Savings are easy as changing a light bulb

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Savings are easy as changing a light bulb

Reprinted with permission of The Sunday Gazette-Mail:

Savings are easy as changing a light bulb

By Sara Busse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Wells holds a box of common light bulbs in his arms, knowing that the box represents an expensive past and a very bright and thrifty future.

His company, Wells Home Furnishings, changed 872 spotlight-type bulbs over a period of four months last spring -- and saw the electricity bill go from $3,400 to $1,630 per month just from that energy-saving measure.

Now he's moving on to changing the bulbs in 150 lamps for even more savings.

What motivated this change? According to Jeri Matheny, spokeswoman for Appalachian Power, there's a push from the energy company to encourage businesses and homeowners to save energy. And APCO is willing to help defray the cost of replacing high-energy users to more-efficient choices.

"We're doing an energy-efficiency/demand-side management initiative. There are many companies taking advantage of it," Matheny said.

"We've always encouraged customers to conserve energy, both residential and commercial," Matheny explained. "We know energy costs are a big part of running a business, and if we can help our customers to save money, it's a good thing.

"Also, of course, if we conserve enough energy, we can delay when we have to add more generating capability, which is a huge investment, and then we don't have to pass that huge cost on to customers."

Wells considered alternative light bulbs for his halogen fixtures for a while.

"I had been looking at the bulbs for three years, but I was not happy with the output," he said, pointing out the importance of lighting to his furniture showroom's appearance.

"Lighting is everything in my business," he said. He chose Ultra LED 120-volt, 15-watt narrow floods by Sylvania. LED stands for light-emitting diode.

He said his power use, just replacing the spotlights, went from 204,000 kilowatt-hours per year to under 40,000. They had been using 75-watt halogen bulbs.

Each LED bulb cost $39, but through the power company rebate program, the store got back $15 per bulb.

"But we'll save so much energy it's unbelievable," Wells said. "We got $13,000 back. With all of the savings on energy, heating and with the rebate, we will get a total return in less than two years."

The new LED bulbs last about 10 years, so Wells knows he will see another bottom-line saving in labor costs. He's also looking at savings on air conditioning this summer because the new bulbs burn much cooler than the halogens they replaced.

Switching the lamps in the showroom from incandescent to fluorescent won't be as costly as the halogen-to-LED spotlight switch.

"Those bulbs have come down in price so much in the past few years, and the quality of the light has improved. While I'll probably pay 99 cents for a 13-watt fluorescent bulb instead of 30 to 40 cents for an old 40-watt bulb, it's still a lot less than it was a few years ago when the new bulbs first came out. Like everything else, once everyone starts to use it, the cost goes down," Wells said.

Small store, big changes

John D. Anderson owns Center Hardware in the Gateway Shopping Center in St. Albans. A stream of loyal customers comes through the door every day.

Recently one of those regulars asked Anderson if he had remodeled the store. Anderson explained that the noticeable difference was a result of new, cost-efficient lighting.

"People thought we remodeled! It was so much brighter, which is good for our business," Anderson said. He had an electrician switch the ceiling-covering network of more than 100 large, T12 fluorescent tubes to smaller, more-efficient T8 bulbs.

"We just changed the ends on the fixtures, the ballasts and the bulbs. We went from magnetic to electronic ballasts," Anderson explained. "They are much cooler -- and they last longer."

Savings are easy as changing a light bulb
Customers noticed the change -- and asked how they could do the same thing at home. Does Center sell the ballasts for the switch?

"We do now!" Anderson said enthusiastically.

He participated in the power company rebate program, and the reward was as easy to see as the now brightly lit aisles in his shop.

"We got a couple of nice little checks back from APCO. It covered a quarter of the cost of the changes. When do you get a check back from your power company?" He shows visitors two checks from Appalachian Power totaling $980. It took about a week for all of the ballasts and bulbs to be switched.

Anderson said the store is gradually switching from incandescents to LEDs in the spotlights over the paint counter and in other areas.

He now sells those bulbs as well.

Toyota sees the light

Energy-efficient cars are a top priority at Toyota Motor Manufacturing. Energy-efficient lighting is the priority for George Vickers, a specialist in environmental engineering for the Buffalo plant.

The West Virginia native has led the charge to replace the metal halide fixtures (similar to halogen) that have been in the plant since it started in 1996.

"There's nothing special about the new lights," Vickers insists, as he shows visitors the bright fluorescent fixtures that dot the ceiling of the vast plant. The fixtures are fairly old school: basic six-bulb fluorescent units. The modern twist involves more-efficient T8 bulbs and motion sensors.

"The original fixtures in the plant used a lot of energy, 440 watts," Vickers said. "Also, they had a 'strike time.' If you turned off the light, you couldn't turn it back on for a while." So between shifts, they had to leave the lights on. Now the new fixtures are on motion sensors, turning themselves off when there's no one around to need them, saving thousands of dollars in energy costs.

The T8 fluorescent tubes use 220 watts, or basically half the energy of the old metal halide fixtures.

It cost about $400,000 to change the lighting, but Vickers said he would see a full payback in less than two years from the energy cost savings and the rebate. Sun Control Inc. of Hurricane helped plan the lighting conversion.

American Electric Power is rebating $95 per light ($90 per fixture and $5 for the motion sensors). The rebate is formulated for each customer depending on the type of old lighting, new lights and other factors. Toyota will receive nearly $200,000 from AEP.

Toyota has electric meters, similar to the ones on the outside of a residence, on each line in the factory. Teams are challenged to meet energy savings goals with targets on each line.

"Not to get too philosophical, but at Toyota, we build it right the first time," Vickers said. "That's the team's opportunity to get it right and to save energy by not having to redo things."

Vickers is aware that fluorescents have mercury in them, a hazard to the environment, but he said the newer bulbs have a lower level of the element in them.

"And for home use, places like Home Depot will recycle old compact fluorescent bulbs," he added.

The process at Toyota started a year ago, and they have changed 2,000 fixtures, with 90 to go.

"The old lights are still in the places that are hardest to get to," Vickers pointed out, over the busiest and most intricate parts of the production line. As he walked through a part of the plant that was on break, the motion sensors detected his movement and lights came on to light his way. He noted that to use motion sensors, fluorescent fixtures have to have rapid-start ballasts. The sensors in the plant are programmed to turn off the lights after 20 minutes if there is no movement in the area.

Automation abounds and efficiency is key at the plant. Vickers noted that there are 450 working minutes in a day, and on that particular day they would produce 877 engines.

And it all takes place under 2,090 new light fixtures.

Reach Sara Busse at or 304-348-1249.