Specialist lighting solutions reap economic rewards for industry

Paul Boughton
Lighting is a significant energy user and, in an effort to green their activities further, many companies are now reaping economic rewards as they turn to innovative solutions. Nicola Martin explains.

Many companies are keen to reduce their energy use and reap the financial and environmental benefits associated with energy efficiency. However, the worldwide economic downturn means that industry has become increasingly wary of any installations that might negatively impact upon finances and productivity. For this reason, 'greening' industrial sites, through a process of low-carbon retrofitting, is gaining popularity as a cost-effective way to cut energy use.

The European Union (EU) outlook on mitigating climate change includes a sharp focus on improving energy efficiency. The EU argues that reducing energy wastage is important for competitiveness, security of supply and for meeting the commitments on climate change made under the Kyoto Protocol. It has also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

In the past, the EU has concentrated its efforts on energy-intensive industries, such as construction and large-scale manufacturing, which are subject to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). Increasingly, however, attention is turning to what non-energy-intensive sectors can do to reduce emissions. EU estimates show that small-scale emitters, including small industrial installations, currently represent some 60 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislation on limiting energy use differs from country to country, but the bottom line remains the same: safeguarding against spikes in energy prices by minimising energy use makes good business sense. Many companies overlook their carbon footprint, since their operations don't require huge amounts of energy. However, it is the fabric of a factory that also causes energy to be wasted.

A poorly-insulated factory lined with old-style, inefficient strip lighting can leak substantial amounts of energy. For example, though it is often overlooked, lighting is a significant energy user, particularly if a large utility is filled with fluorescent lighting. About 19 per cent of global electricity generation is taken for lighting - in a non-industrial environment this figure is doubled - and the biggest consumer is the fluorescent tube. Energy use in lighting can be halved simply by upgrading to energy-efficient lighting.

Until recently, however, there were hidden costs involved in making even basic energy-efficiency measures like upgrading fluorescent lighting. There are physical and technical differences between the energy-efficient T5 lamps and the older, inefficient T8 and T12 lamps. In the past, this meant that, in order to install energy-efficient lighting, all the light fittings needed to be ripped out and replaced. This turned a simple 'greening' task into a real headache. It meant added capital investment in the form of purchasing new fittings, plus disruption and downtime. The wastefulness of this situation, which involves substantial amounts of plastic and metal from the old fittings being sent needlessly to landfill, clearly undermines the apparent sustainability of upgrading lighting. For this reason, companies are instead choosing innovative solutions like Save It Easy conversion units. Developed by lighting specialist Energy Conservation Solutions, these units plug into existing luminaires (lamp fixtures), allowing energy-efficient T5 lamps to be used with the existing light fittings (Fig.1).

Case study: Unitrunk

Many government bodies now provide free energy audits to businesses, advising on how to reduce their carbon footprint. At its headquarters Northern Ireland, cable management company, Unitrunk was looking to reduce its spend on energy, and it contacted The Carbon Trust, an organisation funded by the UK Government. The Carbon Trust sent out a consultant to conduct a free survey of Unitrunk's site, compiling a report on its energy use.Unitrunk provides site survey, design, manufacture and world-wide distribution of cable tray and trunking solutions, from a large manufacturing site in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. When reducing its plant's energy consumption, Unitrunk chose to implement a number of small, cost-effective measures with short payback periods, rather than undertaking an extensive energy-saving plan that involved costly capital investment with a long payback period. In this way, installation of such measures could be staggered, as funds became available.

Unitrunk decided that the first energy-saving step it wanted to take was installation of energy-efficient lighting in its plant. The Carbon Trust consultant recommended using Save It Easy conversion units to install 200 energy-efficient lamps.

"Our biggest concern was downtime, since it was simply not an option to close the plant while the lighting installation was made," said Noel McKeegan, process manager at Unitrunk's Lisburn plant. "However, since the Save It Easy units allow the modern T5 linear fluorescent lamps to be used with the existing Switchstart light fittings, it meant that the job was simple and could be done within working hours at the plant. We were advised a contractor was not required to undertake the change - it was literally as simple as changing a lightbulb!"

The energy-efficient lamps have been in place for six months at Unitrunk, and McKeegan reports that performance has been good. Both in terms of reliability and light quality, the new lighting is excellent.

What's more, the higher efficiency of the low-energy lamps, plus the more efficient control gear or 'ballast' in the Save It Easy units, typically adds up to combined energy savings of between 37 per cent and 65 per cent, according to size of lamp being used. As a result of actual cost savings on electricity bills, Unitrunk expects its new lighting installation to achieve payback in just two years.

Case study: Speedibake

Companies in the food manufacturing sector have also found success by upgrading their lighting using Save It Easy. At its two bakeries in England, Speedibake, which makes muffins, doughnuts and specialty breads, produces about 900 tonnes of baked goods every week. In order to help reduce its energy use, Speedibake chose to replace the old-style lamps at its factory in Wakefield, Yorkshire with new-generation, energy-efficient tubes, using the Save It Easy conversion units.

"We calculated that, in terms of electricity bills, we spent about £2000 (EUR2230) a year on 20 of the standard eight-foot strip lights," commented Speedibake services engineering manager Paul Catch. "Therefore, due to the energy savings provided by the energy-efficient lamps, we knew we could save £1000 (EUR1115) a year by upgrading."

Catch continued: "As a test, we bought 20 of the Save It Easy units in order to install new, low-energy lamps. We worked out that, since they cost us around £400 (EUR446), it would give us an instant saving of £600 (EUR670) during the first year. Since the new lamps have a long lifespan - about five years - we should make savings of £1000 (EUR1115) each year for another four years."

What's more, Speedibake was able to remove every alternate light, because the energy-efficient lamps were bright enough to cope. This added substantially to the energy savings. Speedibake was also able to minimise production downtime, since it was a simple job to upgrade the lighting (Fig. 2).

As for the future, Speedibake plans to upgrade the rest of its old strip lighting - but not all at once. Catch said, "We plan to undertake a rolling programme of replacement over the next few years. This involves buying 20, 40, 60 Save It Easy units, as funds become available, and install new, energy-efficient lamps as the old ones begin to fail."

While reducing carbon emissions was formerly just the domain of big energy users, smaller industrial plants are now coming around to the bottom-line benefits of improved energy efficiency. Innovation in the low-carbon sector also means that cutting carbon is no longer a headache, involving downtime and nuisance.n

Nicola Martin is a writer specialising in low carbon technologies. www.saveiteasy.co.uk.