A Lighting Upgrade Success Story from the Folks Who Put Americans on the Moon

As a building owner or commercial energy manager, you’re probably more than interested in figuring out a way to make a lighting upgrade work for your building or portfolio of buildings. Not only will you save money in the long-term, but upgrading to more efficient lighting will save on energy costs right now. If you want hard data that might make your decision easier, just check out what Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas — the folks behind the lunar landings — was able to accomplish with its lighting upgrade.

In 2011, JSC decided to install HID high bay lighting in 24 buildings and re-retrofit over 18,000 office lighting fixtures (that were originally retrofit in 1999) with 28-watt T8 lamps and high-efficiency ballasts. Overall, the high bay lighting upgrade cut electricity costs by 50 percent and the office lighting upgrade cut costs by and additional 25 percent:

  • Total Facility Size all areas retrofit: 1,250,000 square feet
  • Facility Type: Manufacturing, Warehouse & Office
  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Annual Savings: $216,911
  • Demand Savings: 359 kW
  • Energy Savings: 2,078,504 kWh
  • Project Size: $925,456
  • EPACT Tax Deductions: NA
  • Utility Rebates: $121,039
  • Return on Investment: 27%
  • Environmental Benefits: CO2 reduction: 3,117,756 lbs. annually


Maneri-Agraz, “Johnson Space Center Case Study.”

Why Closing Registers to Help Save Energy Doesn’t Work

Thursday March 22, 2012
Posted at 10:57


To try and save money off heating costs during the winter and cooling costs during the summer, some people close the registers in unused rooms with the impression this makes their HVAC system work less. The strategy of closing registers — those vents in your rooms through which heated and cooled air from your furnace and air conditioner is pumped — seems to make sense. After all, with fewer rooms to heat and cool, your equipment shouldn’t have to work as hard, right?

Unfortunately, it turns out that closing your registers to save energy and money not only causes your equipment to work harder, it can also lead to safety issues and repair bills.

In 2003, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted a study to find out if closing registers in unused rooms worked. What they found may surprise you:

  • Closing registers to cut energy use actually caused homes to use more energy, as duct leaks from increased pressures in duct systems caused energy losses that outweighed energy savings from heating or cooling only a part of the homes
  • Closing too many registers (more than 60 percent) resulted in air flow resistance that severely restricted air flow through the HVAC systems and lead to safety concerns, such as furnaces that operated on the high-limit switch, and damage to systems, such as cooling systems that suffered from frozen coils
  • Closing registers farthest from the air handlers caused fewer leaks and tended to affect only the closed off branches, but closing registers nearer the air handler tended to increase duct pressures the most and cause air leaks throughout the whole system

Not surprisingly, the laboratory concluded that “the register closing technique is not recommended as a viable energy saving strategy.”

Looks like it’s time to break out those wool sweaters and turn on those ceiling fans.


California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, “Closing Off Vents and Rooms to Save Energy.”

Tips Con Ed Customers Can Use for Switching Electricity and Natural Gas Suppliers


If you live in New York and are a customer of Con Edison (Con Ed), the state’s largest public utility, electricity and natural gas are delivered to your home by Con Ed. You may even buy your electricity and natural gas from Con Ed. But you don’t have to. Con Ed’s service territory is deregulated, which means you’re allowed to shop around and buy your electricity and natural gas from among several competing energy companies, called Energy Service Companies, or ESCOs.

The idea behind deregulation is that competition from energy companies will drive down prices as the companies compete for your business. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about your electricity and natural gas service. Con Ed will still deliver the energy to your home, regardless of which company you buy it from. Even better, shopping around for energy can save you money off monthly utility bills. Here are a few tips to help you choose the ESCO that’s right for you.

How to choose an ESCO

A Con Ed customer who is thinking of switching from Con Ed to an ESCO should contact the electricity and natural gas suppliers that offer service in the area, compare the offers and look into how companies handle things like customer service and bill payments. There’s more to an ESCO than just the price and things like bilingual support or a mobile app can increase your satisfaction.

When you contact the ESCO, ask about the different plans they offer, terms of the plan — including whether the plan has a fixed rate or variable rate and contains any minimum usage fees or early-termination fees — bill payment options, customer support options and any other options important to you.

Don’t forget: Con Ed will still be your energy delivery company

Remember, regardless of which electricity or natural gas supplier you choose to buy your energy from, Con Ed will continue to deliver electricity and natural gas to your home. Con Ed will still be responsible for responding to outages and emergencies and for providing service for wires, poles, transformers and gas lines.

Also, it’s important to note that regardless of who you buy your electricity or natural gas from, Con Ed will provide you with the same level of service as everyone else. In other words, Con Ed won’t punish you with bad service if you buy your energy from another company.

How to sign up with an ESCO

Once you’ve made your decision on which electricity or natural gas ESCO you want to switch to, the ESCO will ask for your Con Ed account number to obtain your electricity or natural gas usage information. Once you agree on a plan, you can enroll immediately (with most ESCOs).

When does new service with an ESCO begin?

For electricity suppliers, your new ESCO will begin selling you electricity on your next meter reading date, as long as you enroll in the new service at least 15 days prior to the date. If you enroll after that, you’ll have to wait for the next meter reading date to begin receiving electricity under your ESCO’s plan.

For natural gas suppliers, things are a little simpler. If you enroll by the 15th of any month, you’ll begin receiving gas under your ESCO’s plan by the first day of the following month.

How will I be billed if I switch to an ESCO?

If you switch to an electricity or natural gas ESCO, you may receive two bills — one from the ESCO for the amount of electricity or natural gas that you use and one from Con Ed for delivering the energy to your home — or you could receive one combined bill with two separate charges for supply, from the ESCO, and delivery, from Con Ed. Other billing options are possible. How your bill is delivered will be based on your ESCO and the arrangement it has with Con Ed.

If I switch from Con Ed to an ESCO, can I switch back to Con Ed?

Yes. However, you should consider the terms of your ESCO’s contract, including things such as early termination fees, before switching back. If you switch from a natural gas ESCO back to Con Ed, you must remain with Con Ed for one year before switching to another natural gas ESCO.


Con Edison, “PowerYourWay for Residential.”

Con Edison, “PowerYourWay Frequently Asked Questions.”

Illinois Public Facilities Get Help With Energy-Efficient Lighting Upgrades


Public facilities in Illinois are eligible for financial incentives that can help them upgrade to more energy-efficient lighting prior to a planned phase out of certain types of commercial fluorescent lamps beginning in 2012.

The state’s Illinois Energy Now (IEN) program is run by the State Energy Office of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). It offers incentives for lighting upgrades to local, state and federal government facilities, public schools, community colleges, public colleges and universities that can help the facilities decrease energy costs. The incentives are available to government customers served by Ameren Illinois and ComEd.

“By offering incentives to make lighting upgrades more affordable, we are helping to ensure our public facilities can spend more resources on direct service instead of keeping the lights on,” said DCEO Director Warren Ribley.

The incentives help offset costs associated with the planned phase out of older, less efficient T12 fluorescent lamps, which will be replaced with more efficient T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps. The fate of T12 lamps was sealed by a 2010 U.S. Department of Energy mandate that requires the phase out of magnetic ballasts used in the operation of T12 lamps. The older lamps will be out of production by July 2012.

According to Illinois Energy Now, the new T8 and T5 lamps will bring immediate energy savings of up to 50 percent in addition to improved lighting performance and simpler maintenance. The incentives, which are provided as grants or rebates, help cover the costs of changing or retrofitting lighting systems, including lamps and fixtures.

The types of public facilities that are considered to be highest priorities for the IEN lighting upgrade program include those with older lighting systems still in place, those with the highest energy costs and those with lighting systems that stay on continuously, referred to as uncontrolled lighting, as opposed to newer systems that are controlled with motion sensors.

The DCEO, with its partners, including SEDAC (Smart Energy Design Assistance Center) and the Trade Ally Network, will provide resources and technical assistance to help determine the right course of action when it comes to planning energy-efficient lighting improvements at existing facilities or enhancing the design of new facilities.

More Information on the Public Facilities Lighting Upgrade Program

To learn more about the Illinois Energy Now lighting upgrade incentives, visit www.illinoisenergy.org.

For more information about the T12 lamp phase out, visit www.connexiones.com/t12-phase-out.

The incentive program has specific contacts for the incentive program based on public facility type:


State Offers Program for Public Facilities to Upgrade Lighting,” East Peoria Times-Courier, Dec. 20, 2011.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, Illinois Energy Office, “Office of Energy and Recycling Programs November 2010.”

How Electricity Deregulation is Working to Free Illinois Electric Customers

ComEd electricity deregulation

Illinois electricity customers who get their electricity delivered by Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) or Ameren Illinois Utilities (Ameren), the state’s two largest public utilities, reside in deregulated areas. While those residents can’t choose who delivers electricity to their homes, they can choose to buy their electricity from either the utility or an alternative retail electricity supplier (ARES). However, a little-known provision in Illinois law could be activated that would result in every resident and business in a deregulated area choosing an ARES to supply their electricity while the utilities would focus on simply delivering the electricity through their power lines and related infrastructure.

And that’s probably a good thing for Illinois electric customers. Here’s why.

Deregulation Has Resulted in Lower Rates for Electricity Customers

The Illinois electricity market was deregulated in 1997. Since then, commercial and industrial electricity customers have benefitted from buying electricity from ARES, which, as it turns out, are more nimble when it comes to procuring power than the Illinois Power Agency (IPA). While the IPA is tasked with buying electricity for ComEd and Ameren customers once a year at auction, the ARES are able to buy power from wholesalers continuously. As a result, the ARES have been able to offer lower prices than the utilities and business customers have pocketed significant savings. Now, more than 75 percent of Illinois businesses buy their electricity from an ARES.

Since 2007, residential electricity customers have also been able to buy their power from ARES. Now, as of December 2011, more than 261,000 residential customers have switched, including over 225,000 from ComEd. And that number is growing rapidly. ComEd alone has seen its number of switchers grow more than ten-fold since May.

If the number of switchers keeps rising, a provision of the IPA Act could be triggered that could result in additional benefits for electric customers. The provision states that if, anytime after July 1, 2012, more than one-third of a utility’s residential customer base is buying its power from an ARES, and there are at least three ARES competing in the utility’s service territory, the utility can petition the Illinois Commerce Commission to declare the market “competitive.”

If the Commission agrees, then the utility is allowed to essentially stop buying and selling electricity and concentrate fully on doing what it does best: delivering electricity to customers. Customers still buying their electricity from the utility at that point would be required to choose which ARES to buy their electricity from, and the utility would deliver that electricity to the customer’s home or business just as they always have.


Chamber Dispatch, “Imagine ComEd Buys No Electricity … It’s Easy if You Try.”

Illinois Commerce Commission, “Electric Switching Statistics: 2011 Filings,” published Jan. 25, 2012.

How Do I Switch From ComEd to a Retail Electricity Supplier?

Tuesday February 21, 2012
Posted at 16:38


If you live in Illinois and have electricity delivered to your home by Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), you have the option of choosing to buy your electricity from ComEd or from a retail electricity supplier.

Regardless of whether you buy your power from ComEd or a retail electricity supplier, ComEd will continue to deliver it to your home, take calls about outages and maintain equipment like wires, poles and transformers. That means all you have to do is shop around for the retail electricity supplier that will provide you with the electricity plan, customer service, stability and other features that you’re looking for.

Once you’ve chosen your retail electricity supplier and asked them to switch your service, your switch will be completed in three easy steps:

  1. The retail electricity supplier that you’ve chosen will notify ComEd of the change
  2. ComEd will contact you by mail to confirm that you want to start buying your electricity from your new retail electricity supplier
  3. Once you’ve confirmed your decision with ComEd, the utility and your new retail electricity supplier will work together to seamlessly complete the process; nobody will come to your home to flip a switch and your service won’t be interrupted

You can switch any time; there’s never a deadline. The effective date of your switch will occur on your next meter read date. Your new retail electricity supplier should show up on your bill roughly 18-45 days from the date you signed up with them. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that if you switch from ComEd to a retail electricity supplier and then switch back to ComEd, you might have to buy your electricity from the utility for a 12 month period before you can switch to a retail electricity supplier again.

Good luck shopping for your new retail electricity provider. If you have any more questions, you can get answers to common ComEd switching questions or ask us on Facebook or Twitter.


Plug In Illinois, “The Switching Process.”

Illinois Matching Grants Help Schools Become More Energy Efficient

Monday February 13, 2012
Posted at 10:33

Illinois school districts, charter schools, vocational centers and public university laboratory schools are now eligible for grants through the state’s education board that can help schools implement money-saving energy efficiency projects.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Energy Efficiency Grants program will provide state matching grants on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to $250,000 for approved energy efficiency improvements at eligible schools. Eligible energy efficiency improvements include insulation, windows, doors, energy controls, lighting, energy recovery, energy conservation, alternative energy systems and other projects undertaken to reduce energy consumption.

Eligible schools must receive electricity delivery from ComEd or Ameren Illinois to qualify for ISBE Energy Efficiency Grants. Applications for the grants must be for eligible equipment purchased or installed between June 1, 2011 and May 31, 2012.

For more information, including application instructions and eligibility requirements, schools can review the DCEO 2011–2012 Public Sector Energy Efficiency Guidelines or contact Kimberly Beachy (School Business Services Division) at 217.785.8779 or Agnes Mrozowski (DCEO) at 217.524.0933.


Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, “Energy Efficiency.”

Data Center Management: Top 6 Strategies for Saving Energy and Money

Monday February 6, 2012
Posted at 11:00


If you’re an IT professional, facility manager, or energy manager and operate a data center, then you know how much energy it takes to keep all your servers running smoothly. You may also be aware of how much money that energy costs your company every month. Fortunately, there are several changes you can make to reduce energy costs while maintaining — and even increasing — your data center’s performance. According to ENERGY STAR, here’s a list of the top five strategies you can implement in your data center to start saving energy and money right away.

1. Server Virtualization

As you may know, a virtual server is a software implementation of a server. It executes programs like a real server does but allows you to run multiple independent “servers” on a single physical server. The idea is that the virtual servers use more of a physical server’s processing power, which means you can run fewer physical servers and cut energy costs.

Estimated Savings: Consolidation ratios between 10:1 and 15:1 can be achieved with today’s servers, resulting in reductions in data center energy expenses from between 10 percent and 40 percent.

2. Decommissioning of Servers

Aged servers with no use that are still running and eating up energy costs, so-called “comatose” servers, are a problem in data centers. Unless you have a rigorous program of decommissioning comatose servers, it’s likely that between 15 percent and 30 percent of the equipment in your data center is comatose, according to Kenneth Brill, executive director of the Uptime Institute. Removing just one comatose server produces a “cascade effect” of energy savings from the server, power distribution unit, UPS, cooling system and building transformers.

Estimated Savings: When Sun Microsystems decommissioned unused servers, for example, the company reported an 8 percent to 10 percent cut in equipment load and an 11 percent to 14 percent decrease in total load.

3. Consolidation of Lightly Utilized Servers

The traditional “one workload, one box” approach to server provisioning in data centers results in an abundance of underutilized servers. Since typical server utilization is about 5 percent to 15 percent, most servers run at or below 20 percent utilization most of the time, but still require full power to operate. To solve this problem, combine multiple applications onto a single server and a singe OS instance, cluster servers to reduce the number of backup or standby servers, downsize the application portfolio to eliminate redundant applications and virtualize servers whenever you can.

Estimated Savings: Given that the average U.S. server’s energy cost is about $820 per year, according to Stanford University, the potential for savings is significant.

4. Better Management of Data Storage

Hard disk drives and media that retain digital computer data can use a lot of energy. According to some experts, however, “white space,” or the amount of storage that goes unused, averages about 70 percent per device. And, of the 30 percent that is utilized, some of that can be attributed to duplicate data. You can better utilize your data storage by deploying storage resource management (SRM) tools, automating storage provisioning and deploying thin provisioning, organizing storage by tiers, installing a massive array of idle disks (MAID) for tier 3 storage and considering the advantages of solid state storage, which has no spinning disk to power.

Estimated Savings: Better data storage management can lead to significant energy savings; MAID solutions alone can reduce energy costs associated with data storage by 60 percent or more.

5. Purchasing More Energy-Efficient Servers, UPSs and PDUs

One of the most direct ways to increase the energy-efficiency of your data center going forward is to simply start purchasing more energy-efficient technology, including servers, UPSs and PDUs. The latest OSs can also play a role. Windows Server 2008 R2, for example, includes a number of efficacy improvements. It continually alters the power states of server processors in response to utilization workloads and includes features such as Core Parking, Time Coalescing and Intelligent Timer Tick Distribution, or Tick Skipping, which helps keep processor cores in deep sleep when they’re not needed.

Estimated Savings: New servers are typically about 30 percent more efficient than older servers (while being able to perform three times the workload at 50 percent utilization). New, energy efficient UPSs typically hit efficiency rates from 92 percent to 95 percent. New PDUs are about 2 percent to 3 percent more efficient.

6. Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle Layout

Many data centers logically place their server racks in neat rows from front to back, with server cold air intakes at the front and hot air exhausts at the back. While this may seem like a logical way to arrange your racks, it means as the server racks go back, they begin to take in warmer air, which can result in higher fan speeds to keep the servers in the back rows at ideal operating temperatures. A better solution is to implement the hot aisle/cold aisle layout, which mandates that server racks are arranged so that cool air intakes face each other and warm air exhausts face each other. That way, you ensure that your cool air intakes are constantly receiving cool air.

Estimated Savings: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, when used in combination with appropriate containment, a hot aisle/cold aisle layout scheme can reduce fan energy use from 20 percent to 25 percent.

Do you agree or disagree with ENERGY STAR’s recommendations? Have you implemented these or other energy-saving strategies in your data center? Leave us a comment below and let us know how they’re working.


ENERGY STAR, “Data Center Energy Efficiency Strategies.”

More Connecticut Electricity Customers Switching to Alternative Suppliers


An increasing number of electric customers in Connecticut get their electricity from competitive retail suppliers and not from the state’s two public utilities, according to a new report on competitive supply.

The 5th Annual Baseline Assessment of Choice in Canada and the United States (ABACCUS), by Distributed Energy Financial Group LLC, found that more than 65 percent of electricity sold in Connecticut is purchased from alternative retail suppliers that entered the state’s electricity market when it was opened up to competition in 1998.

Competition broke up the state’s two electric utility monopolies, Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating, and made electricity supply separate from distribution. While the utilities, which were turned into electricity distribution companies, could still sell electricity at state-regulated rates, alternative retail suppliers were allowed to enter the market and compete with the utilities and each other for customers.

The competitive retail electricity supply market was slow to catch on due to small rate savings between the utilities and retail suppliers initially. However, over the past four years, the number of electric customers who switched from their utility to an alternative electricity supplier increased sharply.

In 2008, 6.6 percent of residential electric customers had switched to a retail supplier. By 2011, that number increased to 40.6 percent. Commercial electric customers have switched in even greater numbers. By 2011, 80 percent of small businesses and 90 percent of large businesses had switched to a retail supplier.


Retailers Sell Two-Thirds of CT Electricity,” Hartford Business Journal, Nov. 30, 2011.

How Utility Deregulation Benefits Connecticut Electricity Customers

Wednesday January 25, 2012
Posted at 11:50

If you live in Connecticut, then you probably live in a deregulated electricity area. According to the New England Energy Alliance (NEAA), that’s a good thing, both for electricity customers and the environment.

What is electric deregulation?

A national movement to deregulate public utilities, commonly referred to as electric restructuring, began in the early 1990s. Prior to then, most electric utilities were monopolies, regulated by state utility commissions. The utilities handled everything. They generated and/or bought electricity, sold it to customers and delivered it to customers’ homes.

The movement behind deregulation suggested that the utilities should be broken up. Under deregulation, other companies would be allowed to generate electricity and still other companies would be allowed to buy electricity from the generators and sell it directly to customers. The role of utilities would change. In deregulated markets, the utilities would simply take electricity from the generators, transmit it to the grid and deliver it to customers’ homes. The utilities would only charge for the distribution of electricity, although they could still sell electricity — at a price set by state regulators — if customers didn’t want to switch to a competing electricity supplier.

Deregulation was meant to encourage competition among multiple electricity suppliers, which would ultimately drive down energy prices and help customers save money on monthly electric bills.

Connecticut began to deregulate in 1998 when the state legislature passed a law to restructure the utilities. On Jan. 1, 2000, the law went in to effect and utilities such as Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and The United Illuminating Company (UI) were broken up and competing suppliers were allowed to enter the market.

Now, over ten years later, Connecticut electricity customers have more choices and greater access to cleaner energy than ever before, according to the NEAA.

The Five Main Benefits of Electric Deregulation in Connecticut

According to an NEAA report released last year, it is “clear that the competitive marketplace is working to the benefit of both customers and the environment.” The report cited five main achievements since deregulation began, including more power, more choice, higher efficiency, cleaner air and the development of new clean energy resources.

More Power

As of last April, more than 4,000 megawatts of new electricity generation facilities were in the works in Connecticut, thanks to deregulation. The NEAA noted that when all of that power comes online, it will increase the state’s electricity output by 50 percent and will further boost competition, reduce prices and create jobs.

More Choice

From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of Connecticut electricity customers who bought their electricity from competitive suppliers grew by triple digits. By the time the report was issued, 35 alternative electricity suppliers — investing substantial capital and employing hundreds of residents — served 20 percent of all state customers and supplied half of all electricity sold in the state.

Higher Efficiency

Deregulation has paved the way for consumer-funded efficiency programs provided by utilities that have conserved more than 400 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. That’s enough to power over 47,000 homes annually.

Cleaner Air

Deregulation has also spurred the construction of highly efficient natural gas power plants for generating electricity, as well as a switch to cleaner fuels in existing power plants. As a result, fewer greenhouse gasses have been emitted. Between 2005 and 2010, carbon dioxide emissions from power plants decreased 20 percent. Additionally, nitrogen oxide fell by 62 percent and sulfur dioxide by 77 percent.

New Clean Energy Resources

Because of deregulation, many new types of “greener” electricity generation technologies are being developed. Hydropower, wind energy and biomass are all contributing to the state’s goal of generating 27 percent of Connecticut’s entire energy production by the year 2020.


NEEA: CT Benefits From Electric Deregulation,” Hartford Business Journal, Apr. 28, 2010.

Connecticut Light & Power, “CL&P History.”