From LED lighting upgrades to energy control systems, implementing more energy-friendly strategies can add to a c-store’s bottom line.
By Brad Perkins, Contributing Editor
Changing the light bulbs doesn’t have to occur only when one burns out. Rather, by becoming more energy efficient, stores can bring energy costs down while improving the customer experience at the same time.
Though there are many options for stores to start an energy efficiency plan—using skylights to bring in more natural light, sensors to turn off lights not in use, or energy control systems that alert stores to issues—many begin with lighting because of its ease and options.
“Lighting is usually the low-hanging fruit [in an energy efficiency policy] because it’s something that’s easily accessible and there are a lot of products,” said Frank Sharp, senior technical leader with Electric Power Research Institute’s Power Delivery and Utilization research team.
Because lighting needs can vary by store and even by area of the store, choosing can seem daunting, which is why many stores don’t think about lighting until a light goes out. But there are options for each area that go beyond just moving from fluorescent lights to another, more energy-efficient or longer lasting option.
Inside the store, adding dimmers or controls to lower-traffic areas like hallways, restrooms or storage areas can save energy by dimming or turning off the lights when no one is near and turning them on when someone enters.
In high-traffic areas, replacing less efficient fluorescent bulbs with energy-effective fluorescents, LEDs or induction lighting can improve efficiency, store appearance and lower utility and maintenance costs. A dynamic display also supports product promotion, but usually at a higher cost.
Outside, HID (high intensity discharge) lights in canopies account for many kilowatts. Options for replacing them include LEDs, induction or even plasma technology, which offers high-color rendering and high-quality lighting, but at a lower life span than LED or induction. As technology improves, it becomes a matter of store planning.
“There is an art to lighting and there’s a science,” Sharp said. “There’s the energy and the maintenance and then how does it look? The main issue is understanding the preference of the owner and the things that are driving their decision.”
Overall, LEDs remain a common option, especially as their efficiency has improved over the past five years. Current LEDs typically save 50% in energy costs, compared to fluorescent lighting. Over the last few years, LED lights have increased in output, while decreasing in cost, leading many stores to jettison fluorescents for LED.
Making the decision to become energy efficient doesn’t have to be an agonizing one; but it does take time.
Sharp said a convenience store owner should look at the entire picture—maintenance, energy, quality of light, controllability—and make decisions based on what is most important to the store, noting that lighting that is both high quality and high efficiency exists and is an option for numerous applications.
At Golden Pantry Food Stores, a chain of 39 c-stores based in Athens, Ga., choosing energy efficiency helped the company’s energy budget and the customer base. When Robert Griffith, strategic initiative manager for the chain, rejoined the family business after a few years of working for larger chains, he began looking at ways Golden Pantry could save energy.
“This is one of our biggest strategic initiatives,” Griffith said. “We’re looking at different ways of being more efficient in what we do—energy usage and day-to-day things that often get overlooked. Internally, we want to promote positive things for the environment—we don’t want to use energy unnecessarily.”
Golden Pantry installed LED lighting inside and outside the store in three locations as a pilot. Any initial skepticism about the higher-cost installation turned to positive reception only a few months later when employees and customers saw the benefits beyond long-term cost savings.
“To the human eye, it looks 10-15 times brighter than it did before,” Griffith said. “I think we stick out as a safer place to visit at night, which I think helps differentiate us in the market.”
Building on its success with lighting, which lowered store usage from 320 watts to 80 watts and will reach full return on investment in only three years, Golden Pantry worked with Emerson Climate Technologies, an energy systems company, to install energy controls and remote monitoring capabilities.
“They are controlling the lighting, which is huge because six or seven times a year, we’d have to send someone out to reset the timers,” Griffith said. “That in itself is a huge savings. They’re also monitoring and controlling the HVAC—all the coolers and freezers. Door-open sensors, occupancy sensors, humidity sensors; we have foodservice in this location, so they’re monitoring frozen food and fresh food for quality.”
Some sensors were installed in an old light timer box and much of it is wireless. Installation took one day, and even at its busiest store, customers were unaware of the changes in lighting and ambient temperature, but the upgrades have generated positive comments from customers anyway.
“We’ve had feedback from customers that we have the coldest beer and 20-ounce beverages in town,” Griffith said. “We’ve explained we’re monitoring and it’s a priority to us.”
The initial $8,000 investment will pay for itself in less than two years, Griffith said, bringing savings well in excess in the next five to 10 years. The monitors keep the temperature in the store constant, even in food cooking areas and already alerted managers to an off-hours problem with a deli cooler that might not have been noticed for two days, otherwise.
With so many options out there, Griffith believes any energy efficiency measures are worth looking into, for cost saving, for the environment and for the company’s bottom line.
“We know the lights are going to cut on when we flip the switch and people are going to feel safe and we’re not going to burn as much electricity,” Griffith said. “Look into it and don’t forget to talk to your power company—Georgia Power wrote us a rebate check based on what we’re now using; because any stress you can take off the grid, they’re big fans of right now.”