“You don’t get rebates just for waking up in the morning…”

As obvious as the above statement seems, you might be surprised to discover it’s not as easy as it seems to capture a rebate to offset the upfront costs of your energy efficient investments.  If you are thinking about energy efficiency and want to make sure you can take advantage of utility funding, you should be considering the following:

  • A high efficiency label doesn’t always mean rebate eligibility:                

Program requirements vary from utility program to utility program and the bar rises with each program year.   HVAC systems must meet high EER or SEER efficiency ratings, LED lamps must be listed Energy Star or Design Lights Consortium approved lists and Kitchen equipment must be Energy Star.

  • Installing qualifying equipment only gets you to first base:

Rebate program requirements are sometimes very simple; but just as often they are quite onerous and can be very disruptive to your project schedule if you don’t anticipate them and accommodate them.

For example, many projects, including most lighting projects, will require detailed submission of pre-existing conditions – audits with counts and equipment descriptions allowing the utility to calculate the energy demand before and after your upgrade.  They will also require a pre-inspection before the work is started so the utility can verify the details of your submission.  All of this takes time – sometimes a couple of months of advance planning and document submission are critical.  Failing to get pre-approval will disqualify your eligible investment from receiving its rebate.

  • The devil is in the details:

There can be a lot of documentation requirements – invoices marked paid detailing make and model numbers of all equipment, separate labor invoices, W-9, spec sheets for new equipment, copy of a recent utility bill; even a certificate from the state taxing authorities saying you don’t owe any back taxes.  Document submission can be required as soon as 60 days after invoice date and invoice dates can’t precede preapproval dates.

It’s a lot to keep track of if you are only doing one project; it can be a logistical nightmare if you are doing a multi-site project spanning many utilities over a fixed time or budget period.  Utilities tend to be very parochial in their program design and administration which makes it very difficult to coordinate all these requirements in multiple jurisdictions and still have an install schedule which makes sense from your business perspective.

  • Sometimes it pays to get some expert help:

If you are embarking on an initiative which will involve funding from multiple utilities, you better think about outsourcing with a rebate specialist.  Consult with them up front, even before projects have been approved while you are negotiating terms with your vendors.  Doing so will ensure your choosing qualifying equipment and build into the project plan the rebate timing and document requirements.    In a large scale project you don’t have to get disqualified from too many sites, before the fee you are paying the expert is more than covered.

Also, make sure your expert is really an expert.  Your equipment vendors will have knowledge of these programs, but do they have the time or persistence to chase every dollar?  Ask for a detailed estimate of rebate potential for each site before you get started so you have something to measure success against.

So, yes there is widespread opportunity across the US and Canada to capture rebates and improve your ROI’s for energy efficiency investments.  But, actually getting the checks into your hands takes attention and organization — definitely a lot more than just waking up in the morning…



T12 to T8 Retrofits – Do it Now!

The age of efficient fluorescent general illumination is now.  Super-T8 and T5 lighting systems provide a significantly lower usage advantage over older T8 systems and more so over any existing, outdated T12 systems.

Plus, since lighting accounts for 40% or more of a commercial property’s electric utility bill – YOUR utility bill! — one of the easiest ways and most cost-efficient ways to lower electric consumption from lighting is to install more efficient ballasts and lamps.

But, you ask, why incur the cost of upgrading to a T5 or T8 system when your older T8 and/or T12 system is functioning perfectly?  Three reasons:

  • legislation specifically targeting T12 lighting system  replacement,
  • utility rebates and expiring bonuses for T12 retrofits, and
  • long term energy reduction opportunities.

The Department of Energy has passed legislation mandating the phase out of almost all T12 lighting by July of 2012.  This means T12 lamps will no longer be manufactured for sale in the US after that date.   The production of magnetic ballasts, typically used in T12 lighting systems, was already phased out in January of 2010.  In eight short months all replacement parts for your T12 lighting system will be completely antiquated.

The transition to T8 and T5 lighting systems can be a relatively smooth process.  T8 and T5 systems can work in your existing fixture.  Only the existing lamps and ballasts need to be replaced.  However, due to the fact no major renovations are needed many building owners are waiting until the last minute…


Utility lighting incentives and rebates are designed to help offset the initial cost of a T12 to T8 (or T5) upgrade.  The net payback, including a rebate, will average between 1 to 3 years.  Plus, not only do almost all utilities still have T12 to T8 retrofit incentive programs, many have bonus incentives to make the switch today!

Yet, given the impending legislation, utility rebates for this lighting measure will also be phased out, and many very soon.   Utilities provide incentives and rebates to help their commercial customers “buy down” the initial cost of the installation of an energy efficient technology.  Once legislation is enacted which increases the efficiency standards for building systems, state and local energy codes transition existing technologies which have historically been considered “efficient” into their new baseline standard.  Consequently, utilities will typically not incent their customers to purchase and install equipment which is required per the baseline standard of the applicable energy code or building standard in that geography.

So don’t wait.  If you do, your costs will be higher and your payback longer, for something you will have to do someday anyway.

The good news is retrofitting your lighting system while incentive programs (and in many cases bonus programs) are actively seeking these projects will not only improve your ROI.  Plus, doing so will decrease your electric bill sooner so you will reap the benefits of energy savings for a longer period of time from your investment.

Energy savings coupled with a rebate makes aggressively converting T12s to T8s or T5s a very attractive business decision.  You will have a much shorter payback period and your initial cost will be considerably lower with the utility rebate.

If you have questions about the T12 to T8 phase out, call RealWinWin and we’ll do our best to answer them.  We’ll even help out with capturing the rebates, too!


Nobody Likes Budget Season

There is little to love about budget season other than the fact that, at most companies, it comes in the same season as Santa and New Year celebrations. The good news is unless you work for the US government, eventually a final budget gets approved every year and project teams are free to move forward to implement approved plans.

Unfortunately, by the time you get your approval, schedules already may be behind so there is often added pressure to move forward aggressively to hit needed implementation dates. If your projects are energy efficient and you are planning to collect rebates as part of gaining budget approval, utility requirements can throw a big wrench into your project implementation schedules.

The following are the most common rebate-capture related concerns you will have with respect to budget season and scheduling projects thereafter, especially if your budget approval comes later than optimal. The key point is failing to pay heed to these issues (and others) will result in fewer captured incentives and a slower or lower return on capital than approved.

• To maximize your chance for project approvals you will need sound rebate estimates to include in payback analyses for the projects you propose. This means completing eligibility assessments and rebate estimates well before budgets are proposed, let alone approved.
• Understanding product-related rebate eligibility is increasingly important, especially for emerging technologies such as LEDs. Customers that select equipment unacceptable to utilities have almost no chance of capturing incentives without a sizable effort aimed at working hands-on with utilities to overcome approval hurdles.
• If budgets are likely to be approved late and schedules are tight, utility pre-inspection and approval processes will present a significant challenge to ensuring receipt of incentives later on.

o It is important to have flexibility AND control over the project schedules. By knowing which incentives will require pre-approvals from utilities, you can optimize work schedules to ensure suitable time for incentives to be maximized. Even a simple understanding of pre-project versus post-project filing requirements will greatly impact your opportunity to capture incentives.

o Pay attention when vendors/contractors are offering incentive capture as they most often will favor maximizing their most cost-efficient deployment of their labor, especially if under-staffed, rather than allotting suitable time for incentive approvals with respect to timing and/or product issues.

• Get your rebate team involved with your vendors at the time of contract award so documentation requirements for vendors are built into their project plans and commitments.

o Missing the details on site specific audits which are required to properly apply for an incentive will result in no rebate being captured. Such details prove to be difficult to obtain when not sorted out early in the planning process.

Rebates programs are designed to propel your projects through the competition for scarce budget dollars by providing incremental funding to improve their financial returns. Rebates are designed to offset the incremental cost of choosing the most efficient option over standard efficiency options, leaving the savings from increased efficiency entirely to the company’s benefit. Most programs look to drive 4 and 5 year paybacks on higher efficiency projects down to the 2 to 3 year paybacks generally required for projects to dodge the dreaded budget axe.

Make sure you identify and organize around capturing incentives early in the budget process to maximize your wins in budget season and to make sure you deliver on the financial returns your project promised.

Energy Efficiency Incentives and Energy Management Systems

There’s no doubt retail Facility and Energy Managers are upping the bar with respect to how they operate their facilities efficiently.  But how do they find ways to operate their facilities smarter?

In the past, temperature and lighting controls were held hostage by building managers who had a wide range of independence with respect to adjusting set-points and controlling lighting for comfort.  That type of localized control leads to higher energy usage, by using more cooling or heating than required to meet the comfort needs of the store, and by keeping lighting running before or after the business day whether intentional or not.  Additionally, older “legacy” technologies, like programmable thermostats, do not provide Facility Managers with any means of monitoring the real time operation of their stores at the Enterprise level.

Enter Energy Management Systems (“EMS” ).  An EMS is essentially a computer in the building connected to all of the building’s measurement and control points.  The EMS runs its “sequence of operations” (“SOPs”) continuously.  The SOPs are time and/or event based instructions such as: “Set internal temperature setting at 10pm to 64 degrees” and “Set internal temperature back to 72 degrees at 6am”…

Most EMS systems today permit remote access over a network – the company’s own IP; “the cloud”; wireless; etc.  A remote access EMS provides Energy Managers a virtual portal into the operations of their facilities’ building systems.  Energy Managers can remotely measure and control building operating parameters through the EMS inside the building, and often people within the building are “locked out” of making changes.

With an EMS in place there is a significant opportunity to realize proven energy savings.  However, when it comes to obtaining incentives for EMS there are many obstacles which stand in the way of receiving incentives to offset the cost of EMS itself:

  • How are the savings quantified?  Most EMS-related savings occur primarily from the optimization of HVAC systems.  Those savings often vary from month to month as they are highly dependent on occupancy and seasonal weather conditions.
  • How much savings are you expecting?   EMS is incented through utility “custom” programs which pay for savings on a “kWh” or “kW” basis.  Typically, the customer is required to provide the utility with a reasonable expectation of savings before the project commences.
  • Are you replacing an existing system or truly upgrading the EMS profile in the building?  Most utilities see an upgrade to an existing EMS as a maintenance activity.  Their point is replacing an existing EMS typically does not ADD savings to the building.  You may be eligible for an incentive only when you can document additional control which will result in savings in addition to any existing EMS actions.  Likewise, please know utilities do not typically provide incentives for new construction if they believe the EMS is part of the building’s design or if specific control capability is required by code.
  • How do you prove the savings are persistent?  After the project is completed, the utility will want to know the new EMS is operating in the manner which will provide the savings initially estimated by the customer.   Some utilities may ask for modeling or metering of the energy usage of your building systems using data loggers or perhaps through the newly installed EMS.

There are steps which you can take to help make the process of applying for and successfully receiving incentives for EMS much easier:

  • Get your EMS vendor to “buy in” to the incentive application process.  Ask your vendor if they included any savings estimates as part of their proposal.   Are they prepared to help support you with any energy metering required by the utility?
  • Look at the current operating conditions of your facilities; avoid locations which have old, obsolete or defective HVAC equipment.   You’ll get more savings by replacing old inefficient equipment rather than installing EMS on those units.  Talk to both your EMS and HVAC vendors about installing EMS controls on new HVAC units at the factory.  You’ll save a lot of cash by avoiding the labor cost required to install the new controls in the “field.”
  • Consider performing a “pilot” installation of the EMS prior to a broader roll-out of the EMS throughout your portfolio.  Utilities are more willingly to accept your projects if they can see tangible results from previously installed EMS applications.
  • Timing is everything: Start the discussions with your utility EARLY.  Due to the complexity of EMS projects, the lead time for utilities to approve EMS incentive requests can be as long as SIX MONTHS in advance of you target installation date.
  • Realize every utility has a different spin on EMS projects; what works in Texas may not necessarily work in New Jersey.  While not every utility requires higher order engineered calculations, most will not accept “back of the envelope” calculations.  Finding the right means of conveying the savings to the utility is the key to having utilities accept your EMS projects into their incentive programs

Rebate capture: What does a good job look like? When is “free” not free?

Are you paying for Rebate Administration?  If “yes”, why?

Aren’t all the “smart guys” getting free rebate collection as part of their equipment purchase and installation – particularly for lighting?  Aren’t all the “top vendors” providing rebate collection at no or minor cost?  Aren’t the vendor’s experts at capturing incentives?   Can’t anyone just “push paper”?

It seems like an easy choice right?  Why pay for something you can otherwise get for free or at a huge discount?

The answer is not quite so simple and the really smart guys ask their vendors a few more questions:

  • Do you file for all my rebates – custom as well as prescriptive?
  • How many people do you have on staff filing rebates and how many rebates are they filing for in addition to mine?  Is capturing rebates their only job responsibility?  How long have they been on staff?
  • How long has your company been capturing incentives?  How many per year?
  • How do you manage the timing issues involved with utility prefile requirements?
  • How do you manage the inevitable conflicts between your preferred installation schedule and preapproval timing?
  • Does your staff have time to personally expedite preapprovals and rebate checks from the utilities?
  • Who schedules pre and post inspections?
  • Can you provide a site by site rebate estimate up front so we, the customer, can measure the success of the rebate effort?
  • What do you do about capturing for other energy conservation measures which I am pursuing and you’re not providing?
  • What kind of reporting do you provide and on what schedule so I can track your progress against plan?

You see, the really smart guys know nothing is free.  The really smart guys employ a detailed process of evaluating what’s actually captured against an equally detailed estimate of rebate opportunity which had been made in advance.  The smart guys know they need to understand what a good job looks like or they’ll receive whatever their vendor can capture – more or less “what’s good enough”.   And the really smart guys know “good enough” is not good enough.

Capturing rebates is NOT just pushing paper.  There are easily more than four hundred, different incentive programs of consequence.  Each program is different enough and yet similar enough to make knowing the details important.   A truly successful rebate capture effort requires organization, systems, and dedicated personnel – and that’s just for the standard stuff.

The smart guys also know if the technology is emerging, like LED lighting, you really need to pay attention to the answers to the above questions because up to three quarters of eligible rebates are going to require custom applications, an effort vendors may not be well equipped or willing to handle.

So the really smart guys ask a lot of questions.  They figure out in advance what a good job looks like.  And then they pay accordingly so they can be confident they are getting the best rebate outcomes, net of any fees involved in getting them.

Net-net, lack of dedication and expertise means fewer incentives captured for the customer, even if the capture cost is free.

So, how about you?  Would you rather get 100% of one incentive or 80% of two?  How many rebates will your vendor have to miss before “free” starts to look not so free?

Still want to get rebate capture from your contractor?  And, will you be asking your dentist to file your taxes, too?

Rebate Program Funding Being Exhausted Earlier Than Usual

Rebate Program Funding Being Exhausted Earlier Than Usual

As of late Fall, upwards of 30 well-established, well-funded utility rate-payer based rebate programs have exhausted their commercial and industrial-targeted funds for the current program year.  From Michigan to Texas and Nevada to Pennsylvania programs are out of funds already or running low.  This is twice as many as last year and several months earlier than usual.  With funding, according to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, continuing to increase every year (the total funds budget for 2010 exceeded $7.5B, up 24% from 2009) the question is “why is the money going quicker”?

Fewer funds available?  No.  Fewer programs?  No.

There are several contributing factors: increased participation, improved technologies and better designed programs.

Increased Participation – with energy efficiency awareness at an all-time high, rebates & incentives for energy efficient improvements (for which users largely had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude up until a few years ago) are on almost every property owner’s radar these days.  With energy prices on the rise, addressing energy efficiency and seeking to offset the cost of these improvements with rebates is quickly becoming standard protocol for large corporations, as well as your local corner store.  Simply put, more awareness has more funds being doled out for energy efficient projects.

Improved technologies – With the significant savings attainable with new technologies –LEDs, geothermal, magnetic bearing chillers, etc — it doesn’t take too many projects to absorb huge amounts of money available to be paid out in incentives.  For example, with the introduction (and readily apparent acceptance) of LED lighting into the mainstream more money is being distributed at larger clip due to the enormous energy savings opportunities presented by LED technologies, on a per-project basis.  Increasingly retailers of all sizes, from department stores and specialty retailers to restaurants and coffee shops, are replacing their existing 60-90 watt halogen lamps with low wattage LED lamps, in some instances dropping 70 watts per lamp!  With many rebate programs using “custom” methods of determining energy savings and associated payouts the incentives for LED retrofits can be through the roof — in some cases, covering 100% of the installed project and upwards of $20k – $50k per site or more.

Better designed programs – for most well established large utilities in the U.S. … distributing rebates and incentives for energy efficiency is old hat, and such, improving on past experience is commonplace.  Incentive Program Managers (typically the Utilities) are employing new strategies to expand existing programs and add new ones, enhance advertising and promotions, and conduct innovative pilot projects.  Some are even running fewer, simpler programs that can get the most energy savings as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.  They are educating and aligning themselves with local contractors and implementers, driving energy efficiency investments and energy cost savings to unprecedented levels.

So what does this mean?

Generally, it means paying more attention to incentives if you are not already.  It also means developing an attention towards making “rebate capture” a planned, best practice in your new construction and retrofit efforts:

  1. Property owners should strongly consider scheduling energy-reducing initiatives as early in the calendar year as possible to ensure maximum availability of rebate and incentive offsets.  Although some programs do not follow the calendar year for the opening and closing of their programs, the vast majority do.
  2. Additionally, property owners should seek pre-approvals and reserve funds for planned projects when possible, and well in advance.
  3. Lastly, and of course (and please excuse my shameless promotion), entities with large property portfolios and aggressive energy-reducing plans should consider working with an outsourced 3rd party rebate administrator who has their finger on the pulse on these programs and will understand the status of program funding levels and include them in project scheduling to maximize rebates captured.

Going Green – It’s Not just a Marketing Pitch!

Many organizations, small business owners, and industry professionals continue to work towards deepening their understanding of the true value of “Going Green.” Why? Green initiatives are not simply a popular buzzword, nor often unfulfilled “marketing pitch.” Increasingly, business professionals are recognizing that there is a social, economic, and environmental responsibility (and benefit) in both the marketing, design systems integration, and implementation of effective green programs. The net positive on reducing waste, designing green buildings, implementing green operations and maintenance plans … all have continually proven to yield a positive return on investment.

What’s Your ROI?

Social Responsibility: often referred as CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility, whereby companies are perceived to have a social obligation to thoughtfully consider the best interest of its customers, employees, communities, and shareholders. Often, this is believed to extend beyond statutory obligation to comply with established legislation. Special emphasis is given to the principles of Sustainable Development, in which the core belief is that organizational decision-making should consider company profitability, however also drive corporate policies around short and long-term environmental stewardship as relates to their activities and manner in which it conducts business.

Financial Responsibility: we are seeing an unprecedented level of government programs and initiatives designed to drive corporate decision-making within markets that include manufacturing, construction, etc., to invest in implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. In many cases, the good news is that implementation of sustainable operations can drive increased efficiency through reductions in energy consumption, implementation of building maintenance methodologies that are often cost neutral, decreasing the cost of workspaces through use of recycled furniture while changing too low–use lighting (which provides eco-friendly work environments), to name a few. Government subsidies and incentives often further complement and reward efforts to develop and implement successful sustainable operations and maintenance programs. Nearly all of the points needed for LEED Certification (40 points) can be achieved through the Energy and Atmosphere category (35 points). It is by far the largest category within the rating system, and emphasizes the combination of energy performance and renewable energy, which has shown can lower costs up to 50% in the first year alone.

Regarding financial benefit, consider the following:

        8-9% * –  estimated decreases in operating costs

        7.5% * –  building value increases

        6.6% * –  return on investment and proves

        3.5% * –  occupancy ratio increases

        3% *    –  rent ratio increases

Environmental Responsibility: I have often stated that data should lead us to the right conclusion, and clearly effective green programs and initiatives yield measurable benefits. For example, let’s look at the negative impact of US buildings on our resources. Such facilities consume 72% of our electricity, produce 39% of our CO2 emissions, 13.6% of portable water consumption, and 40% of primary energy use (Source: Environmental Information Administration & US Geological Survey) – Staggering numbers, right? in comparison, green buildings can reduce energy consumption 24% to 50%, CO2 emissions by as much as 39%, water consumption an average of 40%, and solid waste 70%.

Just as certain, it is widely accepted that green building occupants are healthier and much more productive in their work. With an average of 90% of US people spending more of their time indoors, green buildings often have better indoor air quality and lighting, among other key advantages. 34 of the world’s 100 largest economies are cities. Cities are responsible for consuming approximately 60% to 80% of the world’s energy production. In truth, there seems to be a direct correlation between the implementation of effective green programs and design of green buildings, to improved office worker productivity and employee morale, while driving efficiencies and reduced consumption.

Companies are also realizing the positive impact of an established, effective, and well managed sustainability platform can have on the organizations overall marketing campaigns, both with existing as well as potential customers. To be sure, if data suggests that green programs and solutions are important to major organizations and corporate real estate and facilities management firms, then quite clearly, such programs should be equally if not more important to suppliers of various commodities in the performance of their work.

It is my solid belief that as a people, it is our obligation to except ourresponsibility to thoughtfully protect the environment with practical and effective solutions designed to reduce consumption and solid waste, while working towards reasonable and cost effective renewable energy solutions.

Sustainability: Our Responsibility