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While energy audits were born out of the energy crisis of 1973, the industry exploded with the current threat of global warming and climate change. The purpose of an energy audit is to identify sources of energy loss in commercial, retail, or residential establishments and provide recommendations for maximizing efficiency and reducing consumption. But are energy audits in retail stores a worthwhile investment? Are these firms overstating their importance or are they providing a valuable service?
While we believe energy audits are valuable, it is important to remember that an auditor’s main goal is to reduce your energy use, not to increase your bottom line of procuring sales.
In retail stores, lighting is one of the primary culprits for energy use. But as any retail store owner can affirm, lighting is extremely important to obtain sales: products must look attractive to sell. As such, one simply cannot dim existing lights, delamp, or retrofit lights with a more energy efficient bulb in order to save energy: the amount of light and quality of light matter. Attempting to reduce your electricity bill without considering “look and feel” can affect your business.
Energy audits certainly provide value, as auditors can quickly—and inexpensively—collect and analyze metrics. Auditors will look at the:
However, the solutions offered by an energy auditor may not align with the primary goal of your business: sales!
If your retail store employs the use of energy-sucking incandescent or halogen bulbs, auditors will often suggest retrofitting with more energy-efficient bulbs. This will certainly save you money, but because the goal is to maximize savings and achieve a quick return on investment (ROI), the solution may be to outfit your store in CFLs (as they are inexpensive and more energy efficient than incandescent or halogen) or LEDs. While LEDs are far more energy efficient than even CFLs, they are more expensive and, for all intents and purposes, there is not a great divide in energy efficiency between a $20 LED bulb and a $40 LED bulb. Due to an auditor’s primary goal, it is not uncommon for the quote to involve the inexpensive LED.
So what’s the problem with cheap LEDs if they are in the same ballpark in terms of energy efficiency as the more expensive LED? Light quality. And light quality is vital to the appearance of your products and the success of your business. For retail store down lights, for example, an evenly distributed, anti-glare, uniform light of the right output (lumens per Watt), color rendering index (CRI), and correlated color temperature (CCT) is vital to a product’s appearance (for more information about determining light quality in LEDs, see Light quality of LED lamps). Even the R9 value of LEDs plays a significant role in determining the attractiveness of a product, and an acceptable R9 value is something that the more inexpensive LEDs often fail to meet (for more information about R9, see the ironically-named blog: Why the LED R9 value isn’t important).
An energy audit can certainly assist you with identifying areas you can optimize for energy, but you should also seek the advice of a lighting expert to ensure you retrofit your store with lights that can optimize for appearance as well.
If you are really on a tight budget, you can calculate your energy savings with free online tools, such as the Leapfrog Lighting savings calculator, and research the products of lighting manufacturer’s online. Reputable manufacturers should have lots of information about their products and technology available through their website (datasheets and whitepapers) and be easily accessible through multiple channels (phone, email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, for example).