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Help For Your Building’s Energy Profile

Dec. 12, 2018

Buildings are quickly becoming dynamic energy hubs. Make sure you work with your utility company to discuss rates, incentive programs and accessing more data to better understand your energy profile.

As the operation of commercial buildings becomes more sophisticated, so too do their energy profiles. A commercial building can act, at any point, as an energy consumer, energy generator or energy storage point. Its energy profile is also vulnerable to instantaneous change, responding to signals from internal controls or grid operators.

And as energy efficiency becomes increasingly important, new technology aims to save energy costs and carbon emissions.

“There are many different functions that buildings are now performing in the world,” says Austin Whitman, vice president of energy markets at FirstFuel Software. “There was a time when a building was just a province of the people who managed it, people who occupied it. As far as the utility companies were concerned, a building for a long time was just something that used energy. You could predict year to year how much energy that building would use. Things wouldn’t change. It was fairly static.”

That’s not the case anymore. Buildings are far from that, Whitman explains. “There are an abundance of decisions that people who are occupying those buildings are making about how to use energy and what types of non-traditional energy technology to invest in.”

Any advanced energy technology added to a building will change that building’s energy fingerprint. This poses a challenging energy landscape for not just facilities managers to navigate, but also utility companies.

[Related: Making Displacement Ventilation Work in a Historic Building]

“They’re trying to figure out how to understand the implications of those decisions on the processes they’ve been doing for 100 years, but now that process has fundamentally changed.”

Working Together

Utility companies, like facilities managers, are interested in getting to greener goals through modern techniques like installing solar panels, battery storage and electrification, explains Jules Nohra, senior manager of energy engineering at FirstFuel.

“We can get that conversation started between utilities and the building owners and look where to make improvements on their grid,” he says.

As you begin or continue to consider implementing advanced energy technologies, keep in mind that you’re altering the fingerprint of your facilities. You’ll also affect how it interacts with other points of load in the grid.

When starting a dialogue with your utility company to better understand your building’s energy profile, consider these points of discussion.

1. Rates

You’ll likely have questions about what you pay for your energy usage, when you pay it or how much you pay at a time.

“There’s no question that utilities are behind the curve on rolling out dynamic rates,” Whitman says. “I think this is one of the more interesting opportunities for building owners to get into a dialogue with utilities.” It’s important you pay a rate that is logically in sync with the way you use energy, what your priorities are and what new technologies you use.

[Read also: 5 Trends in HVAC that are Improving Efficiency]

2. More data

As utility companies garner access to more advanced tools, Whitman says facilities managers and buildings owners should “ask more” of them. For example, if a company installs a smart meter in your facility, be sure to ask what you’re getting from it. “If you’re not able to see the data from that building, plus a little interpretation, then what’s the smart meter doing for you?”

3. Incentives

To make advanced energy technology more attractive, some utility companies have rolled out incentive programs. “Not all utilities will have these programs, but there are a lot of them and a lot of opportunities that you might be missing if you’re not talking to your utility company,” says Nohra.

As you begin or continue to consider implementing advanced energy technologies, keep in mind that you’re altering the fingerprint of your facilities. You’ll also affect how it interacts with other points of load in the grid.

Whitman and Nohra reiterate that an open dialogue with your utility company can help you both navigate a fluctuating energy profile.

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About the Author

Sarah Kloepple | Associate Editor

Sarah joined the BUILDINGS team as an associate editor in August 2018. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, where her focus was magazine writing. She's written and edited for numerous publications in her hometown of St. Louis.

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