According to the Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy Star program, there are approximately 657,000 retail buildings in the United States—representing about 13.5 percent of all U.S. commercial space—and consuming approximately $21 billion worth of energy annually. In its 2007 “Facts About Store Development” report, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Arlington, Va., noted retailers are increasingly hiring energy management personnel to aid in adapting processes, store operations, transportation and, in some cases, warehousing to minimize the dramatic increases in energy prices in recent years. Electrical contractors are in a unique position to use their expertise to help retailers realize the benefits of improved energy management strategies.

There are three key components in retail establishments that can be upgraded for improved management of energy, according to Andy McMillan, president of Teletrol Systems Inc., Manchester, N.H., a provider of multisite retail energy management systems.

“Retailers can upgrade heating, lighting and refrigeration systems to newer, more efficient equipment and can upgrade controls to better manage energy consumption,” he said.

In addition, integration of lighting controls and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems provides greater coordination of energy consumption, according to Mike Smith, design engineer at Kaiser Electric Inc., Fenton, Mo. The company recently installed an energy management system in a Whole Foods Market in Town and Country, Mo., which consisted of installing new lighting fixtures, lamps sources and HVAC equipment and integrating them for remote or local control by headquarters or the on-site store manager.

“The refrigeration units and controls were also integrated into the system to allow remote monitoring and to ensure constant and efficient operation,” said Brian Litteken, manager of Kaiser’s communications department.

In addition to system integration, remote monitoring and operations controls, retrocommissioning—the recommissioning of existing facilities and equipment—is an opportunity for the retailer to reduce energy consumption and for the electrical contractor to increase offerings and provide value in the retail segment.

“The original system commissioning may have been rushed to meet construction schedules. In addition, equipment can become degraded over time and lose efficiencies,” McMillan said. “Retrocommissioning allows the facility to re-examine operational parameters and examine long-term operations and make adjustments to increase energy efficiency.”

Retrocommissioning also helps existing facilities set energy usage benchmarks and develop plans to reduce consumption and become Energy Star compliant.

“Retrocommissioning is an opportunity for electrical contractors to help facility managers get better control over energy usage and identify problems, which can then be rectified through repair, refined maintenance or upgrade,” Smith said.

According to Bill Greer, director of communications for FMI, retailers are focusing on lighting to reduce energy consumption. According to FMI’s “Facts About Store Development Report,” eight in 10 retailers who responded to survey questions are now using LED lighting, while 15 percent are planning to do so in the next five years. More than one-third are using skylights in their stores to reduce lighting costs, with an additional 22 percent planning to include them in the next five years. Almost three out of four retailers also have begun using motion detectors to save energy, Greer said.

Other energy-saving trends include examining the possibility of recovering the heat generated by HVAC operations and using it for temperature control inside, adjusting temperature levels in stores through programmable control systems, replacing motors in refrigeration systems with more energy-efficient products, and requiring energy-efficient equipment and systems when remodeling facilities.

“We are also seeing retailers choosing to retrofit existing buildings for new stores rather than building new facilities,” Greer said. “All of these trends are opportunities for electrical contractors to provide expertise and to install the necessary systems.”

Smith said electrical contractors should work with their customers to further improve energy savings.

“The retail market is an opportunity for electrical contractors to educate their customers on how to become Energy Star-compliant, assist them in developing an energy consumption reduction plan, and work with facilities to better control energy costs,” he said.

Although alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind, are not widely applied in the retail segment, it is a market electrical contractors should keep an eye on, Greer said. In FMI’s 2005–2006 annual financial review, 2.1 percent of respondents already were using some alternative energy. In one year, that number grew to 7 percent, and according to FMI’s 2006–2007 report, 29.8 percent of retail establishments are now considering some form of alternative energy.

“Tax credits for the use of renewable energy is another incentive for retail establishments to use alternative energy as part of an overall focus on sustainability, and another long-term opportunity for electrical contractors,” Greer said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.