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How to Conquer Your Building’s Plug Load Challenges

A recent physical survey of 11 office buildings in San Francisco and Washington D.C. identified that only 44% of computers, 32% of monitors and 25% of printers were turned off after working hours. Yet managing plug loads from these types of idle devices has typically been challenging – due to a combination of technological and behavioral barriers, payback uncertainty, and difficulty in measuring results.

This is changing. New sensor technologies, powered by the Internet of Things, combined with advances in software and data analytics are creating opportunities for building owners and operators to significantly reduce plug load costs. Here’s a few reasons why it might be time to consider a new plug load strategy for your building:

Plug Loads are Expensive

Commercial buildings use 20% of all electricity in America. This comes at a total cost to American businesses of $180 billion per year. According to the Department of Energy, plug loads in commercial buildings can account for as much as 30-50% of each building’s total annual electricity costs. California’s office plug loads alone consume more than 3,000 gigawatt hours annually, costing more than $400 million each year.

Also, nationwide electricity prices have been increasing steadily over the past decade. A recent study estimates that in California, electricity prices are expected to increase by 46% over the next 16 years. This is a result, in part, of the closure of coal-fired power plants, reductions in nuclear energy, and the shift to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

While some states, like California, are considering lower rates for business customers relative to residential electricity consumers, the overall trend for US electricity price landscape is still upward.  And if that weren’t enough, the associated carbon dioxide emissions of these plug loads is more than 700,000 metric tons annually. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of 140,000 cars during one year.

The Number of Plugged-In Devices is Rising

Additionally, BYOD (bring your own device) policies are gaining momentum in American offices with studies showing that up to 70% of American workplaces have adopted BYOD as an IT policy. The number of devices per knowledge worker is expected to increase by as much as 25% per year until 2020.

While the BYOD trend comes with benefits including reduced hardware and IT management costs, it also increases plug loads,  and the associated electricity costs and GHG emissions in commercial buildings.

Traditional Plug Load Management Tools are Inefficient

Historically, there were few sophisticated tools for dealing with plug loads. These included investing in Energy Star compliant devices, asking building occupants to unplug devices by hand, and more recently running individual infrastructure projects to connect electrical systems to other building management systems.

While these different approaches have yielded some results, they typically suffer from uncertain ROI, poor measurability, and high ongoing maintenance costs.

Smart plug load controllers can help

New smart building technologies, powered by advanced sensors and the Internet of Things, give facility managers granular control over all of the electrical infrastructure they manage.

The features of these advanced systems help building owners and operators drive down plug load electricity costs by:

  • Turning plugs off selected plugs at scheduled times
  • Collecting and aggregating data on plug load electricity for analysis and improved decision-making
  • Reducing waste heat from idle plug loads (which decreases HVAC costs)
  • Being easily modifiable if you floor plan or plug load demand requirements change
  • Making buildings more efficient

Zach Gentry is the Vice President of Business Development at Enlighted, Inc. He can be reached at

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