Talking with senior executives of large companies in North America we often ask them what energy-saving measures they are doing. Usually, the answer comes back that they are proactive in implementing energy-saving measures and that they did many lighting retrofits in their buildings.

We ask them what other measures his company had done.  The answers vary,  but they tell us that they replaced windows and improved the insulation of a number of their older buildings. Then we ask again what other energy-saving measures they had done, and we get a long silence.

More than lights

We try to change the [somewhat awkward] situation by proposing that perhaps they could do chiller retrofits. We talk about automation, solar, or geothermal systems. It quickly becomes clear that a vast majority of companies have only completed lighting retrofits. But it often stops there. Many do not pursue any additional energy-saving projects.

A company in such a situation is leaving many energy savings on the table. Many companies fail to realize their full energy-saving potential, and in the process, leave hundreds or thousands (often millions) of dollars each year on the table.

Lights, lights, and more lights

Doing lighting replacement is a good start, one that usually carries a decent payback. It is often one of the measures that are the easiest to estimate, in terms of cost as well as the energy savings it will bring. Also, because it is probably the most popular energy-saving measure, it tends to get more of the spotlight when engineers and consultants propose energy-saving measures. After all, who would not want to recommend a good energy-saving measure. One which carries little risk, and has a proven payback. Especially when it takes minimal effort to put a lighting retrofit study together.

While these energy-saving measures are good, they only represent a fraction of the total potential a typical building will have in terms of energy savings.

Capturing the low hanging fruit

Imagine standing next to an apple tree full of apples, and you pick as many apples as you can without moving your feet (staying in one place). You will probably choose the first apples very close to you. Then later you can stretch a little bit your arms to reach some apples that are low and some that are higher up. Problem is, without moving around the apple tree, it is impossible to capture more than a small percentage of the total amount of apples that are in the tree. Many of the apples that are on the other side of the tree, at the bottom, middle, and/or top of the tree will not be reachable unless you walk over to the other side of the tree. There are lots of low hanging fruit all around the tree.

Start, but continue

This is precisely what happens in the vast majority of companies that implement energy-saving measures or programs. They find one or a few energy-saving measures, which bring good payback. Then they replicate these measures across all other properties in the company. This is a good start. However, it should be considered only a start. Many other opportunities exist. And just like the apple tree illustration, some energy-saving measures will be easy to implement (low on the apple tree) while others will require more investment and calculations (middle of the tree). Others will be more complex (top of the tree). In the end, there will be many energy saving opportunities that you can implement and that carry good payback.

In our energy saving software, eneXplan, we have included numerous energy-saving groups of opportunities. Each group carries many possibilities or combinations. The energy saving opportunities in our library of opportunities that we have already probably account for well over 95 percent of the energy-saving measures that are out there (in terms of popularity). Our company is committed to including all of the known energy-saving measures into the program. We are also working with some of our customers to develop new energy-saving measures. If they have specific buildings that would benefit from a unique opportunity idea. We believe that this will only make the software better.

In summary

Lighting retrofits can be a good start to save energy. However, companies should remember that there are dozens of other energy-saving measures that probably apply to each of their buildings. Together they can represent substantial savings, higher than those produced by the lighting retrofit can. If companies only do lighting retrofits, they are most probably leaving good money on the table.