According to a 2012 Lawrence Livermore Laboratories study, the US wastes about 61% of the energy it uses. Yes, more than half! The US wastes more energy than the UK uses! Such energy waste costs the US hundreds of billions of dollars in capitalized asset value and reduces profits of US businesses by many tens of billions of dollars.
Even if your buildings and operations are doing better than average, there is likely a lot to be gained from a thorough review of energy usage. If an energy audit has not been performed in the last 4 years, then there is much to gain as new proven energy technologies have advanced so much since then. There is an excellent chance that a thorough audit will reveal multiple upgrades with significant financial benefits for you.
But the key is not just doing an energy audit, but doing it right. You need to not only use technical experts, but also those that understand your business goals and expectations.
Here are two items, often made available, you want to avoid:
Free Energy Audit. In some places, entities offer free energy audits. Well, ultimately you get what you pay for. I was once approached by a utility to perform free energy audits. The pay was terrible, and I turned it down. The only people who would do these had to be people (non-engineers?) with little or no experience. Is that what you want to base financial decisions on? Also, free energy audits are often actually sales calls, ignoring some energy usage areas and only focusing on their sales areas. A thorough audit covering all major energy usage areas that is product “neutral” will serve you best.
Here’s another story. A corporation once asked me to prepare a proposal to perform energy audits of all of their approximately 30 diverse facilities. We estimated a cost of just over $100,000, and we decided to be bold and estimated that the audits would likely save them cumulatively about $3 million per year in energy costs. Well, the company decided to decline the proposal but mandated each facility to have performed a free or cheap energy audit. Well, needless to say, this became a problem.
“Virtual” Audit. Some companies claim they can perform a useful energy audit without ever setting foot in your facility. Just provide a year’s worth of energy bills, model numbers of all equipment, and some building drawings and they can do it. While this may work for benchmarking (developing an EnergyStar rating), there is no substitute for actually walking through the facility, going up on the roof, going to the boiler room, etc. The experienced auditor needs to see how energy is used. Perhaps the most valuable information is just from talking to facilities workers, who can tell stories about the building or equipment that even management may be unaware. Again, you don’t want to make financial commitments based on data obtained without several walkthroughs.
Yes, the best way to maximize your financial benefits is with a thorough engineering study, run by professionals. Not only can good energy saving strategies be identified, but it can be done not favoring one vendor or another, better ensuring success and competition for providing the upgrade, maximizing financial benefits. Such a top-notch energy audit also may result in additional training (formal or not) for staff to operate equipment more efficiently – for you to get your money’s worth out of the equipment you have purchased.
Here are things to look for to develop the best energy audit for you:
Communicate boundaries and goals. Before the energy audit begins, a building owner or manager should communicate to the auditor what you wish to gain plus any restrictions. Maximize financial benefits? Improve the look? Just focus on one area (lighting only? HVAC only?)? Only focus on strategies with a payback of less than X years? Etc. This enables the auditor to use time more effectively to meet your goals.
Prepare for multiple site visits. Pre-set a date or dates for the site visit(s). Make sure that the facility manager is available to escort the auditor around and have at the ready information the auditor may need (drawings, equipment brochures, etc.). I once performed an energy audit and the facility manager kept me waiting over an hour. Then when he came to me, he shook my hand, told me to walk around anywhere I wanted, and quickly left. While emergencies can occur and it is thus understandable when the manager must leave the auditor, initial plans should be held to as best as possible.
Go deep into developing many energy conservation measures. The auditor should not only develop many “ECMs”, but should develop for you not only the direct financial cost of the upgrade and cost savings, but also each one’s secondary benefits. For example, LED lights not only save significant electricity cost, but last much longer than T12s and others, meaning building maintenance staff gain flexibility to work on other tasks and also take fewer trips up the ladder (reducing accident risk). Similarly, some upgrades enable workers or customers to be more comfortable, raising productivity and even sales. While hard to quantify, other benefits like these should be accounted for.
Communication. It is very important that a thorough report of the energy audit be prepared. Make sure the auditor does this. The style of the report can vary based on the company’s standards, but it should at least provide background, a description of the current building and energy equipment, the current energy profile, and a full description of all ECMs. Work with the auditor and address potential issues of interpretation by upper management. I once performed an energy audit with ECMs and the facility’s general manager was very upset at me. He felt that the way the report was written listing many areas of potential improvement made him look like he was not managing his property well. So don’t take offense, and work with your auditor so that the report is not taken as an indictment of anybody. In reality, technology changes so rapidly that there are always many areas to improve; the emphasis being cost savings.
CCES has the experience to perform any type of energy audit from ASHRAE Level I through III. We are always looking for ways for our clients to maximize the financial benefits of all energy upgrade strategies. See the benefits yourself. Contact us today at karell@CCESworld.com or at 914-584-6720.