor, will have been involved in prior audit and mapping exercises and will have received detailed instruction on the steps associated with a proven auditing process. The auditor’s ability to work with the engineering team post audit is a critical skill set. In my experience, a minimum of ten prior engagements as a shadow touching all elements of the audit process would be required.
Pre-audit activities are extensive. Information gathering with the client includes a detailed assessment of project objectives, including facility usage nuances and the overall quality of lighting desired. On site personnel may be resistant, or simply busy, perhaps uninformed about the project, the process and the projected outcomes. It is essential that the auditor acts as ombudsman, serving as both project advocate and recorder of any complaints or issues raised by on site personnel. As a representative of the lighting services company, the auditor needs to dress and act in a professional manner, cognizant of his environment, any safety issues and the overall culture unique to every facility.
Using a form comprised of standard questions is the most effective way to interview facility personnel on site. The survey tool seeks to understand the environment and all criteria which may affect the type of lighting to be proposed. Items such as; hours of use for the site and the lighting, areas with too much light, areas needing more light, areas with lots of dirt, areas with wash down, hazardous locations, areas with high or low heat temperatures should all be covered by a standard pre-audit survey tool.
Other questions will affect the implementation and labor installation costs for the project. These items are time of day to work in the various locations, a place to receive and store materials, methods in place to dispose and recycle the old lighting system and other refuse, equipment on-hand that may be required to access the lighting.
Pre-audit activities serve as the foundation to the audit process and insure the project is being planned to meet all goals of the client. In addition to the completed survey tool, if you can’t answer the following questions, pre-audit activities are incomplete:
- Does the facility require improved quality of lighting?
- Are there corporate lighting standards to follow?
- Are the corporate lighting standards up to date with current industry standards?
- Is there a realistic set of payback criteria?
- Is there a realistic budget allocated with a confirmed approval process?
The Audit Process – Best Practices
Many companies think the key to a successful lighting audit is an accurate fixture count. While this is important, a quality audit begins with a comprehensive review of all appicable lighting standards and an auditor trained to insure the proposed design delivers the proper light levels for the space, including dimming or turning lights off when space is unoccupied or daylight is present. Today, in many of our projects, more than half of the projected energy savings is derived from advanced lighting control solutions.
Accurate audits enable the engineering team to have the necessary raw data for examining potential lighting scenarios. Using advanced modeling software different options can be configured and alternative proposals can be generated which address project objectives, cost scenarios and potential return on investment. Fifteen years ago the landscape was still dominated by old lighting technologies and 80% of the projects undertaken were simple lamp and ballast replacements. These projects were considered “low hanging fruit” as costs were mitigated and sufficient energy savings materialized to produce acceptable ROIs. Today, 80% of the projects involve re-design elements including advanced controls, substantial lighting upgrades and system/technology enhancements. While costs are higher for these more comprehensive projects, the energy savings opportunities are substantially higher. Many payback periods fall into the 2 to 4 year range, however, the application of utility and governmental incentives can dramatically reduce the payback time frame.
Working together, the auditor and the engineering team can fully explore all lighting options, including the demand reduction requirements needed to qualify for available incentives.
With the average price for a KWH of electricity hitting a July 2020 record of 13.7 cents (BLS), electricity prices are up about 5.5 percent from a year ago. Energy efficient lighting projects are here to stay. A proven and verifiable process for conducting the audit will insure the success of these projects and contribute to a brighter future for all who follow.
As an 18-year resident of Houston and someone who moved here to escape the cold weather of the northeast, you can imagine my disappointment with having to endure sub-zero wind chills this past week in a city that rarely falls below freezing. Had that been the only thing unpleasant about this past week I would have been just fine with it however beginning at 6:37am on Monday 2/15, I became one of the 4 million plus electricity customers in Texas to be disconnected from the power grid. Hoping that ERCOT would get the situation under control quickly proved to be just that, hope. During my time in Houston, I have lived through a handful of hurricanes flooding events from non-hurricane rainstorms (eg. Tax Day 2015), and a few other bouts of abnormally cold weather. The aftermath from the cold temperatures this week rival the worst of any of those previous events.
Having spent my entire adult career in the energy business, a large chunk of that in the Texas deregulated market working for the largest power generator in the state, I became consumed with reading the articles that many were writing during the past week. Many lay out some key facts but fall short when they use their keyboard to further their political agenda. Spoiler alert – in the words that follow I am not going to blame the renewable energy sector and call for a roll back of our states’ leading position in renewable energy production, one I am actually very proud of. Also, I am not going to blame the thermal energy sector – nuclear, coal, natural gas, and oil fueled generation units. These power plants are necessary to maintain the outstanding grid reliability we all enjoy in TX and serve their purpose at keeping our electricity prices some of the lowest in the United States.
This storm created weather conditions that were not properly planned for and sent a train barreling down the tracks towards all out disaster. I have read many reports, and I believe their truthfulness, that ERCOT was literally minutes away from the entire power grid collapsing which could mean weeks or months until our power was restored. The only tool left in the toolbox for ERCOT at 1:25am on Monday 2/15/2021 was to order the transmission and distribution companies to immediately begin firm load shedding activities. The reason for this drastic measure, which is the absolute last step on the emergency response playbook, was not the cold weather. It was a fundamental flaw in the underlying design of our market. Incenting generators only when they produce electricity and not penalizing them when they do not.
Texas is an “energy-only” market meaning if you were a power plant owner you only collect revenue upon being dispatched by ERCOT and producing electrons that go onto the grid for consumption by customers. Given that under almost any modeled situation, weather or otherwise, Texas has more than enough generation to meet our demand obligations, there is no incentive for a power plant owner to make investment in their current infrastructure nor is there any incentive for someone to build a new power plant. Other deregulated markets such as PJM, operate as a “capacity market” meaning generators are paid to be available when dispatched and are penalized when they are not able to perform. It is sort of an insurance policy that is recovered through all customers in that particular ISO area.
I have read articles and had conversations with people in my network over the past week about what can be done for next time. The answer is very little unless we have a complete overhaul of the market to a capacity market. Power plant operators may make some investments to harden their infrastructure on their own following this event having missed out on a tremendous amount of money as the real-time price for electricity spiked to the limit of $9,000 per MWh when it usually averages around $30 per MWh. Those who were not able to produce only faced an opportunity cost loss not a real loss. The lost revenue opportunity for a typical 600MW natural gas plant at the height of the crisis was essentially $5,400,000 per hour = $9,000 per MWh * 600 MW. This same plant under normal conditions earns about $18,000 per hour. That lost revenue may be enough to entice some however if more units were online, it is unlikely prices would have spiked to the cap and stayed there for hours and hours thereby making it more difficult to recover the investment.
Without a carrot there can be no stick. The TX Legislature is in session now and I assume taking up legislation aimed at preventing a near systemwide collapse will be added to their agenda. I hope my elected officials take their time and do the right things long-term for Texas.