By Karim Abraham

Automated lighting controls such as occupancy sensors present significant savings potential for parking facilities. However, quantifying potential savings and assessing the financial viability of a lighting automation project can be challenging. The missing link in planning energy savings projects is actual data to build an accurate business case.

Recently, a parkade in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood underwent an exercise to reduce energy costs and improve building performance. The parkade had been approached a number of times to update their lighting to save costs. Each time, the numbers looked slightly different – and there was no way to tell what the actual return on investment would be. Eventually, the automation project that was implemented would accurately predict savings and reduce the parkade’s costs by installing occupancy sensors in conjunction with real-time data monitoring.

Energy specialists recognized that the parkade lights did not need to be on 24 hours a day, and that the best business case involved adding occupancy sensors to dramatically reduce the amount of time lights were on each day. The problem was that they were still making assumptions on how much of a reduction the occupancy sensors would generate. Busy days could have significantly lower savings than weekends, and at night the traffic would be different again.

Using a systematic approach, data loggers were installed on the lights in the parkade, and pilot occupancy sensors were installed on one floor only. The data that was produced over the coming weeks showed a reduction in consumption by 49.3% as a result of the installation of occupancy sensors. An excellent result.

The data was then pro-rated to factor the varying traffic flow by floor, and savings calculations were adjusted accordingly. For example, lower floors are likely to receive more traffic and therefore achieve lower savings. The pilot occupancy sensors were installed on the 6th floor and led to nearly a 50% reduction; so it was estimated that the sensors on the 5th floor would to produce a 45% reduction and the remainder of the floors would have incrementally lower savings.

The pilot project produced an accurate picture of exactly what to expect from completing the project, and how much the client would save moving forward. The business case was now attractive and precise, making it a ‘no-brainer’ to go ahead and install occupancy sensors on the remainder of the floors in the facility. If you consider that a 20% reduction in energy costs can have the same bottom line benefit as a 5% increase in sales, moving forward with energy saving projects becomes a lot more lucrative.

With occupancy sensors and other lighting automation technology it is important to be mindful of safety and practicality. The wait time of occupancy sensors can be adjusted as needed, which also affects the savings. For parking facilities, a 5-minute wait time is recommended to allow occupants enough time to safely exit the premises.

Reduced maintenance costs are an additional benefit that should be factored into lighting automation projects. The installation of occupancy sensors delivers utility bill savings but also extends the lifespan of the lights which lowers bulb-replacement maintenance costs. Over time, maintenance savings can amount to a sizeable portion of a project’s payback.

Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan is set to bring community-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down to 5% below 1990 levels, an aggressive target.  Considering the electricity and natural gas that buildings use make up 55% of Vancouver’s GHG emissions, lighting automation projects like this can make a significant contribution. Existing commercial buildings represent one of the largest single sources of future energy savings through comprehensive retrofits. The good news is that the benefits are three-fold, they help the city to achieve their target, they are good for environment, and they deliver immediate savings for proprietors.

There is a common misconception that energy-saving projects are expensive, and don’t have a strong business case. While this may have held some truth in the past, technology is continually evolving and cost savings and energy savings now work in unison. The average payback period for users of this sustainable energy saving project that delivers both a healthy return on investment and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is 2.6 years, a timeframe that lends itself favourably for financially viable projects.  The new National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings recently published by the Government of Canada establishes a benchmark of 25 percent improvement in energy efficiency over the previous code and will generate $70 million in savings for Canadians by 2015–2016.

To further build the case, average electricity costs across Canada are set to rise by an average of 50% by 2020. In B.C. electricity rates are scheduled to increase by 28% between 2013 and 2018. It’s only going to become more lucrative for parking facilities to go ahead with projects like these. As the demand for responsible energy use is felt around the world, it has opened up a $300-billion market for Canadian businesses. Opportunities for savings are abundant in the Canadian parking industry!

The Case:
  • $7200 Project Investment
  • $3950 Annual Energy Savings
  • 1.8 Year Payback
  • 7 Floors

Karim Abraham is CEO at Kambo Green Solutions. He can be reached at karim@kambo.com

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