In his new book, "Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things In Extraordinary Ways," Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor emphasizes, "You don't have to be working at world-famous innovators such as Uber or Airbnb to be accomplishing something remarkable. Often, the best opportunities are in the humdrum sorts of businesses that clean buildings, run parking lots or deliver rural health care."
You can add airport management to that list, and hold up the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) as a prime example. RIAC operates and maintains the state's six airports, including T.F. Green Airport (PVD), near Providence, which serves about 3.6 million passengers annually.
Over the years, RIAC has demonstrated an ability to develop innovative ideas that simultaneously increase operating efficiency and make PVD a good neighbor. In 2009, it performed an extensive energy audit at all six of its airports as well as its own buildings. One year later, it entered into an Energy Savings Performance Contract with Con Edison Solutions that included 11 energy conservation measures with a budget of $5 million and a 12-year guaranteed payback-a return on investment of about $500,000 per year.
Project: LED Lighting Conversion
Location: T.F. Green Airport-Warwick, RI
Airport Operator: Rhode Island Airport Corp.
Project Scope: All landside fixture (interior & exterior); limited tarmac lighting
Approx. Cost: $4 million
Funding: Utility company incentives ($2.3 million); on-bill financing ($1.8 million)
Timeline: Sept. 2014 - Oct. 2016
Installation Contractor: Energy Source
LED Mfr: enLux
Product Distributor: D&M Manson Brothers Electric
Key Benefits: Estimated $855,000+/yr savings in energy costs; brighter, more consistent illumination than previous incandescent lights
Projected Recoup of Project Costs: Less than 3 yrs
Accolade: 2016 Northeast Business Leader for Energy Efficiency
Of Note: Similar upgrades in the works
at 5 smaller RI airports
"Because we receive no state funding to operate the airports, we need to be self-sustaining. We found that energy efficiency programs have been ideal for that," says Peter Frazier, RIAC senior vice president of administration, engineering, planning and environment, and the corporation's general counsel. (Frazier also served as RIAC interim president in 2016 after Kelly J. Fredericks left for a similar position at the Ontario International Airport Authority in California.)
Not willing to stand pat with past successes, RIAC completed another major energy efficiency project at PVD this fall: replacing existing metal halide and fluorescent bulbs in all landside and a few airside fixtures with energy-efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. All interior and exterior lighting for the airport's roadways, buildings, maintenance garages and four parking lots was converted for about $4 million. Associated energy savings are projected at $855,000 per year.
The three-phase project began in September 2014 with the replacement of outdoor lighting on the tarmac and airport parking lots. That phase was completed in January 2015. During Phase two, which ran from September 2015 through February 2016, crews replaced interior lighting in the terminal, baggage area, concession spaces and garages. The third phase, completed this fall, converted lighting for all of PVD's signage.
You don't have to be a pocket protector-wearing numbers cruncher to realize that switching to LEDs made sense. The magnitude of the potential savings generated by a switch to LED lighting made the decision to proceed self-evident, says Frazier.
Incentives and financing offered by National Grid, the local and regional utility, sweetened the deal. It paid RIAC $2.3 million in rebates and let the airport corporation pay the $1.8 million balance via on-bill financing. That allowed the airport to complete the project without having to raise capital. "The on-bill financing made this project work," says Joe DaSilva, assistant vice president of landside maintenance for RIAC. "It left us with less than a three-year payback and meant that we were paying off the project as we were saving the cost of wattage."
The arrangement is not unique. National Grid aggressively pursues partnerships with businesses and private residents for energy efficiency projects. "Efficiency programs lower the demand during seasonal peaks, which cause a major strain on our system," explains Gerald Mirabile, lead sales representative in Sales and Program Operations with the utility. "[Incentives] replace the expense of building new power plants and deferring the need for construction of substations."
Officials from the utility and RIAC estimate that switching to LED lighting at the airport will result in annual energy savings of more than 5.5 million kilowatt hours, with estimated cost savings of $855,000. As DaSilva points out, PVD not only lowers its energy bills, it also reduces labor costs and frees staff for other projects because long-lasting LEDs require significantly less maintenance.
Beyond cost savings, the lighting project also improved the aesthetics of the airport environment, adds DaSilva. Because LED light is directional (vs. a spherical shape from incandescent bulbs), PVD's new lighting produces brighter and more consistent levels of illumination. Changes are especially noticeable in the main terminal lobby, along the concourses, in the terminal gate area and at baggage pickup, he explains.
Ron Sliney, vice president of the company that installed PVD's new lights, marvels at how quickly the market has evolved: "Only four years ago, we were still installing fluorescent technology Today, we don't install anything but LED fixtures."
Converting to the more current technology garnered RIAC recognition as a 2016 Northeast Business Leader for Energy Efficiency. "RIAC provides an excellent example of how energy-efficient measures can improve a company's bottom line, contribute to economic growth and reduce environmental impact," says Sue Coakley, executive director for the nonprofit Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships.
More Improvements Ahead
With PVD operating at peak lighting efficiency, RIAC is initiating similar projects at the five smaller airports it oversees. Total cost is projected at approximately $425,000.
But that doesn't mean the sustainability work is done at PVD.
"We'd like to think that 'green' is more than our name," notes Frazier. "We are constantly looking for innovative ways to make our impact on the community and the world as environmentally friendly as possible. Let's face it, there are impacts associated with airports to residential neighbors, so we do everything we can to mitigate those, and then we want to take the extra step and also be environmentally friendly."
Switching to LED lighting is expected to save the airport more than $855,000 per year.
To that end, RIAC is planning to install a solar array that will allow PVD to generate its own renewable, clean energy. Once completed, the photovoltaic system is expected to make the airport a near zero net energy facility. "We manage to the bottom line, but with these technologies, you don't have to be a genius in the C-suite to understand that they make environmental and economic sense," Frazier says.
In his book, "Simply Brilliant," William Taylor asks, "Why should the story of success be the exclusive domain of a few technology-driven startups or a handful of billionaires? The thrill of breakthrough creativity and breakaway performance doesn't belong just to the youngest companies with the most cutting-edge technology or the most radical business strategies. It can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life, if leaders can reimagine what's possible in their fields."
The team at PVD and RIAC is living proof of Taylor's premise. "This is the type of project that everyone on the staff is proud to participate in," reflects Frazier. "We love to deliver curb-to-gate customer service, and here is one that is giving superior lighting at a reduced cost and having a positive environmental impact. It's one you get up in the morning and feel proud to be part of."