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Legrand Finds Savings & Sustainability in Alternate Energy Fuel Cells

Legrand’s new 500kW fuel cell system can power up to 88% of the 263,000-square-foot West Hartford, Conn., headquarters and reduce CO2 emissions up to 50%.

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The mantra for Legrand has been “transforming spaces,” whether they be home residences or commercial buildings, through the company’s range of lighting, data and power products. In recent years the company has turned attention to transforming its own facilities particularly in the area of sustainability, energy efficiency and waste reduction, and recently unveiled a major piece toward this initiative with the installation of a fuel cell system at its West Hartford, Conn., headquarters.

With a good contingent of roughly 600 employees who work at the facility looking on, as well as members of the media and some local political and community representatives, Legrand held a “Flick the Switch” ceremony on April 18 in which it detailed many of the ways the Bloom Energy 500kW fuel cell will transform its space – which in this case is a 263,000-square-foot campus that’s 100 years old dating to owner and current Legrand property, Wiremold (acquired by Legrand in 2000).

The solid-oxide fuel cell, which converts chemical energy of natural gas directly into electrical energy without combustion taking place – thereby providing a cleaner energy alternative than traditional power systems – is expected to produce up to 88 percent of the facility’s electricity. Legrand says the new fuel cell will also help reduce CO2 emissions as much as 50 percent and energy intensity about 21 percent. The cells also use a sand-like powder instead of precious metals, so the costs are reduced, and conversion from fuel to electricity occurs at twice the rate of conventional technologies, according to Legrand.

“It’s a great time to be here, with Earth Day being on Friday,” noted Beth Welch, senior marketing communications manager, Legrand North America.

The fuel cell is the latest and largest step in the company’s long-term initiative that began with a commitment five years ago to reduce energy intensity by 25 percent in 10 years across 14 of its U.S. facilities and reduce the West Hartford plant’s energy intensity by 10 percent in two years. It’s positioned Legrand as a “Better Buildings, Better Plant” ‘Challenge Partner’ in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings program, and the company met both goals and set new sights on higher energy reduction levels for all its North American facilities by 2022.

“We make a difference, we hope, by being innovative,” said John Selldorff, CEO, Legrand North and South America. “We really think that one of the things we bring is changing the paradigm, we’re hopefully offering things that you didn’t think were available or if you are an installer, easier and quicker to install. From an end-user perspective we wanted to do things like enabling energy efficiency, which is one of the fastest growing segments of our business, and we try to promote that in something that we like to call a ‘high-performance building’; it’s not just a generic term, there’s a specific definition of what high-performance buildings are.

“We partner with many other global companies, people who are very sensitive of the environmental impact their own footprint, their own operations have,” Selldorff continued. “We also as a company try to ‘walk the talk’ so we’re not only selling solutions to help others live and work better, but we try to make it so for our associates and our communities.”

In all candor I can tell you that six years ago sustainability was a very new concept to Legrand. But since that time we’ve been working every day to implement sustainability into the way we do business.—Susan Rochford, Legrand North America

Legrand estimates that at full capacity the new fuel cell will produce net savings of approximately $2.4 million over its first 10 years. Revenues for North America business were roughly $1.3 billion last year, Selldorff mentioned.

“We really believe you have to invest and pay attention, and when you do you can have a huge impact,” said Selldorff.

Putting Legrand’s sustainability into greater detail, Susan Rochford, vice president of energy efficiency, sustainability & public policy, and Ravi Ramanathan, president of electrical wiring systems, elaborated on the company initiatives.

“I truly believe that sustainability at Legrand has become a core value,” said Rochford, referring not just to the headquarters but Legrand’s 27 locations across North America. “I came here in 2010 to help our company start to look through a new lens, a lens which would allow us to look at our choices and decisions in a more well-rounded way, with consideration for the environmental and social implications of our actions. In all candor I can tell you that six years ago sustainability was a very new concept to Legrand. But since that time we’ve been working every day to implement sustainability into the way we do business – this is a new paradigm not just for Legrand, but for all companies and it’s something that requires continuous learning, continuous effort and continuous improvement.”

As it pushed forward, the company incorporated such moves in recent years as installing seven submeters throughout the plant to obtain more detailed energy information (and demonstrate energy reduction progress reporting), installed inductive lighting in parking lots, relamped office hours areas across the plant, installed automation and lighting control systems, implemented higher energy consumption machines, recommissioned HVAC systems, replaced an old paint line washer, and replaced 38 refrigeration units with energy-efficient models, noted Ramanathan.

Ramanathan said the company used 1.4kW hours less in 2015 than in 2010. It also produced 23 tons less landfill waste in 2015 than in 2010, recycled 4.3 million pounds of steel in 2015 and saved 8 million gallons of water between 2010 and 2015, notes Ramanathan.

“Deciding to install a fuel cell in West Hartford was a next logical step,” he says, adding that the cell results in primary output of water vapor, with no smog. “The team [that worked on the fuel cell project] was a broad-based one, it wasn’t a top-down driven decision; it’s a team that had active finance involvement, sourcing involvement, business unit involvement, our environmental team led by Susan … to bring us to this point.”

In explaining that it wants to “walk the talk” of being an environmentally conscious company, Ramanathan noted that Legrand must lead by example while providing solutions for others. He pointed to some of the projects it has done with other leading companies of the same green mindset such as Google, Apple and Cisco campuses, as well as the LEED Platinum-certified Bank of America towers in New York City. Work with the latter impressed Bank of America enough with the energy efficiencies and environmental impact that Legrand will be working with the corporation on its facilities throughout the U.S., the company says.

The Bloom Energy fuel cell installation took place over 20 days, according to Legrand, which added that it chose fuel cell technology over other alternative energy solutions such as solar for a variety of reasons. Depending on the case, the sustainable benefits were not deemed as great, cost to deploy was higher, power output not as dependable, etc., noted Legrand, which did not disclose the costs of the 500kW unit and labor.

“One of the first things I remember doing when I came into office was getting a tour here and seeing everything and asking questions, how can we help, what are the challenges you face,” said West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka, who attended with Deputy (and soon to be incoming) Mayor Shari Cantor. “And I took from that day something I’ve remembered ever since – we’re incredibly efficient here, in fact we are measured against other North American companies and we are as efficient as we get, but we can only be so efficient. And the one variable we can’t touch right now is energy costs – just by virtue of being in a colder climate it’s more expensive for us to dobusiness here, and we really need your help. I’d like to say that we offered assistance, but you really made it without our help.”

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