When a building owner or manager calls for an energy audit, they are usually looking for ways to upgrade lighting, HVAC, insulation or windows to save energy. The big items. Technology has improved markedly in recent years in these areas to justify upgrades resulting in significant energy use savings.
However, one area that is sometimes overlooked in an energy audit is plug load. According to the US Energy Information Administration, plug load can comprise up to 30% of total energy consumption of a commercial building. It should not be neglected.
Plug load is energy demand (almost always electricity) from devices plugged into electrical outlets (one notable exception is a stove/oven, plugged into a supply of natural gas. These devices include computers, speakers, printers, monitors, scanner, copiers, chargers, TVs, space heaters, fans, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee machines, vending machines, task (desk) lighting, and others. These are mainly small items and taken for granted because they are so commonplace. However, while each item may draw less electricity compared to a large AC, cumulatively they can use significant energy and if not properly planned and controlled, can impact your energy costs.
3 Things You Can Do To Lower Plug Load Energy Costs
Use Efficient Equipment
While these may be “small” items one just “runs in” and purchases quickly, there are differences in energy use among similar equipment. The USEPA and USDOE have a joint program called “Energy Star” which compares many plug load items. Brands that are Energy Star-certified generally use at least 20% less energy (usually, electricity) than the average for the item, yet performs the same. Such items have an Energy Star logo displayed prominently on the equipment and box. A McKinsey study lists different strategies to reduce GHG emissions (usually matched with energy reduction), and puts plug load programs like Energy Star at or near the top in terms of economic effectiveness. See page 5 of the report from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/impact-of-the-financial-crisis-on-carbon-economics-version-21. Many Energy Star products may be a few more dollars (or for larger equipment, $50) more expensive than the average one, but the energy savings will pay back that extra upfront cost very quickly, normally in just a few months. And then the savings for the rest of the time you own the equipment is “gravy”.
Another advantage of Energy Star is that it is an energy cost saving approach that does not rely on engineering or any kind of “work.” It is simple: a change in policy by Purchasing to purchase only Energy Star products allow you to lock in cost savings.
Smart controls allow you to program equipment for, say, “sleep” mode during certain hours or off altogether. For example, software can turn a vending machine’s lights and refrigeration off or reduce them slightly during non-office hours to save energy, yet keep food fresh. Sensors can turn off computers or lights when not in use. Make sure controls can be overridden, when necessary. This allows you to keep energy from being used when not needed, yet does not involve daily manual efforts to do so, which rarely work.
Make sure your employees/residents understand the importance of plug load as contributing to energy costs, which affect their costs as employees and renters. In time, they will be motivated to turn off equipment when not in use, saving energy. And they’ll do so at home, saving them costs, as well.
CCES can help your building or company review and analyze your energy use, including equipment, software controls, and operations with the intent of finding common sense and technological solutions to enable you to save significant energy costs while enhancing productivity. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.