Green workspaces

Commercial Sector
Last Updated 14 October 2010, 11:56 IST

With the commercial sector growing at a frenzied pace and with expanding business operations, the use of electricity has shot up. Consequently, every corporate is faced with the challenge of rising energy costs which eat into their profitability. 

In a typical office building, lighting, heating and cooling account for about 55 to 70 percent of energy consumption depending on climate, making these systems the best targets for energy saving.

Twenty percent of the total operational expenditure of a conventional building is the cost of energy consumption deserving management attention. In order to better manage your building costs, it helps to understand how you are charged for those costs. Electricity is generally charged based on two measures: consumption and demand.

The consumption component of the bill is based on the amount of electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) that the building consumes during the month. The demand component is fixed and is related to the contract demand in kilowatts (kW) or kilovoltampere (kva) agreed with the utility company.

There is also a penalty if you exceed the agreed demand. Since it forms a significant percentage of your bill, care should be taken to reduce peak demand, whenever possible. This rise in the consumption of electricity is alarming as the source of energy is still non-renewable, leading to adverse effects on the environment and also the overall economy. Hence, it becomes all the more important for companies to conserve energy.

Quick fixes to save energy 

Turn off the lights when not in use, including non-essential overhead lighting in day-lit areas, lighting in unoccupied rooms.  Educate and motivate employees to turn off the lights at the end of the day. If possible, give individuals, light control of their area.  Turn off computer monitors. When not in use, keeping both CPU and monitors off saves a lot of electricity in the office.

Check the temperature of the air-conditioner. Set the air conditioner at the most comfortable temperatures. Avoid setting it too high or too low. Having a comfortable temperature will save electricity- this should ideally be 25 degrees centigrade.

Tech way to save energy

Install heat recovery wheels. Heat recovery wheel is used for transferring the heat from the incoming air pulled-in from the outside ambient to the outgoing air from the building, while the coolness of the outgoing air is transferred to the incoming fresh air.

Install air washer. This removes the suspended particulate matter (SPM) from the fresh air and increases the moisture level in the air as a result of which the temperature of the incoming air drops down with this technology; the load on the chillers is reduced to a great extent.

Use LEDs. They are solid light bulbs and are extremely energy-efficient. They use only 2-10 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of Incandescent or Compact Fluorescent Lights) and last up to 10 times as long as CFLs.

Install sensors. Offices can install motion sensor lights in the bathrooms and lobbies throughout the building in order to control misuse of electricity. These sensors automatically switch on the area lights as soon as they sense human presence.

Use of green mesh. A white mesh can be stretched out on to the building facade and in the balconies to reduce direct solar heat gain. This can help bring down building temperature, substantially, which in turn reduces the load on chillers.

Solar films. Solar films on windows reduce the direct heat penetration into the building.
Plants can do wonders Plants inside office buildings are not just beautifiers but do wonders in terms of bringing down power costs. There are three plants that could be of use here: areca palm, money plant and mother-in-law’s tongue. 

Areca palm plant, commonly known as the living room plant, eliminates carbon dioxide by converting it into oxygen. Another common plant, the mother-in-law’s tongue is also known as the bedroom plant as it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen during night hours in the absence of sunlight. The third plant, commonly called the money plant, is helpful in elevating the quality of indoor air as it eradicates formaldehydes and other volatile chemicals.

A natural system of air purification can be used and the process is as follows: air from a height of 120ft is sucked in, passed through a UV treated water shower to free it from any water soluble particles / pollutants; this is then pumped into a chamber / green house which has more than 200 plants that enrich it with oxygen and increase its humidity. There are over 1,200 indoor plants spread over the entire building that has about 300 occupants.

The oxygenated air is then fed into the AC plant for cooling. To save the energy, a heat recovery wheel is in place which exchanges heat. It reduces the temperature of the incoming air. Use of this technology ensures that cool air flows inside the building, lowering use of energy.

As a part of this biotech process where we use plants to purify the air, one can look at hydroponics culture, also known as soil-less culture for growing plants.  In this technology, the plants are grown without soil by using an inert medium such as sand, artificial light, peat, burnt bricks, activated charcoal or vermiculite and adding a nutrient solution containing all the essential nutrients/elements needed by the plant for its normal growth and development.

This technology of growing plants without soil helps the plants to be devoid of bacteria, which it acquires from the soil. Hence the oxygen produced by plants also has low levels of bacteria in it.

This purified air is then pumped into the building.  These technologies come with a price tag and entail substantial investments but keeping in mind their cost-effectiveness, companies are sure to reap phenomenal long-term benefits in the form of reduced operational costs and enhanced ROIs. 

(Published 14 October 2010, 11:56 IST)

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