By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Family Express Corp. recently completed an aggressive and total energy efficiency upgrade, where it retrofitted its entire fleet of stores with the most advanced technologies, including in lighting and air conditioning, taking a comprehensive approach to efficiency.
The Valparaiso, Ind.-based chain, which operates 60 stores throughout northwest and north central Indiana, spent approximately $2.5 million on the total energy initiative, and is already seeing, on average, a 25% reduction in kilo-watt-hours (kWh), and expects a return on investment of between 3-6 years.
“Family Express has been in business for nearly 40 years, yet we never took a strategic approach to energy management until we made a decision to completely revamp our energy performance,” said Gregory Laroux, the company’s vice president facilities and IT services. “The evaluation and the study of this opportunity started approximately three years ago. The initial urgency for us had to do with a significant amount of lighting treatments and many rooftop HVAC units that were requiring excessive maintenance because of their age. We also recognized that the various generational lighting treatments that were present in our chain were inconsistent and were creating an unacceptable presentation for our brand image.”
Family Express found that pairing with multiple manufacturers would be necessary, as no one manufacturer could claim best practices or outstanding performance in all, or even in most of the areas Family Express aimed to improve.
“We sought to make Family Express as energy efficient as we could within reason, and we wanted to do it quickly because—frankly speaking—the culture of our company is about customers, not light bulbs,” Laroux said. “So in our investigative process, we learned that exterior lighting is very different than signage lighting, and that horizontal refrigerated cases may demand a different lighting treatment than vertical ones, etc.”
Family Express began implementing the retrofits in September 2013 and finished the projects in July 2014.
Family Express partnered with seven different companies to incorporate best practices in efficiency in every unique area.
It brought in Dencor Energy Control Systems, of Englewood, Colo., to implement an energy intelligence system to monitor in real time the incoming electrical power and the total demand for electricity at the stores.
“The system balances the demand for electricity against pre-determined target levels we programmed into the software,” Laroux said. “The Dencor system controls the electric loads (i.e. HVAC, refrigeration, door heaters, electric heating, electric water heaters and any electric load) at our stores. Also, temperature inputs, lighting sensors, current electrical demand and pre-determined targets are all balanced, moment by moment, to optimize the performance of our stores while reducing the demand for electricity. The benefit is less energy consumed and lower costs.”
Indianapolis-based Trane employed high efficiency rooftop heating and air conditioning for the chain. The Trane System interfaces with the Dencor Energy Control System, allowing it to manage the temperature and energy consumption of the rooftop heating and air conditioning systems.
“Trane Heating and Air Conditioning Systems were selected to address our store’s comfort demands, superior indoor air quality, minimized energy consumption and reduced maintenance costs, allowing for an efficient operation and thus reducing energy costs,” said Laroux.
Leviton Manufacturing Co., based in Melville, N.Y. added motion sensor switches at Family Express stores, which detect when someone enters a particular area.
“When there is occupancy in that area the lights will turn on, otherwise the lights remain off,” Laroux said. “In a retail environment where there are frequent customers in the store’s bathrooms, these switches assist in ensuring lights are on when there is a need.”
For canopy lighting, Family Express turned to LSI Industries, based in Cincinnati. “LSI’s canopy lighting was selected to address the retrofitting needs for LED lights on our existing canopies and new store canopies. LSI Industries was committed to giving us high-performing, energy efficient, professional-grade retrofit kits and new lighting solutions for our canopy lighting requirements. The lighting is pleasing to the eyes at night and provides the illumination expected by our customers,” Laroux said.
The LED lights are also integrated, monitored and controlled by the Dencor Energy Control System, which turns the lights on and off by sensing the light and adjusting the levels as needed.
SIGNAGE AND COOLERS
For signage lighting, Family Express employed Cleveland-based GE Lighting. “We found with the various size and depth of the signs we have, the GE lighting met our requirements for an LED light that would ensure there were no dark spots in the signs,” Laroux said. “The lighting is crisp, energy efficient and reduces maintenance costs, such as replacement lighting for 10 years.”
The signage lighting is also integrated, monitored and controlled by the Dencor Energy Control System, which activates the signage lighting by sensing the amount of sunlight and adjusting lighting levels accordingly.
For its current and future vertical refrigerated cases, Family Express partnered with Anthony Lighting, based in Sylmar, Calif.
“The majority of our stores’ coolers are Anthony, so it made sense to utilize their product. We found that their LED lighting solution also worked with our ice merchandisers and three-door freezers,” Laroux said.
Meanwhile, for its horizontal refrigerated cases, Family Express partnered with Hussmann Lighting, based in Bridgeton, Mo., for an LED lighting solution.
“The majority of our stores have our Cravins-branded cases that are made by Hussmann and it made sense to utilize their product. We found that their LED lighting solution also worked with our ice cream novelty cases and doughnut cases,” he added.
Thanks to the refrigerated case lighting upgrades, “when you walk into our stores, the lighting is crisp, eye catching and showcases our brands,” Laroux said. Not only are the LEDs energy efficient, they also reduce heat and reduce maintenance costs, as the lights are expected to last for 10 years.
Rebates played only a minor a role in Family Express’ decision making process when it came to completing the retrofits and which companies to partner with, Laroux noted. “We worked with a service company call Franklin Energy Services that assisted us in determining what rebates were available,” said Laroux, who added that the chain’s objectives and the energy benefits went far beyond just monetary incentives.
For other chains considering embarking on a similar, comprehensive energy realignment, Laroux recommended that having a clear objective and the overall strategy is essential.
“The Energy Initiative is a holistic process. Each piece of equipment alone does not make an efficient or effective system, but as a whole, they bring the benefits we expect,” Laroux said.
CSD caught up with Lauren Casentini, vice chairperson for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), and vice president of the Midwest region and California at CLEAResult, a company that designs, markets and implements energy efficiency programs for utilities, businesses and residential energy customers, and John Steinhoff, vice president of CLEAResult’s commercial and industrial / B2B division.
“C-store operators often have a lot of resources available to them to help make efficiency decisions, although they might not be aware that they exist. A lot of utilities have funding set aside to help them make wise choices on their energy use. I recommend that they begin by looking into what resources are available,” Casentini said.
Often programs through a local utility can offset the costs of an efficiency upgrade and result in a quick payback through cost savings via the utility bill.
“A lot of the utilities and cooperatives are looking at the vertical segments, and c-stores stand out there because for the most part they are 24/7 operations that have a great opportunity for energy savings,” said Steinhoff, who suggested that c-stores ask their utility if they offer a small business or c-store program specifically.
Once your c-store chain decides upgrades are a priority, putting a long-term plan in place is key.
“Instead of thinking in terms of ‘What I can do this year?’ We at CLEAResult do an energy analysis and come up with a list of 10-12 investments that can be made to increase energy efficiency. Then we actually can calculate a return on investment for each of those upgrades,” Casentini said. “What we have found works well is if retailers pick one or two upgrades and plan that into their budget, and then phase in other projects going forward. We’ve worked with business owners who keep adding and layering onto their energy efficiency investments over time. That approach has been very successful.”
Of course, all upgrades are not created equal in terms of savings, and depending on the age of your convenience stores and the level of efficiency you are already working at, your cost savings from an efficiency upgrade will vary.
Steinhoff noted that 80% of savings can be obtained from upgraded lighting, while 20% generally comes from improving other infrastructure.
“An upgrade to the lighting on a convenience store canopy can bring upwards of 17-20% reduction in energy costs, if the site is still operating with older HID (high-intensity discharge) lights and switching to LED,” Steinhoff said. “What c-store owners love about LED is not only the savings, but they way LED really pops and gives the canopy that clean, safe, inviting look.”
Upgrading parking lights can add a 10% reduction in energy costs, he noted.
By contrast, if stores have already added LED to the interior and exterior, then upgrading other areas of the store might not provide as much cost savings.
“But for those still using linear florescent lamps on the overhead lighting and who have not yet switched to LED in the freezer cases, back area of the store, and on signage, there is room for significant savings there,” he added.
Once the lights are upgraded, the next place to focus for maximum savings is on the coolers, freezers and rooftop unit. Often, an annual tune-up to the rooftop unit and refrigeration units can bring up to 15% savings on the electric bill, Steinhoff said.
Training is also important. After an efficiency upgrade, ensure that the maintenance staff is trained appropriately in maintaining the new technology, so you are getting all the value out of the efficiency upgrades.
For retailers still uncertain if an upgrade would benefit them, Steinhoff recommended tracking energy costs on a monthly basis. This can be done in a simple spreadsheet to show costs over time.
“Is your energy usage trending up or down? Talk to your trade allies and find out the benchmarks for energy use per square foot for convenience stores in your area and see if you are a high, medium or low energy user comparatively,” Steinhoff said. “That can give you a great idea of where you need to head going forward.”