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Turn it off to save electricity costs

John Seelmeyer

Ken Baker has lots of ideas about ways that businesses can save money on energy, but the best return on investment comes from an old-fashioned concept:Turn it off.

Many of the best energy-conservation ideas simply involve making sure that electricity isn’t used when it’s not needed, says Baker, who works with a U.S.

Department of Energy program called “Rebuild America.” Unplugging a space heater that’s used during the winter months can save $128 a year.Turning off a task light that left’s burning over a desk after its occupant leaves for the day can save $10.50 a year.

Turning off the lights in the copy room when no one’s around? Another $26 a year.Turning off a computer monitor when it’s not in use not shutting down the computer itself, just darkening the monitor may save as much as $60 annually.

And lest a manager think that some of these costs look so minor that they’re not worth the battle, Baker encourages businesses to count the number of task lights, space heaters and computer monitors in the organization and do the math.

“In a big office, I’ve seen literally hundreds of space heaters,” Baker told a seminar sponsored by the Nevada Small Business Development Center in Reno last week.

Another significant source of savings, he said, is ensuring that controls are properly set to heat and cool offices.

Even if an expert’s services are required to set the controls, Baker said the payback will be rapid.

In all, he said no-cost changes in workers’ habits almost always will trim a company’s energy consumption by 10 percent or more.

But Baker acknowledged the trick is to discover ways to save energy without cutting into employee productivity.

Assume a company constructs an office building today.

During the 30-year life cycle of the structure, construction costs will account for only 2 percent of the company’s expenditures.

Operations and maintenance – including energy costs will account for another 6 percent.

But by the far the biggest cost involved will be wages and salaries 92 percent of the costs at the office during 30 years, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.

And that means, Baker said, that companies that marry energy savings with higher employee productivity will reap far greater benefits.

Carnegie Mellon found that a “good building” one with the right lighting, good air circulation, outside views and the like generally will boost the productivity of office employees by about 20 percent.

Which gets Baker back to those space heaters that consume $128 of electricity each during the winter months.

Managers need to decide, he said, whether removal of space heaters would cost more in lost productivity than they would gain in energy savings.

Another way to boost the productivity of office workers while saving on energy costs is the careful design of lighting.

Ric Barnes of the General Electric Lighting Institute told participants in last week’s seminar that good lighting design starts with analysis of the work that needs to be done.

If an office worker spends her days reading paper flat on her desk, she needs different lighting than a worker who spends his days reading on a vertical computer screen.

Areas involving food preparation, for instance, need five times more lighting than lobbies.

And areas with more older workers also will require more lighting as age takes its toll on vision.