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Flower power: How an LED upgrade planted the seed for change

Image of UFGCA General Manager, Dennis Lawson
United Flower Growers Cooperative general manager Dennis Lawson is a big fan of their new LED lights.

LED lighting offered opportunity for innovation, not just savings

United Flower Growers Cooperative Association (UFGCA) is a cooperative of over 80 floriculture growers located from Vancouver Island east to the Fraser Valley. Formed in Vancouver in 1963, the organization settled into its current home, a 232,000 sq ft warehouse in Burnaby, in 1977.

Innovation has always been key, from the evolution of the auction pricing 'clocks' proudly on display, to introducing online auctioneering. All of this has enabled UFGCA to blossom into a floral powerhouse, supplying B.C. floral products direct from growers to floral retailers and wholesalers as far south as California, and as far east as Manitoba.

Too many tubes

Keeping flowers fresh and healthy for as long as possible requires a lot of power. A series of large cooler rooms are the building's biggest electrical draw, followed closely by lighting. But the catalyst for energy-saving changes wasn't actually the amount of energy needed. It was the amount of maintenance.

UFGCA General Manager, Dennis Lawson says "Before the upgrade, we had around 1,800 individual fixtures throughout the building. Over time, it had evolved into a mess of T12, T5 and T8 fixtures. The main warehouse was T8 fixtures in continuous runs of 20-24 feet. It looked awful and our maintenance manager would have to spend two days a week on a scissor lift swapping out dead tubes. He spent so much time up there that we actually went and bought our own scissor lift because it was cheaper than how often we had to rent one."

There were other problems as well; "It wasn't just the tubes giving out on us, it was the fixture ballasts as well. The lighting would get so patchy that people with vision issues found it a real problem to read paperwork and see what they were doing in the warehouse."

The knock-on effect from this was thousands of dead fluorescent tubes going into the garbage and often getting smashed, along with a huge amount of new ones that had to be retained for maintenance. "Before the upgrade, we had an entire storeroom of all kinds of tubes, over 10 different sizes, and then we had colour variations too. It was ridiculous to manage all of that. With LED, we hardly need any replacements now."

The new LED lights have also been combined with occupancy sensors for further efficiency during opening and closing times when there are only a few people in the building.

Image of United Flower Growers Cooperative Association warehouse

Picking the perfect Alliance Energy Professional

After some research, somebody suggested Dennis look into BC Hydro's energy saving incentives for businesses. This led him to the BC Hydro Alliance of Energy Professionals, where Dennis found local specialists, Achieve Lighting. "Achieve explained what we'd need and what sort of BC Hydro incentives we could expect. They also helped us understand the labour savings, and overall, made it incredibly easy to just glide through the process. From start to finish, the whole thing probably took about 3 months." Achieve even made the transition phase as smooth as possible: "The warehouse is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with auctions happening three days a week and they just crafted their installation schedule around ours."

When the project was completed, 1,800 fluorescent fixtures had been reduced down to 675 LED lights which not only create much brighter light, but also require much less maintenance.

Blooming great results

Dennis and the UFGCA team have seen many significant outcomes from this project: "The upfront capital cost of the project was definitely a hard sell to get the building owners on board." But once they started to look at the numbers, it was a no-brainer, especially with BC Hydro incentives covering just over 30% of the project cost.

Since project completion, UFGCA have seen their electricity bill drop from around by around 25%. And when the savings on maintenance and all those replacement tubes and ballasts are factored in, then thanks to the BC Hydro incentive, this huge upgrade will have paid for itself in roughly two years.

But the story doesn't stop there. "Last year, our auditors wondered if there was something wrong with our accounting because the utilities bill was so dramatically under. I had to explain that it wasn't a mistake and that we'd managed to reduce our energy consumption by 25%. And that was despite us adding a new showroom with about 200 LED spotlights, along with a further 10,000 sq ft of new coolers."

UFGCA's LED lighting upgrade has been so successful, it's also inspired a number of other energy saving initiatives. Over the years, the organization had built up a power factor deficiency so Dennis and his team have fixed that by installing a capacitor and a site surge suppression system.

Then they turned their attention to the coolers' massive power draw, thanks to their fan evaporator coils that are intended to run 24/7 off-the-shelf. "We have 25 evaporator coils throughout six coolers. Each one of those evaporator coils has anywhere from two to six fan motors inside of them. It's a crazy amount of electrical motors that just spin. So we went to an automation specialist and with some perseverance, they figured out a way to reduce the run time."

The fans now run for about six hours a day instead of 24, and, aside from the savings, UFGCA have seen a surprising result: "The flowers now last longer than before because 24/7 fans were drying out the flowers, decreasing their shelf life. So by saving that energy, we also got a few more days out of pretty much every flower we sell."

Other energy saving upgrades since the interior LEDs have included replacing 75 photocell lights around the building exterior and parking lot with LEDs and introducing a series of Nest smart thermostats.

All of these enlightened savings stemmed from one project supported by BC Hydro's Business Energy Savings Incentive (BESI) program. Take a look at our energy saving incentives for businesses and get in touch to see how we might be able to help your business make some savings – you never know how much you might be able to achieve.