The Low Hanging Fruit in Your Commercial Building—How to Upgrade And Consume Energy Intelligently

By Bonnie Hagen, Chief Operating Officer of Bright Energy Services and Bud Hammer, President of Atlantic Westchester

Do you have Building Efficiency Envy?

Efficiency can be defined as the ratio of useful work performed in a process to the total energy expended.

In this day and age, we are all trying to increase efficiency in our everyday busy lives for the single purpose of accomplishing more in less allowable time. Translated to a building, can we squeeze the same if not more out, from less input? If so, we have increased our efficiency! The world is moving at a fast pace and technology is advancing at a faster pace than any of us can keep up with. The good news is that this presents fantastic opportunities for all of us to improve our building efficiency.

Whether you own/operate a commercial building or rent an apartment, you can enjoy the potential of increased energy efficiency, thanks to awareness and technology. Solar electricity generation, LED lighting, natural gas for heat and hot water, building management control systems that wake buildings up and put them to sleep based on occupancy are a few examples of how to improve building efficiency. There’s juicy fruit hanging all around us. Simply stated, the most efficient light is the one that’s not turned on.

Thanks to technology and the internet of things, energy is now something that can be easily measured. Similar to a car whose dashboard provides key performance indicators (KPI’s) to its driver (gas mileage, tire pressure, how many miles to the next destination, etc.), a building can also provide feedback in a dashboard format to let you know how it’s performing in real time. The adage that you can’t manage something you can’t measure is true and that has dramatically changed in building technology.

In our area, electricity is expensive compared to other parts of the country and thanks to a growing population that wants their spaces air conditioned, the electricity supply dwindles during those hot, endless summer days. Blackouts and aged infrastructure have forced us to pay attention to the reality of the situation and technology and awareness education have allowed us to find solutions.

Put your money where your mouth is…

Known as a true challenge to check the integrity of a concept, the local utility through a directive from the Public Service Commission has been offering the marketplace subsidies and incentives to improve building energy efficiency performance. So much, in fact that investing in making a building more efficient has turned into a profit center for many building owners that can take advantage of the incentives and technology. The building that becomes less expensive to operate, while being upgraded to modern day convenience improves to the point that the property becomes more desirable to potential tenants and many are willing to spend more per square foot to inhabit. In business, it’s generally accepted that you have to spend money to make money. If an entity is willing to help offset your investment, isn’t it worthwhile to at least consider the options particularly if the result is great benefit to your bottom line and can also help the asset preservation and appreciation? Another indirect benefit of improving building efficiency is increasing the competitive advantage over non-efficient buildings.

Where/How do you begin?

HVAC systems and building lighting combined consume most of the energy in a building. Speak to your local utility rep, HVAC or electrical service provider, and/or lighting/energy consultant to have them help assess the opportunities in your existing building. Many of us have been educated and trained to work together to help achieve the best return for the investment. We can help measure the efficiency performance in an existing facility and identify improvements with investment cost and return on investment. Coupled with “low cost” financing, we are trained to help repurpose operating budgets to help pay for the improvements without a negative change to cashflow. In some cases, we can demonstrate how the investment becomes positive cashflow! You may be sitting on a goldmine of opportunity and we are all ready to help you dig up that gold.

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White Plains Mayor Tom Roach and Sustainable White Plains Committee Chair, Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona, has appointed Bonnie Hagen, Chief Operating Officer of Bright Energy Services, to the newly formed Sustainable White Plains Committee. Bonnie is one member of the 10 person committee that brings together the best experts in the city in the fields of Energy, Transportation/Mobility, Land Use, Waste Reduction, Recycling, Green Products, and Water Resources.

Recognizing that sustainability has come to the forefront of how we live, work, and play, Mayor Roach wants to implement measures to improve the environment of the City. In an email to the newly formed committee prior to its first meeting, Chair Councilwoman Lecuona stated that “Several important events related to sustainability has occurred at the county level and so it is important for White Plains to participate in these environmentally relevant initiatives, especially since we have a great group of dedicated residents willing to help the city continue growing in its leadership in the county.”

Bonnie brings valuable and diverse knowledge and experience to this committee. Bonnie will help to identify and implement energy efficiency projects and climate change strategies that will result in reduced utility costs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased public health and safety.

At the first Sustainable White Plains meeting, Bonnie and Councilwoman Lecuona presented to the rest of the committee the benefits of White Plains joining the Climate Smart Community Program. The Climate Smart Community Program is a state and local partnership consisting of a strong network of over 130 local governments throughout the state working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a changing climate and save taxpayers money. The Sustainable White Plains committee unanimously approved asking the Mayor to sign the pledge to join the program and take active steps towards implementing climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.  Hagen is enthusiastically moving the initiative forward, stating that “White Plains has been on the cutting edge of environmental initiatives, but we still have so much to do. Our goal is to improve the environment and save the tax payers money.” She continues, “I live and work in White Plains.  I want to do all that I can for my hometown.”

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Virtual Audits Uncover Surprising Trends in Building Efficiency

Within the past few years there have been a handful of companies developing virtual auditing services. Virtual audits, also known as no-touch audits or rapid energy modeling, are not yet an industry standard, however they continue to gain a lot of popularity due to our country’s determination to become more sustainable.

Through profiling a building’s energy consumption using meter data, mapping tools, and even pictures of the structure, virtual audits offer a faster, lower cost way of targeting efficiency opportunities. They may not be as detailed as putting an auditor on site or comply with local laws for energy auditing or retro-commissioning, but they can help energy and utility service professionals quickly find the best targets for efficiency opportunities. With so many buildings getting virtual audits done, companies are finding some interesting trends among the data. Here are a few of them:

  • Many of the efficiency opportunities were just simple behavior changes and tweaks in operations. If scaled up to the entire commercial building stock across the US, it is estimated that that there could be around $17 billion in savings with no equipment retrofits at all.
  • There is a pretty big difference between high potential buildings and low potential buildings than may appear. Studies show that the top 20 percent of buildings sampled had savings potential of more than 40 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of buildings only offered 3 percent savings. This proves the importance of prioritization for utilities and organizations with large portfolios of buildings.
  • The heating and cooling equipment typically represent the highest proportion of energy consumption in facilities, but not always does it offer the best savings. For example, although lighting may only make up 15 percent of energy use in a commercial building, it can offer more than 30 percent of the energy savings potential because of the quick payback.

While these trends identified through virtual audits are enlightening, a comprehensive on-site building evaluation may still be necessary — both in terms of measures and how combinations of measures fit within each decision-maker’s specific goals and thresholds. Any one building may have a huge incremental savings opportunity when all of the options are considered.  Bright Energy Services can help you determine if a virtual audit or a comprehensive audit is right for your facility. Give us a call today at (347) 470-7090 to learn more.

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NYC Local Law 87 2014

The second cycle of New York City Local Law 87 is here and it’s time for nearly 1,500 buildings whose tax lot numbers end with the number “4” to starting getting serious about completing their energy audits and retro-commissioning requirements. The deadline is December 31, 2014, and the process can take a few months if all goes smoothly.

Local Law 87 mandates energy audits and retro-commissioning performed for practically all buildings in New York City and the boroughs with a gross square footage of 50,000 or more. This requirement covers all types of facilities regardless of zoning type or ownership. Last year, a number of non-complying buildings received hefty fines and will continue to be subjected to $5,000 fines for each additional year of non-compliance. These are buildings situated in tax blocks ending in a”3” and failed to submit a comprehensive Energy Efficiency Report filed by December 31, 2013. The Department of Finance has taken a firm stance regarding excuses of “failure-to-file.” If you building’s tax lot number ends in a “4”, don’t let yourself end up in non-compliance with hefty fines.

Although the local law may appear to be conceived solely to collect fines, there are some very well meaning intentions to it that are aimed to reduce energy-related costs. Such cost savings will typically be worth the cost of compliance. The final audit reports will have a thorough schedule of recommended energy saving measures, that when employed, will yield reduced operational expenses. Savings from reduced energy consumption are reflected in utility bills which can be significant over time. Furthermore, Con Edison and NYSERDA is offering funding to assist in offsetting the upfront costs of the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

Property owners are ultimately responsible for complying with the law, but selecting a qualified energy auditor and retro-commissioning agent (who must not be a member of the building staff) can be difficult. Bright Energy Services can help you through the entire Local Law 87 compliance process. Give us a call today at (347) 470-7090 to learn more.

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Due to the anticipated decommissioning of the Indian Point Energy Center in 2016, Westchester County and New York City will likely experience very serious energy shortages. In attempt to mitigate power outages during peak hours, Con Edison and NYSERDA have jointly introduced a Demand Management Program totaling $285 million in incentive dollars to promote green energy. This program builds on existing programs and streamlines the process between Con Edison and NYSERDA for existing commercial and industrial buildings.

Specifically targeted are commercial and industrial customers with high on-peak demand and developers of large-scale projects. Those who are able to switch from electric cooling methods will see the most substantial benefits. However, the program will likely be expanding its scope and depth of solutions for as many types of facilities as necessary to curve the potential energy shortfall. Some eligibility requirements include:

  • Con Edison customer paying under Monthly Adjustment Clause (MAC)
  • 50kW or more combined peak demand reduction
  • Project completion and operational by June 1, 2016

A facility’s on-peak hours is defined as its energy load from 2 PM to 6 PM on weekdays from June through September. Incentives can fund up to 50% of a project’s costs with bonuses available to customers achieving larger on-peak load reductions over 500kW. With the Demand Management Program, commercial and industrial customers can quadruple their current incentive funding. However, any changes to equipment must not begin until a technical review and inspection is completed.

As always, it is advisable to consider a facility upgrade as soon as possible to take advantage of the program’s limited funding and timing constraints. As the cost of energy rises and high-performing energy upgrades are more and more incentivized, payback for most projects are less than three years. Whether it is lighting, HVAC, controls, demand response enablement, thermal storage, battery storage, or fuel switching, Bright Energy Services can take the headache out of the entire process for you. In the end, you will be saving money and the environment. Give us a call today at (347) 470-7090 to learn if your facility is eligible for the Demand Management Program!

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Introduction to Passive Houses

The term “passive house” originates from its German counterpart “passivhaus.” It is among most stringent standard in building energy efficiency today, with a typical carbon footprint 20% that of a conventional building. The passive house is accomplished by, among other things, the implementation of dedicated heat transfer ventilation systems and super insulation that significantly reduce heat transfer through walls, windows, flooring, and roofs. Passive houses require a very small amount of space heating and cooling because their tight envelopes preserve relatively constant indoor air psychrometrics. In effect, a passive house can cut down the need for active heating and cooling, which, is by far the greatest source of energy consumption within a building.

The Passive House movement has been around in Europe for about two decades and is just starting to take off in the United States. The slow adaptation is partly due to the 10 to 15 percent higher construction cost due to the need to import specialized European parts. As of 2010, an estimated 25,000 passive houses were present in Europe while there were only about a dozen in the US. By 2021, a European Union directive will come into effect where the passive house will become the construction standard for every European building. Although its name suggests a residential undertaking, the passive house standard can be implemented in institutional and commercial buildings such as high-rises, and supermarkets as well as institutional buildings such as college dormitories.

The passive house standard necessitates that a building fulfills certain conditions. It must consume under 4.75 kBtu per square foot of floor area annually in both cooling and in heating energy; the total primary energy consumption must be less than 38 kBtu by the same measure; and the number of air changes per hour in the building space must be below 0.6 while pressurized to 0.2 inches of water column. In addition, there are comfort criteria that must be met where indoor surface temperature variations must be kept to specified minimums. Having met such standards, a passive house can typically eliminate the need for a conventional heating system. Instead, the passive house can be sustained with a reduced-sized supplemental furnace or heat pump whose warmth is distributed by a continuously running, low-flow heat recovery ventilator system (HRV).

A passive house is designed so that most of the air exchange with the outdoors is accomplished by controlled ventilation through an air-to-air heat-exchanger in order to curtail indoor temperature changes during unfavorable weather conditions. Humidity is carefully controlled by sealing all joints, ductwork and wall penetrations. In addition, low energy ground source heat exchangers can pre-cool or pre-heat incoming air to temperatures closer to those of the exhausted air, as well as to provide frost protection for the HRV unit in the wintertime. Passive houses are characterized by having the same indoor temperature throughout due to HRV registers installed in most rooms. Furthermore, air quality is always remarkably clean due to air filtration in HRV units.

The need for an extreme level of air tightness requires a passive house design to incorporate with the architectural planning and conceptualization phases rather than as an add-on to existing buildings. In addition to walls, windows used in passive houses are manufactured with remarkably high R-values and thermal properties. It is customary for the windows of a passive house to lose the same amount of heat (very low) to the outdoors as its super insulated exterior walls, while being able to trap heat from the winter sun. To accomplish this, a triple-pane insulated glazing filled with noble gases, with air seals around thermally broken frames, are used. With passive solar gains and waste heat from household appliances and electronic devices, occupants can be comfortable in the winter in a passive house without a heater. Furthermore, indoor air temperature changes due to the opening of windows and doors are resilient and are quick to return to previous levels.

The passive house will undoubtedly assert itself in the American commercial and residential real estate market in the coming future. The energy crisis may be grim, but with the billions of dollars already saved in energy costs in Europe with the passive house standard, there is hope for sustainability in the future. Give us a call today at (347) 470-7090 if you are interested in implementing the passive house standard for a future project or if you would like to upgrade your existing facility with energy efficiency measures.

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The Clean Power Plan

On June 2nd, President Obama proposed a massive U.S. carbon regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act. Using executive power, the President issued a new rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Consequences of this rule are reductions in smog, soot, and premature deaths due to respiratory diseases. According to Obama’s announcement, a projected 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided over the first year and will rise from there. By 2030, carbon dioxide emissions are expected to drop to 70% of 2005 levels, thus promoting and protecting public health.

Pollution related ailments are mainly caused by particulate matter in the air, typically consisting of liquid and solid particles that contain various allergens, toxic sulfates, nitrates, and metals such as arsenic. In addition to asthma and heart attacks, presence of such particulate matter are proven to cause respiratory tract infections, lung cancer, lung development issues in children and a host of cardiopulmonary diseases. Every year, roughly 800,000 early deaths occur around the world as the due to combustion-related emissions, a quarter of which are in the United States.

Although toxic pollutants can come from natural sources such as volcanic eruptions, man-made sources are the major contributors in urban settings. Particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter predominantly arise from combustion processes such as automobile engine operation, fossil fuel fired power plants, and other man-made undertakings such as mining, the development of raw materials, and metallurgy.

The rule particularly targets carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the lion’s share of the country’s electricity generation. Approximately 40% of electricity in the US is generated using coal-fired power plants. The EPA already has issued proposals for capping carbon pollution from new power plants last year, and has just issued the rules for existing and modified/reconstructed power plants. This is a major step forward for the US in terms of environmental awareness. European countries such as Germany and Sweden rely on coal-fired plants to generate only 15% of their electricity.

The new rule allows the EPA to regulate pollution from existing sources. State regulators can design strategies to either meet or exceed EPA guidelines and it is up to individual states what approach to take. In 2007, U.S. Supreme Court upheld the EPA’s rights to set standards for carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to global warming. Consequently, the EPA has fallen into the executive branch’s authority to take precedence over the legislative branch if the latter is unable to settle on federal carbon emissions regulations.

By sustaining their efforts, the EPA is expecting to reduce particulate pollution by 25%, avoid thousands of premature deaths, avoid half a million missed school and work days, all the while cutting electricity bills by eight percent by 2030. Contact Bright Energy Services at (347) 470-7090 to learn what you can do to measure and reduce your carbon emissions.

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Air Conditioning Use Furthers Demand

Many studies have shown that heat generated by air conditioners at night raised outdoor temperatures, intensifying the heat island effect in urban settings. This positive feedback effect, in turn, escalates the demand for cooling. It was found by Arizona State University that while waste heat peaked during the daytime, the effects were most consequential during the night where the mean air temperature rose nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in deep urban settings. A smaller amount of excess heat emitted during the night can increase the air temperature more compared to a greater quantity released during the daytime when the hot sun is out.

Air conditioning systems account for over half of the total electricity consumption during peak summer days and really drains the electrical grid. Rapidly expanding metropolises are the most susceptible to increases in cooling demand. To conform to ever-stringent sustainability policies, it is critical to study and contain excess heat waste produced by air conditioners.

The research shows that discharge of waste heat increases the outdoor temperature and as a result escalates electrical consumption required for cooling. The investigation of this feedback made use of a building energy model and an atmospheric model that were dynamically united. The atmospheric model supplied the building energy model with outdoor conditions, the size and shapes of buildings, and factors such as wind speed. The building energy model then provided the atmospheric model with the heat fluxes linked to the energy consumption of air conditioning systems within the buildings.

According to the Department of Energy, summertime extreme-heat days are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change, bestowing real challenges for the energy sector and electrical grid. Dependable methods are needed for projecting energy demands that can help to inform and support in the future planning of sustainable energy needs of rapidly growing urban areas.

Sustainable development and optimization of electricity consumption in cities would require turning wasted heat from air conditioners into useful energy which can be utilized inside homes and commercial buildings for various purposes including, for example, water heaters. More recently, heat recovery ventilators have gained a presence in the US. By using HRVs, which are essentially very efficient air-to-air heat exchangers, facilities can cut their cooling (and heating) loads in the summer and winter months by up two thirds while enjoying the luxury of fresh air. Furthermore, a modern HRV system can operate on as little energy as a single light bulb! Applying these plans would achieve several goals: successfully reducing the heat island effect at night, reducing air condition electricity use on a city level and providing a real example of urban climate alleviation. Call BES today at (347) 470-7090 to find out what you can do to save on your facility energy costs without sacrificing comfort.

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WGBC Recognition

From left to right: Dani Glaser, Founder/CEO of Green Team Spirit & Westchester Green Business Challenge; Jim Collingham, Owner of The Colonial Needle Company; Marsha Gordon, President & CEO of the Business Council of Westchester; Kevin Plunkett, Deputy County Executive of Westchester County.

From left to right: Dani Glaser, Founder/CEO of Green Team Spirit & Westchester Green Business Challenge; Jim Collingham, Owner of The Colonial Needle Company; Marsha Gordon, President & CEO of the Business Council of Westchester; Kevin Plunkett, Deputy County Executive of Westchester County.

On June 5th, one of Bright Energy Service’s clients, The Colonial Needle Company of White Plains, NY, was recognized for their extraordinary energy efficiency efforts. Hosted at the Crowne Plaza White Plains, the 4th annual Westchester Green Business Challenge (WGBC) announced the outstanding achievements of Colonial Needles as one of six Westchester-based companies implementing sustainable business practices. Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino and Dr. Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester proclaimed and recognized the exceptional undertakings of Colonial Needle in the category of Energy.

The Colonial Needle Company, located in White Plains, NY is housed in two adjoining buildings and offers a broad range of needles, yarns, and other accessories designed to suit the needs of sewing, quilting, stitching, and knitting devotees of all skill levels. Constructed in the 1930s, the facility has had minimal modifications. The buildings had major energy issues including old drafty windows, high energy expenses, ineffective heating system, over-lighting and more. The cost for energy inefficiency was adversely affecting the bottom-line. The owners of Colonial Needle, Jim and Terry Collingham, decided to invest in and upgrade the buildings for energy efficiency. Jim Collingham contacted BES to do an investment grade energy audit with energy modeling and to help them identify financial rebates that were available for the energy efficiency projects that were recommended.

BES provided technical advice, reviewed vendor information, and managed the effort to receive financial incentives from the local utility and from the State of New York for a full array of energy upgrades such as installing more energy-efficient windows, insulation, lighting, and replacing an oil-fired boiler with a smaller gas-fired unit with programmable thermostats. The roofs were converted into cool roofs with light-colored materials and greater insulation. Colonial Needle installed a solar-powered hot water system and a 60 kW solar PV system to provide for most of their electrical needs. The yearly savings in utility costs amount to approximately 65%.

As a result of BES’s efforts, Colonial Needle achieved significant energy usage reductions, improved its staff’s working conditions, secured approximately $10,000 in financial incentives from multiple agencies, secured a tax deduction of $1.80 per square foot through EPAct IRS Code 179D, and enabled its space to be more attractive for leasing. All this was done while freeing Colonial Needle’s management to focus on its core business activities. In addition to their contribution to Colonial Needle’s successful energy programs, BES was recognized for its leadership as a green business in Westchester County and for their contribution to Colonial Needle. Call us today at (347) 470-7090 to learn what opportunities are available for your facility!

Click here to read Mr. Collingham's speech
Thank you, Dani, Scott, and Jana for recognizing the efforts that Colonial Needle has made in becoming more energy efficient. It is a pleasure to be here today!

I originally started these projects in an attempt to make my facility more comfortable. In the winter, employees were wearing their coats indoors although the heat was cranking, and it was pretty drafty. We weren’t comfortable and we weren’t productive.

Changing out windows, insulation, and roofing was what got me started. We were becoming more comfortable and I started saving money on my energy bills. Then we started upgrading building equipment such as lighting and HVAC to more energy efficient equipment. The energy savings and financial savings continued to build. Now, we are in the process of installing a solar PV system.

I engaged the help of Bonnie Hagen of Bright Energy Services and Marc Karell of Climate Change and Environmental Services – both WGBC Participants – to consult with me on the energy upgrade plus secure the financial incentives for the improvements.

I cannot thank them enough for helping this little small business customer, because without them I would not have filled out all of the paperwork and did the correct things to allow me to receive the rebate money I received!

I am proud to say that that through the various initiatives we saved approximately 65% on our energy bill and we will continue to save more when the solar PV system gets completed! We also secured about $10,000 in rebate money and received a tax deduction last year of $1.80 per square foot, which is about $36,000. It pays to be green! I hope you all consider going green too!

Thank you, Everyone!

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Some More Really Cool Benefits of LEDs

We at Bright Energy Services have been advocating LED lighting for a quite some time now. The high efficiency and aesthetic appeal of modern LED lamps are unmistakable. But for those of you who still need some convincing to make the switch, here are a few motivating points that might just do it.

There are benefits to using LEDs in both cold and hot environments. Unlike CFL bulbs, LEDs are more efficient and shine brighter in the colder environments. CFLs or fluorescent strip lamps take a long time to “warm up” in the cold. Unheated garages, supermarket freezer displays, outdoor Christmas lights, and even home refrigerators are perfect for LED applications. For warmer environments, a switch to LED lighting can abate the attraction of insects, which are attracted to the infrared and the blue visible spectrums of light. LEDs do not emit in the infrared spectrum unlike fluorescent and incandescent lamps. Thus, by using soft/warm white LEDS in the color temperature range of 2700K-3000K, you would not have to worry about insects getting trapped and collecting in your lamp fixtures.

LEDs can increase supermarkets’ bottom lines. Meat at most supermarket display cases are currently lit by fluorescent lighting. Unlike LEDs, fluorescent lamps emit significant amounts of UV light. UV light fades the red color of fresh meat to a dull brown or grey hue and is detrimental to its freshness. It also accelerates the spoilage of fats in the meat which degrades flavor and induces odor. Also with LEDs, infrared and heat radiation is eliminated. Freshly stocked shelves often have the upper products inches away from the light source. With fluorescent bulbs, a lot of heat is transferred onto the product with the light. However, due to circuitry temperature constraints, LED luminaires are designed so that nearly all of the heat produced is dissipated from their heat sinks and heat is directed away from shelf items. For red meat, the use of LED lighting can prolong shelf life for another day or more.

LEDs are also a healthy alternative in lighting. Whereas fluorescent and HID lamps require toxic gases built within the components to operate, LED lamps are mercury- and lead-free. They are solid state crystals which do not pose a threat to people or the environment. This is especially important in tightly enclosed spaces where air changes are slow to occur. In fact, LEDs are used to treat newborns with jaundice by making blue phototherapy treatment possible. Furthermore, students at schools with LED-lit classrooms have shown to be more productive and score higher on standardized tests.

Bright Energy Services can offer your business expert consultation on upgrading or retrofitting your current lighting system with LEDs. We will work to secure you utility and municipal financial incentives for upgrading and complying with ASHRAE standards. In addition to creating a healthier atmosphere and improving occupant comfort, savings in electricity will be realized. Give us a call today at (347) 470-7090 to discover what opportunities are available for you!

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