The EI Group, Inc.

Controlling Energy Costs - How an energy assessment can help you get started

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Courtesy of The EI Group, Inc.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program states that “commercial buildings share a large and growing appetite for energy. They account for 18 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. In a typical office building, energy use accounts for 30 percent of operating costs, the largest single category of controllable costs.” Let’s look at some typical concerns describing the sometimes elusive pursuit of evaluating a building’s energy consumption and costs: A local restaurant manager has an HVAC maintenance contractor, but still cannot determine why the kitchen grill area stays so hot. That same manager is also perplexed by the lack of ventilation in one corner of his restaurant. The corporate managers of this chain feel confident that there are improvements in building operations that can be realized.

The maintenance manager of a high-rise condominium building is extremely proud of the condition of his chillers and boilers. Yet he is unable to determine what is contributing to the high energy costs of his building month after month.

The environmental manager of an industrial facility is becoming suspicious that his energy costs are higher than they ought to be. He knows that financial incentives are being offered by his utility provider that could benefit his plant, but he doesn’t know where to start.

Many owners and managers have a desire to be “green” but just as importantly, they want efficiency. Slight improvements, some without significant capital cost, can add money directly back to the bottom line. Like the environmental manager at the industrial facility, you might ask, “That’s all fine, but where do I start?” The first step in improving your energy efficiency is to conduct an energy assessment of your facility.

Step 1 - Determining Your Objectives
Defining the objectives of the energy assessment is essential to a successful project and ensuring that the assessment scope is properly defined. Many assessments are broad and general, with an objective of identifying all areas where improvements can be made. Other studies may focus on specific building or operation elements, such as HVAC controls or refrigeration systems, while studies on newer buildings may focus solely on the building automation system (BAS). Know what you’re getting into before you get started!

An energy assessment examines current building and operational systems, their energy usage, and identifies energy reduction opportunities. Recommendations for capital improvements are determined by examining how they would operate in relation to existing and proposed equipment to achieve the optimal energy efficiency level for the entire facility. This is because the facility functions as a system with many interconnected parts that together determine the operational effectiveness of the building. A valuable energy assessment will include definition of objectives, a site inspection, data collection, identification of possible improvement options, evaluation and feasibility of those options, a summary report, and support for the implementation of energy saving measures.

Step 2 - Site Survey and Data Collection
This is where a third party collects the information necessary to meet the assessment objectives. Typically, information is compiled on historical utility use (electricity, gas, and water), billing agreements, and building and process equipment/systems, operational and maintenance practices. Finally, information is collected on the building envelope and related energy efficiencies. Depending on the scope of the assessment, certain field measurements are taken (ie. data logging power use, temperature data on equipment, air flow data, light intensity data, or infrared photography) for analysis.

Step 3 - Identifying Areas for Improvement
The identification of possible improvement options and their evaluation and feasibility is the number crunching performed after the site visit. The objective is to examine all the possible energy saving opportunities in view of the assessment objectives. These are often broken down into two categories, 1) low or no cost solutions and 2) capital improvements. Low or no cost solutions are those that require operational changes or very minor system or equipment changes but result in significant cost savings. Because of the very low capital cost, the aggregate return-on-investment (ROI) for these measures are a few weeks or months. Capital improvement projects are also identified and may include replacing equipment, installing heat recovery systems, and of course, replacing lighting. All this information and evaluation is described in a summary report.

Return on Investment
To underscore the benefit of an energy assessment, let’s look back at those earlier statements made by owners and managers.

The assessment of the restaurant chain identified key issues associated with the operation and maintenance of their building systems. Low and no cost energy saving measures were identified that would save $1.3 million in the first year. Additional capital improvements would save another $500,000 for the entire portfolio.

Although the maintenance manager had done a great job in maintaining the major pieces of HVAC equipment, no one was really monitoring the controls associated with the entire system. Improvements in the air handlers and control systems identified savings of 10% of the building’s energy operating cost. The environmental manager for the large industrial facility was correct; there was a tremendous opportunities to save energy dollars. Also, with the incentives from the utility provider, the ROI on about $425,000 of capital improvements was reduced to 13 months (about $125,000 in annual energy savings). Further, an additional annual energy savings of $87,000 was identified with about $10,000 of capital required.

These success stories underscore the potential benefit of conducting an energy assessment that is properly defined, thoroughly conducted, and diligently implemented.

If conducting an energy assessment at your facility sounds like a bright idea, please don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Michael L. Walker, EI’s Director of Energy and Environmental Engineering Services.

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