Electrifying success – Smart lighting saves Rogers Centre $300,000 a year

Use of a smart lighting control system is enabling the Rogers Centre in Toronto save more than $300,000 a year on energy costs.

The sprawling Rogers Centre (formerly called Skydome) spans around 12.7 acres.

The complex – which hosts a variety of sporting and entertainment events for anywhere from 5,000 to 60,000 spectators – contains approximately 7,000 lighting fixtures covering an area of 1.4 million square feet.

With a target of reducing overall lighting energy consumption by 50 per cent, the Centre’s facility management opted for “intelligent lighting technology” from Encelium Technologies Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Prior to the Encelium retrofit, the Rogers Centre spent about $4 million a year on electricity. Lighting costs accounted for 50 per cent of the bill.

The complex that opened in 1988 was designed without taking into account the current energy crunch. In certain areas, such as the underground garage lighting, regulations required that lights be kept on 24-hours a day.

“Since the building opened, we never shut off the lights in some areas as there was simply no switch that enabled operators to dim or to turn off just a portion of the lighting,” noted Moe Goldhar, manager of energy conservation for the facility.

The Encelium system offers this capability.

Encelium has also integrated a host of motion, light and sound detectors, and enables operators to monitor and control lighting from a single desktop interface.

Each lighting fixture in the system is hooked up to a communications protocol similar to an Internet protocol address. “Users actually communicate with every light bulb via the Internet,” said Encelium co-founder Terry Mocherniack.

Today Encelium Technologies’ customer list includes other high-profile organizations such as Disney, Google, SAP, BCE Place, Direct Energy Centre and the U.S. Postal Service.

But in the year 2000 when the firm first brought its technology to market, convincing people of its merit wasn’t easy.

“The market then was dominated by hardware-based switches,” recalled Mocherniack. By contrast, he said, his firm was offering a software alternative — one that enabled remote power management, over the Internet.

Mocherniack was sure the product would be a runaway success. After all it did help users dramatically cut down power consumption.

But while commercial success initially eluded his firm, Mocherniack learned a valuable lesson from the initiative — “timing is everything”.

Though the environmental movement was well underway, nine years ago, many Canadian firms hadn’t embraced Green IT to the extent that they have done today, the Encelium co-founder reminisced.

“We struggled along for a few years simply because our product was two to three years ahead of the market. Potential customers weren’t ready for it.”  

But things have turned quite dramatically since then.

With just has 11 people on staff today, Encelium’s business has grown five-fold over the past 16 months. “Revenues have doubled each year for the last three years,” Mocherniack says.

This rough and rocky road to success has taught Encelium many valuable lessons. Based on these, Mocherniack offers three tips to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Pick the right time – A good product is not enough. People need to be ready to try it out. “Being two to three years ahead of the market was a special hardship for us,” says Mocherniak. Not enough people could wrap their heads around the technology or were ready to risk money on the product.

Look for an ally – You can’t do it all alone. To raise money for research and development, Encelium courted venture capitalists and investors. But the company also got tremendous help from The Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA), a non-profit organization that helps promote environmentally friendly technologies.  “OCETA certified our products and then helped us land our first big client.”  

Be wary when seeking external funding – Many startups need cash for operations and R&D. But companies need to be mindful of the capitalist they chose to partner with.

Mocherniak says business owners need to be wary of investors who try to wrest control of the company or try to redirect its efforts.  

“We had an investor that trickle-funded us. We could never get the development off the ground because the money was always short.”

The agreement with the venture capitalist also prevented them from seeking out other investors.

With files form Joaquim P. Menezes

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