Whether for cost, environmental concerns or a need to comply with regulations, many businesses are focusing on reducing their energy consumption. And while acting environmentally responsible is its own reward, business owners have also found that taking steps toward becoming more energy-efficient can improve their company’s bottom line — especially if they focus on installing or updating their HVAC systems. As more businesses improve their energy usage, the hope is that the state of Arkansas will become a bigger participant in the role of energy conservation.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the major areas of energy consumption in commercial buildings are heating, ventilation and air conditioning. During peak hours, the three account for 41 percent of total building energy: heating, 3 percent; cooling, 22 percent; and ventilation, 16 percent. The DOE also noted in 2018 that buildings are the single largest energy-consuming sector in the U.S. economy, representing approximately 75 percent of the nation’s electricity use and 40 percent of its total energy demand (U.S. Energy Information Administration 2018).
When it comes to energy efficiency, Arkansas has average rankings. Sierra Club Arkansas Chapter Director Glen Hooks calls the state a “mixed bag.” The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Arkansas 33rd in terms of effective energy-efficiency policies in the 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the same position it held in 2019. However, the state scored a half-point less than in 2019, earning 13.5 points out of a possible 50. Hooks noted that utilities are performing well, spurred by state targets and incentives, but too many large industrial energy users are opting to not participate.
“Energy-efficiency measures are often thought of as the least ‘glamorous’ area of sustainability but are incredibly important,” Hooks said. “The cheapest energy ever produced is the energy we don’t need to produce at all. Energy efficiency is the safest, cleanest and most affordable way to meet energy demand. Utilities that do not vigorously pursue efficiency are putting the interests of profit and shareholders before the needs of their customers.”
Powers of Arkansas CEO Alan Hope shares a similar view: “The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you don’t use.” As the leader of the largest privately held HVAC/controls/service company in the state, Hope acknowledged that solar and other renewable energy sources are valuable on the production side but is certain that implementing Building Automation and Control (BAC) systems is a more effective route towards energy efficiency.
Hope said BAC systems can manage a commercial building’s energy use in a way that reduces its need for kilowatt hours in the first place. Modern BAC systems work to cut heating, cooling, lighting and other energy costs while still maintaining proper comfort levels for residents or workers.
Finding energy efficiency through BAC systems is not a new concept. Powers worked with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences several years ago to add 1.4 million square feet of conditioned space without increasing its energy footprint, thanks in part to BAC systems and energy-efficient equipment. According to Hope, the project continues to save tax dollars “while keeping patients, students and employees comfortable.” And Powers continues to work on similar projects across the state.
Hope for the Future
Energy savings and consumption will always be a moving target, but the hope is that society will continue finding ways to conserve energy that benefit the environment and businesses at the same time. According to a recent report from E2, Arkansas has thousands of jobs directly related to energy efficiency.
“These are the kinds of good-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced,” Hooks said. “Arkansans are weatherizing homes and businesses, installing energy-efficient appliances and generally improving the quality of life in our communities.”
Hope is optimistic about the state’s outlook in terms of energy efficiency, noting that even though there is room for improvement, the systems and equipment available today are far more efficient than a decade ago.
“We have a lot of architects, engineers, developers and building owners and managers who work every day to raise the bar,” Hope noted. “All you have to do is look at the number of LEED-certified facilities that have come online in recent years.”
There always will be more work to do in terms of energy efficiency, Hope said. He stressed the importance of incentivizing full participation from all businesses, along with modernizing building codes and fully embracing electric vehicles and infrastructure. The business climate is good, he said.
The Powers Approach to Energy Efficiency
Headquartered in Little Rock, Powers of Arkansas is currently designing, installing, upgrading and servicing more than 100 Building Automation and Control (BAC) systems across the state. The BAC projects serve a variety of clients including health care, higher education, K-12 schools, commercial buildings, industrial facilities and government buildings. And similar to the work done with UAMS, other large buildings are upgrading air heating and air conditioning without increasing their energy footprint.
In completing these considerable projects, Powers is expected to create a dramatic impact on energy usage across the state in the coming years. In addition to current BAC work, the company has other large projects ahead. One includes a project for Baptist Health. Another is with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which is in the design phase of an expansion.