Buildings Don't Need Nightlights: Climate Corps Fellow Discovers Thousands in Savings at New Jersey Natural Gas

EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 10, 2010

By Marty Griffith, 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at New Jersey Natural Gas, MBA candidate at McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Member of Net Impact

As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I am spending the summer working to make New Jersey Natural Gas a more energy-efficient company  by cutting costs and boosting the bottom line. I know that opportunities in energy efficiency can often be simple to spot but easily overlooked. During the Climate Corps training in May, I heard numerous stories from alumni fellows about late-night visits to their facilities when they discovered unnecessary energy usage, such as lights left on in an empty building.

In an attempt to cover all bases, I planned a late-night office visit of my own. I arrived to at the office at 11 PM – well after everyone had left for the night. Even though the security guard checked my badge and there was nothing sneaky about my presence there, I still felt like a stealthy predator looking for energy efficiency prey.

The building is 160,000 square feet with a recently overhauled HVAC system, an energy management system and lighting sensors in all offices. As expected, the systems seemed to be working as designed. The building was noticeably warmer than during the day, and most lights were dimmed or off. I did, however, notice one section of the building that was lit with 24 glaring 110W fluorescent bulbs.

This area appeared to be an ironic waste of energy. My initial impression was that an energy efficiency-minded person had installed a daylight sensor in this section of the building in order to save energy during the day but subsequently forgot to put the lights on a timer. Doing so would take advantage of the natural sunlight during the day, automatically turning off the lights when there was sufficient external light, but would leave them on all night. By simply tying the lights in this area to the energy management system, the lights would be turned off at night as well.

The next day, I spoke with the facilities staff about my discovery. I was informed that this was not some silly mishap but an even more interesting phenomenon. These lights were intentionally left on at night for aesthetic reasons, highlighting the ceiling's skylight for passersby to see.

Now I was facing a battle worthy of a true energy efficiency ninja and had to dance around a delicate balance of aesthetics and utility. The only weapon that could combat such a foe was MORE DATA. I took pictures of the skylight during the day and at night. Apparently, in the 30 years since these lights were installed, large trees had sprung up around the building and covered the skylight from all but the narrowest of views. For approximately $1200 a year in energy costs, the company was lighting an unoccupied space that hardly anyone could see!

Other finds included a section of offices where occupancy sensors had not been installed and large printers were left on overnight. In total, it appears that the company could save thousands of dollars per year by installing the same occupancy sensors on these electrical loads like they have in the rest of the building. The incremental cost would only be a few hundred dollars, but the savings could last for years.

Every anecdote I have heard of involving late-night, impromptu reconnaissance, has resulted in the uncovering of some nocturnal piece of equipment that is uselessly sucking up energy. So if you have some spare time  late on a Friday night after dinner, grab a cup of coffee and head back to the office. A quick look around could reveal some potentially quick energy fixes, leading to substantial savings without affecting your coworkers during business hours.

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