Being knowledgeable about energy consumption and costs is a good idea for all of us, but it’s especially so for business owners and operators. “When you renovate, acquire, or set up a new business, improving efficiency is a good investment opportunity,” says Stephen Dixon, owner of energy consultancy TdS Dixon Inc.
Businesses that don’t maximize the energy efficiency of equipment and facilities ignore potential savings and erode profits. In short, they’re leaving money on the table. Through its Save on Energy incentive programs, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is helping businesses identify their opportunities and make energy-wise investments.
The first step for any business interested in upgrading its equipment is to call their local hydro company or local program provider. They’ll help identify opportunities and help you apply for Save on Energy incentives. They may even help you look at historical consumption data and find patterns; evaluate your equipment and identify the most significant energy users; and benchmark your business based on square footage and other factors.
Dixon points out that some businesses chose to involve outside consultants, but many owners and operators chose to become more energy literate by speaking with their hydro distributor, he says. “They are a great source of information.”
When it comes to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and other motorized machinery, you need a good fit. “If you’ve upgraded your windows, added insulation or otherwise improved your building envelope, the old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system could be too big for your requirements,” says Dixon. If the equipment cycles on and off frequently, that’s a sign the equipment may not be the right size.
The system could also be overworked if it’s running 24/7. That was the case at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre: certain areas of the acute-care hospital were getting too much airflow, especially at night. Working with the local hydro company Thunder Bay Hydro, the executive director of Facilities and Planning decided that if parts of the hospital were unoccupied, the air handlers could be cut back. The energy savings were immediate.
Besides saving on energy bills, “right-sizing brings unexpected benefits,” says Dixon. “There’s increased comfort, and equipment isn’t as noisy when the output is smaller.”
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“It’s a fancy word,” says Dixon, “but what it means is simple: take what you have and make it work better.” In his work, Dixon examines commercial fridges, coolers and freezers for produce and other goods. “I often see equipment that’s not serviced regularly, so it struggles to reject its heat.” Why does this matter? “The air conditioner has to work harder to fight that warmer air and the equipment will wear itself out sooner.”
Efficiency isn’t just about using a better light bulb; it’s about maintenance. “I can put a very efficient motor in my furnace,” explains Dixon, “but if I don’t clean that filter, then I create operational inefficiency.”
Light bulbs have come a long way: LEDs are not only more efficient than incandescents, they often provide better illumination and create far less heat. “Doing a lighting retrofit has the added benefit of reducing cooling requirements from AC,” says Dixon.
Windsor-based Valiant TMS, with help from Enwin Utilities, invested in retrofits at nine of its manufacturing plants, moving from energy-intensive sodium lighting to energy-efficient T5 lights. The change resulted in significant savings, and according to the company’s maintenance manager, “There’s been this amazing ripple effect. We’ve gone from only investing in energy-efficient equipment when machines break down to looking for opportunities even when machines are working.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Toronto Star in July 2016.