Sunday, April 08, 2001

Saving energy = saving money

Companies look for ways to trim use of electricity

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        The worst of times in the energy market might prove the best of times for one company that helps businesses become more energy-efficient.

        With energy experts predicting that prices will remain high for natural gas and other sources of energy, many companies are seeing real savings in reducing their use of electricity. And that means business for Sharonville-based Eco Engineering.

[photo] Thomas Kirkpatrick, president of Eco Engineering, says the technology available today makes it possible for companies to reduce operating costs but trimming energy costs.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Most CEOs, presidents and chief financial officers haven't looked at energy as an opportunity to reduce operating costs, but the technology available today makes it possible,” said Thomas L. Kirkpatrick, Eco's president. “It takes awareness of a situation like California's for some businesses to realize that energy is a very specific limited resource. Energy conservation really makes sense for customers.”

        The firm does three things, Mr. Kirkpatrick said:

        • An energy audit and consultation of a client's facilities.

        “We look at their entire energy bill and consult on the whole spectrum of costs that drive their electric bill,” he said.

        • Installation of energy-efficient lighting upgrades.

        • Maintenance of those lighting fixtures so they continue to operate as efficiently as possible.

        Why just focus on lighting?

    Eco Engineering was founded in 1993 by engineer Ed Harary. Its sales had grown to $1.2 million a year by 1998, when the company was bought by Tom Kirkpatrick. Since then, sales have increased sharply; Mr. Kirkpatrick predicts that current-year sales will top $7 million.
    Mr. Kirkpatrick says opportunities are tremendous because only about 20 percent of buildings in Greater Cincinnati were built with efficient lighting or have been upgraded.
    Eco Engineering's number of employees has grown from six in 1998 to 25 now. The firm plans to add 10 to 15 employees in the next year, and moved in March to its Sharonville location, more than doubling its space.
    Mr. Kirkpatrick himself is not an engineer.
    “I spent 17 years at Procter & Gamble,” he said. “I'm an expert on people development. I'm committed to finding and developing people who have passion and want to make a difference in the world. It is enormously satisfying for me to come to work each day knowing that each time we complete a project, we've made our own little dent in improving the global environment.”
    Eco Engineering is at 11815 Highway Drive, Suite 600. The company can be reached at 985-8300 or
        “Lighting typically accounts for 40 to 60 percent of a company's electric load,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said. “Those costs are especially high for warehouses and retail establishments. The electric cost is a function of how many lights they use, what they are using them for, and how long they're on.”

        Eco Engineering is part of the EPA's Energy Star Buildings Partnership, in which the government outlines a five-stage process by which businesses can reduce their energy consumption while preserving — or even improving — the quality of the work environment. The new lighting brings less glare and lower maintenance costs than traditional fluorescent fixtures and certainly than incandescent lighting.

        “Incandescent light bulbs are energy gluttons. About 85 percent of their energy is translated into heat. A compact fluorescent bulb uses one-third of the energy and lasts 10 times longer.”

        The new fluorescents also burn much cooler, which is why energy engineers strongly recommend that a company change its lighting technology before looking at its HVAC system, for instance.

        Said Mr. Kirkpatrick: “Don't install new heating and air-conditioning until you have new lighting in place, because you won't know the size of your load. Lighting upgrades provide the easiest, fastest payback for a company.”

        Mr. Kirkpatrick said the energy reduction of a typical $100,000 job is equivalent to removing about 200 vehicles from the road, because of reduced power-plant emissions.

        That message didn't always resonate with many Cincinnati-area companies, but the increasing energy crunch and the successes of Eco's customers have generated growing demand for its services. The firm's sales have tripled in the last 18 months.

        “Our energy savings will recover the cost of retrofitting our lighting system,” John F. Hunter, director of property development for Frisch's, said after the restaurant chain began working with Eco Engineering.

        Said Wanda Wagner, general manager of Kenwood Towne Centre: “The shopping-center business is highly competitive, and we are constantly challenged to find creative ways to lower our operating expenses. By working with Eco, we were able to retrofit all of the fluorescent lighting throughout the mall. This will save us almost $30,000 per year on energy costs, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the new lighting was actually an improvement over what we previously had.”

        To help customers pay for the upgrades, which average $100,000, Eco Engineering offers its shared-savings program. The cost of materials and labor is paid back from the client's energy savings, which are usually about 50 percent and can reach 70 percent, Mr. Kirkpatrick said.

        “About two-thirds of our customers take advantage of the program,” he said, adding the companies like the prospect of installing the new technology at no greater cost than their current energy bill.”
        “Most of our customers have not taken steps to invest in energy savings. Their priority is investing to grow their core business. This program is designed to give them an opportunity to move forward.

        “We like to say: "Helping you consume less energy is our business. What you do with the savings is yours. What it does for the environment is everyone's.'”

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