Sleuthing for Solutions: Become an Energy Detective

11/10/2013 | By Eric Woodroof, Ph.D., CEM, CRM

What’s worth more: improving the efficiency of equipment or shutting it off when unneeded?

For most of my career, I have focused on energy management projects that reduce operational costs and have a quick payback. If you can improve efficiency by 20% for an asset that is used at least 3,000 hours a year, you can usually find a good ROI. Many technologies that can achieve this are available for lighting, boilers, chillers, motors, and other equipment, and many energy engineers can stay busy by improving the efficiencies of these heavily used assets.

However, before addressing efficiency, we must go back to basics and ask if an asset is needed at all. Often, there are mutually exclusive options between improving efficiency versus shutting off equipment when not needed. Think of it in terms of purchasing an item on sale: are there really savings if you didn’t need it in the first place?

To illustrate my point in an energy example, consider my all-electric house. Upon moving into it, we had a utility bill of $700. With great motivation, I sought to reduce the electric expense. I went into my usual mode of changing most of the lights to LEDs. I also put more insulation into the attic and adjusted the temperature setpoints (only slightly, to keep the spouse happy). Our bill was slashed in half. After some other projects, our bill has occasionally dropped to about $200. In all of these projects, I could almost see the energy wasting away, so the moves were common sense upgrades.


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