You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate the value of going green in your broadcast facilities. With energy costs now outpacing inflation by a wide margin, saving energy and recycling are obvious expense cut targets.
If you are planning a new facility, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification makes sense for long term energy cost savings as well as public relations value. But you don’t have to go all that way to shave costs while not overwhelming your capital budget.
Utility companies are motivated to boost energy savings. Less demand means fewer generation plant and transmission facilities investments required. And public utility commissions are demanding accountability in conservation efforts during rate setting hearings. The state government and local utility provide generous tax credits or rebates on efficiency projects as long as you follow the rules. There are some initiatives in which the utility will hire someone to come in and upgrade your facility at no cost. I’ve attended San Diego Gas and Electric’s Energy Symposiums for the past two years and have been surprised at the depth of the presentations and sheer number of low cost energy savings products and services available. The continental breakfast, full lunch, and door prizes weren’t bad, either. Check out their website for more information.
What you can do
For our facility, this was the low hanging fruit. We could stand on the third floor on a sunny day and literally feel the heat radiating down from the roof. In 2005, I had R30 insulation stuffed between the metal roof trusses and that changed the atmosphere on the upper floor drastically. SDG&E later announced rebates on commercial R30 insulation upgrades, and they’re still available. Investment payback depends on a few factors, but it looks like our investment will break even next summer.
Lighting takes a surprising proportion of your facility’s electric bill. SDG&E will pay to upgrade your fluorescent lamp ballasts to low consumption types, and someone will just show up to count the fixtures and change them out. Consider installing proximity detectors for less used lights in hallways, break rooms, and restrooms. For exterior wall offices, if you have the proper window film or awnings, you may be able to turn off your office lighting altogether and save on air conditioning at the same time. I like awnings on south and west facing windows because you can block the high summer sun and pass the low winter sun. If your building uses single pane glass, you can get rebates on window film installation in San Diego. Single story buildings can use skylights and light tunnels. Some people like to use simple task lighting instead of harsh overhead fluorescents, so passing out a few LED desk lamps may save substantial money over a few years.
TV Studio lighting is going through a revolution, converting to fluorescent and LED fixtures. You’d be surprised at how well manufacturers are addressing the colorimetry, dimming control, and focus issues. The fluorescent guys claim LEDs have a way to go with color spectrum, but I liked the demo I saw at the NAB Convention. The White House Press Room recently converted to LEDs, as did some CBS studios. This is huge because you not only save on lighting power, but air conditioning.
In a session on LED lighting, I learned about new parking lot lamps that detect motion and turn on in groups to serve only those active regions. This not only decreases consumption and light pollution, but increases security since bodies in motion activate lighting. You can change your exit signs with LED versions to save 95% of consumption. And if your signs are near a window, the luminescent versions need no power at all.
I was bothered by coming into our news studio unoccupied during the day and on weekends and finding the air conditioner on full cool. You can’t put that function dependably on a timer because the studio might be occupied at odd hours with production. And putting in a manual thermostat means that it will be invariably left at full blast cool. Our HVAC management program, still running MS-DOS, just wasn’t smart enough to deal with more intelligence. So we had our junior engineer Mina Zaki program a small embedded computer to take inputs from a lighting current transformer, an exit door, and a proximity detector. Now, when the studio lights aren’t on, the HVAC backs off from full blast to a comfortable room temperature. And if no one is detected in the room or someone leaves the hall door open, it backs off to an even higher temp. We’re saving about $8,000 a year in electricity costs.
There are huge advances in facility controls and HVAC science that lead to reduced consumption. New chillers, controls that use proximity detection, and more efficient heat exchangers and motors all help to save.
SDG&E has just adopted Critical Peak Pricing, meaning that your medium or large business will be hit with big rates during critical system consumption peak periods this summer. Unfortunately, broadcasters can’t readily control their consumption during hot summer afternoons–the 5 PM news must go on. What can you do?
Our facility was just outfitted with generator controls and pollution filters that will take us to go off the grid during times when SDG&E determines there is a “Critical Peak.” Their contractor installed all the equipment and will maintain and fuel our 600 kW generator at no cost to us. This will allow us to bypass the critical peak rates and still use the generator during emergency power outages.
The only thing green about the peak generation program is that the utility can avoid installing new generators. Given some capital, I’d rather install solar or fuel cell generators and really cut the bill.
Last year, we toured the fuel cell generators at the Sheraton Hotels on Harbor Island. They’re truly off the grid except during cell maintenance periods, and they use the excess heat for their pools. Jeff Cox of FuelCell Energy explained that you may be able to do the conversion at zero, or near zero cost. There are investment companies willing to lease the power plants to you for about what you pay for your energy bills. The “gotcha” for us was that the fuel cells work best under constant load. A TV station with incandescent studio lamps going on and off at various times means you would have to plan the generators for the lightest load, and the savings may not be there. A hotel, with its guests using air conditioning by day and lights in random numbers by night is a nearly ideal load, as would be a multiple shift manufacturing plant.
The climate in San Diego inland seems to say solar is the way to go, but the payback is still pretty far out. There’s nothing to keep you from installing a few cells on the roof and applying for subsidies, but cell chemistry is changing rapidly enough that I’m staying on the sideline for the time being.
Our IT guys started putting some of our servers on VMWare recently. The idea is to consolidate your servers to maximize the processing so that you use one processor running at 40% duty cycle rather than, say, six each running at 5 to 8% duty cycle. It turns out that this trend is huge, and processing intensive companies are realizing millions in savings in power and cooling costs, not to mention the savings just in square footage of IT racks. You may not want to do this for critical media playout and capture servers, but everything else can share.
Are you ducting your heat away from your racks? If you are just cooling a room full of racks without consideration to thermodynamics, you are wasting a huge amount of energy. Middle Atlantic has a great white paper on thermal management that will help you keep from reheating waste air.
How do your IT facility policies deal with energy? For one, with Windows, you can now enforce desktop energy savings by having your monitors go black after periods on non-use. You can also have processors hibernate and have their hard drives spin down.
Just Do It
Being able to turn in a few thousand dollars of expense savings for your plant can’t hurt your career. And know that you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of resources to help out for free or on the cheap, so you have no excuse.