Franklin Energy Saves 32% on Electric, 48% on Gas with VRF Zoning Systems

Franklin Energy Services, LLC (Franklin Energy), Port Washington, Wis., has consulted with utilities, municipalities and states to create energy efficiency programs for their commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential customers since 1994. The company has offices in 12 states and more than 375 employees. Named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Energy bases its approach on this founding father’s core beliefs: ingenuity, frugality, values and vision.

An example of Franklin Energy’s work is the Focus on Energy program, which has been working with Wisconsin residents and businesses for more than 10 years to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. In 2011, Franklin Energy worked with Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy business customers to save more than 89 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) and more than 1.5 million therms. That amount of energy savings prevented greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 13,500 cars.

Corporate Headquarters: A Showcase for Energy Efficiency

Franklin Energy moved its 10,000-square-foot national headquarters into a historic structure
on the shores of Lake Michigan in January 2011. Formerly the Smith Brothers processing plant (Port Washington was once famous for the national distribution of white fish, chub, perch and trout), the building is on the National Register for Historic Places. According to Franklin Energy Chief Executive Officer, Paul Schueller, the company had always made its headquarters a showcase for the firm’s approach to energy efficiency. The newest headquarters would continue this tradition.

“We have a long history of selecting underutilized buildings for our headquarters and regional offices,” Schueller said. “Our first Franklin Energy headquarters was in a Port Washington hotel built before the Civil War. Next, we moved into a vacant church built in 1913. When we outgrew that, we moved into this space in the old Smith Brothers processing plant, the best-known building in town. We like all our offices to be part of a community where our employees can walk or bike to work.”

Planning for his new office space, Schueller called on Randy Mueller, Mueller Heating & Cooling, Saukville, Wis., to help design the heating and cooling system to keep everyone comfortable. Over the years, Mueller had provided sound counsel and several HVAC installations for Schueller, including an installation at Schueller’s home. Mueller’s first suggestion was to install a hydronic heat system in the new headquarters, but Schueller rejected the idea as being out of step with his high energy-efficiency goals.

Mueller then turned to his long-time distributor, Auer Steel & Heating Supply Co. in Milwaukee. Auer’s VRF Specialist, Dave Janquart, looked at Schueller’s floor plan and told Mueller he had a much better idea — a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) zoning system from Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling & Heating Division (Mitsubishi Electric), Suwanee, Ga.

VRF Zoning: Ideal Solution for Franklin Energy

According to Janquart, VRF zoning technology was an ideal choice for Franklin Energy for several reasons. The system’s recognized energy savings was at the top of his list, but he had many other reasons for his choice:

  • Ease of installation.
  • Superb quietness (sound attenuation).
  • A great ability for load-sharing (not possible with conventional systems).
  • Ingenious INVERTER-driven compressor.
  • The small footprint and lightweight modularity of the outdoor units.
  • Industry-exclusive simultaneous cooling and heating ability.

Franklin Energy: The Ultimate Showcase

Mark T. Kuntz, P.E., is Mitsubishi Electric’s vice president, marketing & engineered solutions. “Franklin Energy is a very high profile project for us,” Kuntz said. “They have an excellent reputation for helping utilities and municipalities all over the U.S. achieve impressive energy savings through sound program implementation practices.”

Kuntz said that Mitsubishi Electric is delighted that Franklin Energy selected the Mitsubishi Electric VRF zoning system for its headquarters building. “Not only do we respect Franklin Energy’s work in the area of energy efficiency, but the installation provided an opportunity for our engineers to collect 12 months of solid energy-savings quantification,” Kuntz said.

Using actual utility meter data as well as measured data from an energy monitoring system, the results showed significant energy savings compared to the average Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) energy usage for a building of its size and construction type (see chart).

Electric Energy Usage
CBECS average: 17.9 kWh/ft2/yr
Franklin Energy actual: 12.2 kWh/ft2/yr
Savings: 32%

Gas Energy Usage
CBECS average: 42.3 ft3/ft2/yr
Franklin Energy actual: 21.9 ft3/ft2/yr
Savings: 48%

These results validated the original energy model projections. The actual energy usage for electricity and gas were within one and five percent of the models, respectively. While saving a great deal of energy is an excellent result, comfort was still a top priority for Franklin Energy and the people working on site.

“Because of the building’s orientation and outdated glass windows, solar gain was a huge issue for our HVAC systems selection,” Schueller said. “This Mitsubishi Electric VRF zoning system has been a lifesaver for individual comfort and for helping us save on energy costs. Because of the Mitsubishi Electric INVERTER® technology and individual room controls, the perimeter offices in this old building have been very comfortable in all seasons.”