AGS Finds 55% Reduction in Electric Power Consumption

By Paul Studebaker, Editor-in-Chief February 20, 2013 11:20:25 am

When AGS and Groom Energy told us they were implementing multi-measure energy efficiency retrofits at two AGS facilities in Sutton, Massachusetts and claimed the upgrades will reduce the total energy consumption at the locations by 1.25 million kilowatt-hours – 55% of their total energy consumption – we knew we had to learn more.

In business since 1988, AGS designs and manufactures packaging products, systems, and solutions for both basic industrial and high-technology product manufacturers and distributors. The packaging consists of engineered wood, foam, corrugated and plastic containers, and protective barriers for product storage and shipping needs. In addition to its main operating facility in Sutton, which also serves as its worldwide headquarters, the company also has operations in leased facilities in China and Ireland, and leases distribution facilities in New Jersey and North Carolina.

AGS engaged Groom Energy to perform building energy assessments, looking for energy savings opportunities. Following their recommendations, Groom Energy engineers completed upgrades in compressed air, LED lighting and vending machine energy controls.

“To my surprise, lighting was the biggest consumer. I thought it would be machines and equipment,” says Frank Tavares, GPE, AGS. Of the facility’s 2.3 million kWh annual consumption, 1.3 million was lighting. “I knew about the 2.3 million – I get a bill from National Grid,” Tavares says. “But the facility is only 2-1/2 years old and had the most energy-efficient lighting available at the time, T5 fluorescents.”

To almost everyone’s surprise, an energy survey identified the existing 2-1/2-year old T-5 lighting as a major opportunity to reduce costs and make money by improving efficiency. The new lighting system, described below, accounts for about 1 million kWh reduction per year. The next biggest item is a wood shop transfer vacuum system, which uses a 100-hp motor running 24/7 whether the plant is using one machine or 20. “It was on-off,” Tavares says. “We’re adding a variable-speed drive and automated gates so it will work proportionally to the equipment.” That estimated savings is included in the 55%.

The third largest savings is coming from the compressed air system. “The compressors themselves are very new but we were running the system at 150 psi,” Tavares says. “We made piping changes and reduced it to 110 psi, and we’re working on bringing it down to 100 psi, maybe 90 psi. Maybe lower.”

For AGS’s interior lighting, Groom Energy installed Digital Lumens intelligent LED lighting, replacing existing fluorescent lighting that had no control system capabilities. The new system enables occupancy-based lighting in both facilities, reducing energy by operating only when necessary and enabling AGS to track and manage the system through Digital Lumens’ easy-to-use LightRules software.

Intelligent LED lighting reduces energy consumption by operating only when necessary. AGS tracks and manages the system through lighting control software.

“Our LED lighting uses much less electricity than I thought,” Tavares says. “We see the drop in kWh on the bill, and it’s also tracked by our lighting software, which matches the electric bill very closely.

Fully Leveraged LEDs

Controls are an important part of the lighting savings. The plant has three major departments – corrugated, foam and wood, in a mostly open area of 229,000 sq.ft. “We run three shifts but not everything, everywhere on all three,” Tavares says. “We used to have all the lights on, whether there were two people or 100 in the plant. Now we only fully light where they are, and dim the lights in the rest of the plant.”

The lights are controlled by a program set up by the facilities group, which can configure it ahead of time by day and time, or change it on the fly from within the plant or by remote dial-in. The lights have occupancy sensors, which dim them if, for example, there’s no activity for 10 minutes. Warehouse rows are set to shut off if there’s no activity for 30 seconds.

The sensors and controls are part of each fixture, and the fixtures each communicate by wireless. A server collects data, runs the program and sends signals to the fixtures. “IT was not involved in the system beyond giving us ports and space in a rack for the server,” Tavares says. “The software is easy to use with half a day of training.”

Even when the plant is in full swing, all the lighting is not needed and much of it runs at 75%. “The difference between 100% and 75% is a huge amount of money, and most people don’t notice the difference,” Tavares says. “The facility was built to a minimum of 50 foot-candles, and we can do that with less than 100%. Some areas only need 50%. When we bring customers through, we can go to the full 50 foot-candles – it looks terrific.”

Maximizing lighting savings is an ongoing project. “You have to experiment until people complain – you can’t tell them ahead of time or they’ll object,” Tavares says. “But I’ve found that good lighting equals good morale, so you have to be careful.”

The software predicts the savings based on the programming – the dollar value of going, say, from 100% to 50%. “It also tells us the occupancy, which is helping us be more efficient in the warehouse by rearranging materials to minimize lighting and reduce picking times,” Tavares says. He has an overview of the plant floor, and can see when a group goes on break – the lights dim in that area.

Tight Control on Cash Flow

The projects have been fully supported by National Grid through its energy efficiency rebates and On-Bill Finance program. “As you can imagine, with our lighting only 2-1/2 years old, we hesitated to ask for half a million dollars to replace it even though we had good data and justification,” Tavares says. “National Grid gave us some rebates but it was still a lot of money and we’re competing with production equipment for capital.” The on-bill financing means no upfront money: at AGS , the investment is broken down into 24 monthly line items on the power bill. “So for now, our power bill is less than it was but more than it will be after 24 months. Meanwhile, I’m still making money every month.”

The energy-saving projects will have the equivalent effect of reducing 1.5 million pounds of carbon per year.

“Sustainability is a core principal of our corporate mission at National Grid which is why we are committed to promoting and offering programs that will help our customers save money while reducing their carbon footprint,” says Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, AGS’ utility power provider in Massachusetts. “AGS will reduce their energy usage by more than half as a result of these energy-efficient upgrades, which is significant. We’re proud to partner with them and help defray the costs through program incentives that will make the project a reality.”

Some of the old T5 fixtures were used to replace halogens in a leased warehouse but there are still about 400 in storage. “Want to buy them?” Tavares asks.

Future Opportunities Involve Looking Up

AGS and Groom Energy are next planning HVAC related improvements that include adding variable frequency drives to ventilation systems and intelligent controls for packaged rooftop units. Tavares says he’s also looking at the outdoor lighting, and at ways to bring heat down to the floor from the facility’s 30-foot high ceilings.

“These projects provide great financial and environmental benefits as they lower our costs and demonstrate our commitment to reducing carbon emissions,” Tavares says. “Groom Energy’s comprehensive approach was crucial for us to identify and implement this level of energy savings.

“When we went into the project, the numbers were big, so everyone wanted to see them. Now we have results, and that 55%? We’re confident of that.”

Representatives from AGS will present a case study on this project on a webinar on March 12, 2013.