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By Bob Sperber, Contributing Editor | 06/05/2008
"For a long time, people didn't consider a project if it didn't pay back in 12 or 18 months," says Mark Frey, vice president and manager of automation and electrical engineering for Cincinnati-based AEC firm Hixson. But this may be changing as energy costs soar, because "everybody we meet is interested in saving on energy any way they can, [from] lighting to solar, geothermal, cogeneration and wind energy."
Capital equipment budgeting and payback methods may be holding more companies back from potential innovations, AEA’s Zoby believes, "It's getting to the point where old school engineering, with simple paybacks, is the bare minimum of what gets considered these days."
For large capital projects or ongoing service agreements, contract arrangements can entail near-permanent turnkey services. Some come with guaranteed annual payback levels that can stretch a decade or more, and if the results aren't achieved, the energy contractor must pay the difference. SSOE's DiPofi cites a 10-year payoff solar project, after which the company got "free power" for the remaining 10-15 years of service life.
Cash flow is one benefit of these contracts, because payments can come from operational expenses instead of capital budgets.
“We’re finding that food processors people are interested in more detailed payback analysis,” says Hixson’s Frey, including calculations of alternative, optional plans. But outside consultants have no power over the most significant determining success factor because “the culture of that plant and corporation is everything. If the company’s not supporting the technology initiative, you're not going to have the results you're looking for.”
But, says LEED’s Opitz, having all the right people working as a team, “the momentum starts to build, and they start getting excited about their successes [until] the rewards they reap are beyond what anyone expected at the beginning.
“There's a reason all this excitement is building in the industry. That is, once people try it, they find that it works. It's really a win-win-win, the triple bottom line: it's good for your wallet, it's good for people’s health because you're in a healthier building, and it's good for the earth.
Of all the reasons to go green, saving money apparently is the greenest for many companies. A survey across industry lines — taken last fall by SSOE, a Toledo, Ohio, architectural, engineering and construction firm — found reduced energy use as companies' No. 1 goal within their sustainability initiatives.
Of those surveyed, 64 percent of food and beverage companies had some sustainability goals in place. The survey found that size matters: While 58 percent of all publicly held firms and 64 percent of companies with more than 10,000 employees have sustainability goals, only 40 percent of private companies and 28 percent of food companies with fewer than 100 employees have sustainability goals.
We carried a feature story on alternative energy sources in our January issue; see Consider alternative and renewable energy sources.
Save Energy Now, offering energy-saving services by the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Industrial Technologies Program.
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