Madison-area businesses are driving energy savings through the Focus on Energy program

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Achieving greater energy efficiency and lowering your operation costs in the process is hardly an impossible dream — not even in chilly Wisconsin, and not if you take advantage of Focus on Energy business incentive programs for small, medium, and large businesses.

Funded by the energy utilities that serve Wisconsin, Focus on Energy offers financial incentives to hold down installation costs and bring a faster return on investment for a variety of energy-related projects. In the case studies to follow, all featuring Dane County businesses, the payback will be achieved in as little as two years.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a contractor partner, as several programs offer contractors both prescriptive (defined) and custom incentives for the installation of energy-efficiency equipment, but the end-customer gets an energy-saving gift that keeps on giving. We talked to several of those customers, who explained how Focus on Energy leveraging worked for them.

Lighting the way

Focus on Energy’s small business program offers free, on-site energy assessments to businesses with an average peak monthly demand of 100 kilowatts or less. However, sometimes all that’s necessary is a friendly neighbor who happens to be a lighting contractor and who makes a mutually beneficial suggestion.

“We weren’t looking to do this.
When the lights are on, everybody thinks they’re fine.” — Jeff Lerdahl, president, Lerdahl Business Interiors

Jeff Lerdahl, president of Lerdahl Business Interiors, worked with PKK Lighting, the company’s next-door neighbor in Middleton, on a 2013 lighting project. PKK and Lerdahl both moved into the building they occupy in 1989, and they’ve grown up together. “They approached us and suggested we look at our lighting,” Lerdahl recounted, chuckling at the memory. “There was a lot of old stuff in there, and they told us about new lighting technology and Focus on Energy credits.

“We weren’t looking to do this. When the lights are on, everybody thinks they’re fine.”

But they were not fine, at least in terms of energy efficiency and maintenance. Lerdahl’s space still had the same inefficient T12 fluorescent lamps it had had for 25 years; eventually, 80 of those lamps were replaced with more efficient T8 fluorescent lamps, which were not quite as efficient as LED lamps but were a significant upgrade over the T12s. “Think of the 2-by-4 fixture and the ballast, and the bulbs get replaced,” Lerdahl explained. “It’s just a different outfitting of the same fixture, so those 2-by-4, lay-in fixtures were redone to become T8s.”

The useful life of the T8 bulbs is probably four or five times longer than the T12 bulbs, so while Lerdahl’s electricity bills are down about 10%, the real savings comes more in lower maintenance and replacement than actual electricity savings. “The life of the T12s was 12,000 hours of use, and the T8s are up to 60,000 hours, so it’s huge,” Lerdahl explained. “This is hours-on — literally, the number of hours that they are burning.”

LED lighting came into play in replacing 30 of what Lerdahl called canned lights, or “incandescent wall wash spotlights,” which were used only when customers were in the store. Lerdahl Business Interiors shut them off because they burned so hot and used so much energy. “So part of our story,” he noted, “was that we weren’t able to use all of our lights because it was expensive, and now we can use them more.”

The business also modernized its warehouse lighting. Picture a metal building with ceilings higher than 20 feet and long fluorescent bulbs running side by side, which is the way the warehouse had been lit since it opened 25 years ago. Those bulbs burned out often, and to replace them employees needed scaffolding, so the business had to worry about safety in addition to inadequate lighting.

The solution was a combination of brighter bulbs that use less energy, the installation of reflectors to direct the light downward, and the use of motion sensors to light the building only when people are inside.

Lerdahl’s total bill was just under $13,000, and its savings (i.e., incentive) is $1,150, so roughly 9% of the Focus on Energy credits were passed along to the business. The building landlord, West Side Warehouse, also chipped in, and the end-user expects a three-year payback.

“They knew it would be good for us and for them,” Lerdahl said of West Side Warehouse. “We were all working together for a great outcome.”

For Lerdahl Business Interiors, the process was easy and caused no business disruption because PKK Lighting applied for the energy credits and coordinated the project work with Focus on Energy. Program representatives came in afterward for a walkthrough to verify that the work had been done correctly.

Lerdahl’s advice for other small businesses interested in saving energy through the Focus on Energy program is to work with a trusted vendor and not be afraid to ask their landlord for help. “It’s their building, so they should want their tenants to be happy, and they should want their buildings to be more energy-efficient,” he stated. “It’s most definitely an upgrade for the building, but if it hadn’t been so easy, I’m not sure I would’ve gone through with it unless I had to.”

Piping-cold problem

Having recycled different products from the agri-food industry for more than 100 years, Sanimax is one of the world’s oldest recyclers, but until recently, the company grappled with a real energy-wasting issue at its biodiesel plant in DeForest. In fact, you could say that company officials were pretty steamed about it.

The biodiesel plant, which serves major companies and fuel blenders, is part of the Sanimax family of companies in Canada and the United States. With a capacity of 20 million gallons per year, it has historically refined animal fat and recycled vegetable oil (waste oil and greases from restaurants) and returned it to the market as pure, distilled, and cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel, but its raw material has evolved.



“The biofuel plant itself is designed to run off of a variety of those fats and greases, but at this point we primarily are running off of the distillers’ corn oil from ethanol plants,” noted Brian Coker, plant manager for Sanimax Biodiesel. “So the byproduct we’re spinning off of is dried distillery grains, and that’s turning out the biodiesel.”

It’s also been turning out steam, but not intentionally. The Focus on Energy project was undertaken to replace steam-heat trace lines with an electric-heat trace line on the plant’s piping. When the DeForest facility was built in 2007, copper tubing was used for the heat trace that is supposed to keep outdoor pipes warm.

“What they will do is take some heat source, typically steam or electricity, but sometimes other heat sources, and they will take a small tube, run it underneath the pipe, tie it close to the pipe, and then insulate around that,” Coker explained. “That works okay, but the problem with steam-heat trace is that those copper pipes fail, especially if there are any blockages or slowdown in flows. Eventually, those tubes freeze, crack open, and then you’ve got steam coming out of the tubes.”

Replacing steam-heat trace with electrical-heat trace provides a better insular blanket for pipes and is expected to result in $18,000 in annual savings for Sanimax’s biodiesel plant in DeForest. The project has a three-year payback for the company, thanks to a $51,000 grant from Focus on Energy.

That’s not only a safety hazard, it also results in wet and therefore useless insulation, and it wastes energy. “I came into this facility almost two years ago, and the steam-heat trace was a big problem in terms of maintenance and in terms of energy usage because we were literally trying to replace all these lines and having lots of live steam going out of the heat trace, and that’s a very inefficient use of energy,” Coker stated. “It’s literally going out into the atmosphere and freezing around the area and causing a problem.”

The pipelines run outdoors to a loading area, where Sanimax loads corn oil into different feedstocks. Another term for heat trace is “tracing the pipeline,” where you’re running a line parallel and attached to the pipeline to keep it warm. “Two inches of insulation are placed around that, and it’s basically like having a radiator in your house with insulation on the walls, except you are doing that for a metal pipe,” Coker said.

The company must keep those lines warm in the winter or they’ll require expensive maintenance. In extreme cases, the company has to cut them apart. Whatever the solution, a maintenance team was spending at least 10 hours a week fighting leaks during the winter.

Sanimax wanted to fix the problem, but initially the company didn’t have any money in the capital budget. That’s when Alex Dodd, an energy advisor for Focus on Energy, approached Coker and told him about the incentive programs. He also got busy measuring the pipeline sizes and length to figure out how much alternative heat trace would be required. This project required the help of three contractors: Faith Technologies for the wiring and cabling; Bartelt Insulation for insulation on the pipeline, pumps, and valves; and JMI Technologies, which supplied heat-tracing equipment from Thermon Manufacturing Co.

Sanimax was told it could be eligible for a Focus on Energy grant of up to $50,898 through a custom incentive, with a 50% match from the company. “We had some vendors in mind that we went through to get quotes from and, based on getting the award, we were able to implement it,” Coke said. “It was kind of a last-minute thing. A small amount of capital money freed up at the end of the year, and because we had this grant and we were lined up and ready to go, we were able to move forward with it.”

The work involved stripping off all the insulation and all of the old copper heat trace lines, and installing new electrical heat trace lines that Coker described as low wattage and intrinsically safe. They sell commercial versions for residential gutters, but this heat trace is designed for heavy industrial use and for a dangerous environment where flammable materials are present.
With the pipelines insulated and the new heat trace applied, Coker says there are already definite benefits and improvements in terms of overall safety. Principally, no steam is dripping and forming icicles, but calculating ROI is no simple task.

“In terms of electricity savings that were calculated, we didn’t have meters on our steam line heat trace to measure that explicitly,” Coker noted. “They helped us quantify the amount of steam being used in other locations in the plant, so we could figure out how much steam was actually being used in the heat trace. We calculated actual BTUs of use and the natural gas being expended, compared that to what it would cost with kilowatts, and factored in the time spent on safety work.”

As a result, Sanimax expects to save approximately $18,000 a year, which would mean a payback of just under three years. Without the grant, the payback would have taken twice as long.

Recommissioning rebirth

Focus on Energy’s recommissioning program offers incentives to upgrade rather than replace existing energy-using equipment in commercial, industrial, school, or government facilities. It has been described as a tune-up in situations where a building’s tenancy, operation, or usage changes but the occupants don’t adjust as those changes occur, leading to inefficiencies on motors, drives, or temperature and pressure settings.

UW Health has used the program to good effect at UW Hospital and at clinics in need of upgrades. It began with a recommissioning study and subsequent work at its surgery center at 1 S. Park St., and it has continued with a comprehensive energy audit of UW Hospital and the American Family Children’s Hospital. Having reviewed heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation, and the building envelope, the Sustainable Engineering Group (SEG) is the vendor now doing recommissioning work at UW Hospital.



When the audit was done, the organization came up with a laundry list of facility-improvement measures it could implement, many of them modifications to its building automation system with a shorter return on investment. The rest were more capital-intensive, requiring the purchase of new equipment. “We preferred to incorporate those into future construction projects, so we split the list into different phases based on what we could get funding to do first,” said Shannon Bunsen, sustainability program coordinator for UW Hospitals and Clinics. “We received funding to implement all of the measures that had less than a two-year payback.”

To take advantage of unoccupied spaces and modify them to reduce their energy consumption, phase 1-A measures included the manipulation of building automation systems. The hospital shares several areas with its School of Medicine and public health partners that typically are only occupied during business hours. It therefore wanted to adjust the temperature management of those areas to reflect the unoccupied schedule.

The hospital has 115 air-handling units and many of them are original equipment, which requires a comprehensive review of their engineering and design to determine if they are functioning as intended. One solution was the use of digital controls to adjust the temperature at the air-handling units, said Johnny Puckett, facilities engineering manager for UW Hospitals and Clinics. Digital controls for the temperature at air-handling units were not available 20 years ago, but they are common now and are easily integrated into systems.

“The constant-volume air-handling units discharge one temperature all the time, which is 55 degrees,” Puckett explained. “That 55-degree air, when it goes into space, it has a heating coil that is controlled by a room-temperature sensor. That heating coil heats that 55-degree air up to whatever temperature it needs to in order to make that space comfortable, but it’s very energy intensive to keep cooling air down to 55 and heating it up to whatever it needs to be.

“What we’re going to do is track the temperatures in all those spaces, and we can reset that temperature on that air-handling unit from 55 degrees to 56, 57, 58, 59, or whatever temperature we need to bring comfort to the spaces and take advantage of free cooling.”

Recommissioning existing systems isn’t necessarily the most talked-about aspect of sustainability, but it enables building operators to get the most out of what they have. UW Health’s phase 1-B work, which has already begun, is very similar to the phase 1-A work in that it includes projects like rebalancing fume hoods in lab spaces, decommissioning unused hoods, and implementing daylighting controls in atrium space.

For phase 1-A savings and incentives on measures already finished, SEG has calculated annual energy cost savings of $144,920 per year based on the kilowatt-hours and therms UW Health will save. That translates into just under 3 million pounds of CO2 emissions every year.

According to Bunsen, the Focus on Energy incentive amount should be around $125,000, just for the phase 1-A measures. For phase 1-B, which is more comprehensive, SEG anticipates annual energy cost savings of $515,446 and a Focus on Energy incentive of about $150,000.

Puckett noted that there are two types of Focus on Energy incentives, custom and prescriptive. In custom measures where there is an investment and energy audit, the program will reimburse you a percentage of your outlay costs. Based on the project undertaken, “they reimburse an amount consistent with a percentage of the savings in energy that you generate, so it’s a fluid number,” he said.

Future UW Health projects include migrating systems from pneumatic controls, which serve a large percentage of the existing hospital, and replacing those controls with more efficient and responsive digital controls. The commissioning of existing buildings is another agenda item, and it’s made easier by what UW Health is learning from the recommissioning work.

Rather than rely on knee-jerk utilization of technology, the organization is developing a strategic energy-management plan, which is more of a system-wide initiative. “We’ve done a good job of benchmarking through the years to really understand where we’re at with our energy use,” noted Mary Evers Statz, facilities director for the UW Medical Foundation. “We’re at a point now where we understand where we are today, and now it’s time to make a strategic energy-management plan for the future. The projects are going to happen regardless of having a plan because we need to do that. As soon as we replace equipment, we’re going to do it in an energy-efficient manner.”



No Brakes on compressed natural gas

Consumers are clearly the winners in the global collapse of crude oil prices, but will the sudden price competitiveness of petroleum doom the comeback of compressed natural gas for fuel? Not according to Deb Branson, business ally manager for Madison Gas and Electric.

Madison Gas and Electric employee Mark Werner stands by an MG&E fleet vehicle propelled by compressed natural gas.

A year ago, the outlook for CNG-powered vehicles was very bright, mainly due to price advantage. That price differential between CNG and diesel was profound enough — about $2 per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) versus $4 per gallon for petroleum — to compel Wisconsin, a manufacturing-dominated state with comparatively high electricity rates, to invest in CNG capacity.

Still at about $2 per gallon equivalent, the cleaner-burning CNG remains price competitive, even though the per-gallon price of regular unleaded gasoline had come down to about $1.90 by mid-January. Based on her conversations with local fleet managers, Branson doesn’t envision any halt in momentum, principally because petroleum is likely to go back up.

“Most of these fleet managers look long term, and they know that gasoline and diesel are much more volatile than CNG,” she said. “Compressed natural gas has consistently been around $2 per gallon since 2004.”

In Wisconsin, the momentum is particularly strong. Since 2012, the number of public fueling stations that offer compressed natural gas has grown from 20 to 47, including four in Dane County. Wisconsin leads the nation with 29 new public CNG station openings in the past 30 months, and six more are expected in 2015.

In a state where CNG use grew by 132% in 2014, there are about 5,700 CNG vehicles, up from only 262 in 2012. Today, 55% of refuse trucks in the state are CNG vehicles. MG&E now has seven CNG vehicles and will judiciously consider adding more. Many of its vehicles are line trucks and digger derricks, but those types of vehicles are not available in CNG. “As the need for new vehicles arises, we do look at whether CNG makes sense,” she said. “It makes the most sense for fleets that have high mileage.”

For more information on adding compressed natural gas vehicles to your fleet, visit

Super model for sustainable buildings

Ever since the energy crises of the 1970s, American industry has been working to make equipment, vehicle, and building systems more efficient. Wisconsin’s own Johnson Controls has been on the forefront of improving products like batteries and HVAC controls.

And now, software is getting into the sustainability act with energy-modeling systems that promise to take building performance to an even higher level. Joss Hurford, a mechanical designer for the Madison office of Strang, a national architecture and engineering firm, is particularly enthusiastic about the building design insights made possible by energy-modeling software.

Those insights, he explained, can result in better decision-making by architects and engineers. Strang applied energy modeling to build a 3-D representation of the new Badgerland Financial facility in Sun Prairie, evaluating the building orientation and how it was impacted by the sun. “We found that simply by adjusting the orientation of the building by a few degrees, we were able to save a predicted energy consumption of just under 1%,” Hurford said.

That might not sound like much, but the savings from that one insight will be felt year after year, and building orientation isn’t the only potential design insight. The energy-modeling software, developed by the Scottish firm IES, also enabled Strang to examine how the sun would impact individual offices as the earth rotates during the year, plotting how the sun path of the building location varies and where shadows fall throughout the year. That altered how desks were positioned to reduce glare.

Perhaps the biggest potential for energy-modeling software is in monitoring building operation and performance once the doors open, which should yield data that’s useful to future energy modeling and integrated design. “The way the building is designed might be different than the way it’s actually operated,” Hurford noted. “There tends to be a disparity between the simulation results and real life.”

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