Engage Occupants in Slashing Plug Loads

08/01/2017 |

How to get consumers on board with energy conservation

Plug loads generated by leaving task lights and other devices on are responsible for roughly 33% of a building's energy use.

Responsible for an estimated 33% of energy consumption, plug and process loads represent a significant chunk of a building’s energy spend. But reducing the amount of money you spend on plug load-related energy isn’t as easy as bringing in new technology – you need to get occupants to engage with your energy efforts too. That task is easier said than done, but these strategies may help.

Identify Your Needs

Start by determining what barriers currently stand in the way of you and the people in your building reducing the amount of energy used for plug and process loads. One common hurdle is that many buildings don’t have the proper framework in place to inform occupants about the energy consequences of behaviors like leaving equipment on. People who simply work in a building aren’t the ones paying the utility bill, so they don’t realize how not turning off a task light or a computer monitor at the end of the day can impact their organization and the environment.

Visualize the Data

Determine where your energy is going in regards to plug loads, then figure out the best way to translate this information for building occupants. Take a cue from Stanford University, which conducted a thorough inventory of campus equipment with the help of 14 student interns. The team discovered that across the 263-building campus, Stanford utilized 204,000 pieces of equipment that consumed 77.3 million kWh every year with an annual cost of roughly $9 million, according to a presentation by Stanford Sustainability Specialist Moira Hafer at the 2016 Greenbuild conference. Plug loads represented 34% of the campus’s electricity use.

Stanford then broke down all of the equipment by building type to determine where the biggest energy hogs were. Predictably, high-intensity labs came in with the highest energy use intensity (EUI) at just over 9 kWh per square foot per year, followed by low-intensity labs at about 7 and offices around 4.5. The university identified 33 measurable initiatives fitting five general categories that could potentially save $2.3 million per year. Equipment retrofits alone saved roughly $183,000 and boasted a six-month ROI, while a green laboratory initiative came with a 3.4-year ROI but was projected to save $1.4 million. All told, the programs reduced the campus’s plug load by 26% and the total electricity consumption by 9%.

Employ Occupant Initiatives

Once you have the numbers you need, it’s time to enlist occupants’ help. The success of any plug load initiative depends on consumers taking ownership of energy use. For example, the University of California, Berkeley targeted building occupants through building surveys and energy dashboards that display real-time building energy use in over 100 facilities. Responsibility for energy costs was allocated proportionally to individual campus operating units, and students engaged with conservation through residence hall competitions to reduce electricity use.

Any building type can benefit from such competitions, and if you’re already metering to track whether you're saving energy, you can use the same data to monitor competitors’ progress. Divide building occupants by floors, departments, or even whole buildings if your organization occupies a campus. Focus on turning off lights and electronics at the end of the day and build a campaign around the small things occupants can do to cut down on energy use. Advanced power strips take conservation a step further by preventing electronics from drawing power while they’re turned off.

Track and Replicate Success

Data is a vital component of any energy initiative. Without tracking consumption before, during and after occupant engagement, there’s no way to know if your initiatives are working. Make sure you’re metering energy consumption at a level granular enough to let you see where energy use is dropping and where more work is needed. Submetering can help differentiate plug loads from different floors and the metering devices can often be paired with software that lets you compare the measurements of different meters side by side for easier analysis.

Publicize the results to everyone and suggest ways that people in areas with higher-than-expected consumption can improve savings. With diligence and a well-planned initiative, you can bring the people who work in your building on board with conserving energy.

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