What could have been conceivably called the second ‘great depression’ is looking to be thankfully only a ‘great recession’. Prior to the downturn, economies around the world were booming and crude oil prices had soared to an all-time high.

As some economies begin to show signs of coming out of recession, it is clear that for many the business world has changed. Companies are more mindful than ever of energy costs and looking for ways to be more efficient, save money and to be more environmentally friendly.

The aerospace and airport industries are no different, and one company that has learnt first hand how starkly times have changed is aircraft supplier Kelly Western Services. The company is based out a 22,400ft² hangar in Winnipeg Airport in Canada, which also serves as a base for a Boeing 737 and several corporate jets. It is an example of how new technologies coming on to the market are leading to cost savings in aircraft hangars around the world.

Kelly Western president Gordon Peters says being more efficient has been on its agenda for some time but when it was making its initial efforts to update its hangar, many in the industry had not yet caught on to the idea.

“Companies are more mindful than ever of energy costs and looking for ways to be more efficient.”

“About a year and half ago we had changed our fluorescent fixtures and our parking plugs to be more efficient and I asked my electrical contractor at the time if they had any more economical solutions to my high-bay lighting. They said sorry, we don’t,” Peters says.

He kept efficiencies in mind, however, and in autumn 2008 found what he was looking for. “We found what Echelon was doing and that fitted right in with where we wanted to go to improve our facilities through efficiencies and achieve green benefits,” he says.

The Echelon solution

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Headquartered in San Jose in California, Echelon specialises in transforming an electricity grid into a smart communicating energy network. In a little over a week, the hangar in which Kelly Western is located had its hi-bay 1,000WMH (watt metal halide) lighting replaced with 42 ROMlight 575WMH fixtures from Ontario and linked into Echelon’s LonWorks Free Topology hard-wired communication network.

The results were dramatic. Prior to the new lights and control system being installed, the hangar’s lighting system was on all day every day and used 404,712kWh (kilowatt hours) a year. The new lighting and control system is now using 149,490kWh a year, a difference of 255,222kWh and equal to a reduction of 63%. Just the new lights installed without the control system could have made a 44% reduction alone.

“Echelon specialises in transforming an electricity grid into a smart communicating energy network.”

This seemed almost too good to be true for Kelly Western and Peters wanted verification. “Only after the light levels were confirmed by an independent consultant did we believe that the results were correct,” Peters says. “With the LonWorks enabled solution from ROMlight and in conjunction with our utility’s rebates, we were able to exceed all of our payback models. We’re extremely pleased with the performance of the system,” he says.

Peters is especially pleased as Kelly Western got a C$21,000 rebate against the capital cost of the equipment from Manitoba Hydro.

Not only did the reduction in energy consumption equate to a substantial cost reduction but Echelon said that the light at the ground level of the hangar was almost doubled at full power. The web-enabled LonWorks control system allows lighting to be dimmed to 50% and has a photocell application. The system can monitor and control other manufacturer’s equipment on its open network, provide failure notification, monitor the lamp wattage and also sense if an area is occupied and as such needs light.

While humans can turn off an individual light when they leave a room it’s a little more difficult if the lighting for almost the whole building is on a single system. Although Echelon’s basic premise is not new – the company has been working with control technology for 20 years – the way in which organisations and businesses regard energy consumption and savings has undergone a paradigm shift.

Airports demand control

Airports have always been keen on adequate control of their facilities. That premise is even more desirable in the post 9/11 world and Echelon has retrofitted its control system into other airports around the world including San Diego International Airport, San Jose International Airport, Athens Airport and Frankfurt Airport.

“Energy management in the aerospace and airport industries has come to the fore.”

Echelon director of corporate marketing Steve Nguyen says that energy management in the aerospace and airport industries has come to the fore.

“The technology in Frankfurt can control the [airport’s] lighting and environmental systems. Also, it can report if lights at the airport are out or failed. They want to do that with the minimum of wiring and because of the nature of the technology, they can do that,” Nguyen says.

At the heart of Echelon’s technology is the i.LON SmartServer, which Echelon says can control, monitor and manage virtually any electronic device in a client’s control network. The SmartServer can be used as a standalone server and can be integrated with a legacy control system or integrated with a LonWorks control system. For standalone installations of less than 200 devices, the SmartServer acts as a network management device.

The SmartServer can also be programmed for energy optimisation, data analysis and room and lighting control says Echelon. The system also has the ability to communicate with other SmartServers over wired or wireless internet protocol (IP)-based networks and run up to ten custom programmes at the same time. Once a topic of science fiction smart buildings are a fact now with retrofitted technology meaning that it is not always necessary to build new.

Although in the grand scheme of things the Kelly Western job is a comparatively small one, the efficiency numbers demonstrate the cost savings there are to be garnered. Excluding the utility rebate received from the hydro company, Kelly Western should receive a return on its investment in 14 months. We are entering an era where scarce resources must be managed both in terms of cost to enterprises and organisations and for the good of preserving the environment. If intelligent control equals contributions to both that must be a win-win situation for the aerospace industry around the world.