Take 10: Conducting and Understanding an Energy Audit

Feb. 25, 2010

Q 1.  How long does it take to complete an energy audit?

A. The time needed to complete an energy audit will depend on several things: 1) your goals, 2) the available data, 3) the number of facilities, and 4) whether you intend to include recommendations in the audit (versus just tallying the results).  In general, a good rule of thumb is to estimate about 4 weeks.  Here’s how that breaks down:

  • 1 week to determine goals, assign responsibility, identify the scope/boundaries.
  • 1 week to gather the necessary data (you may need to add extra time if you are formally surveying employees!)
  • 1 week to analyze the data.
  • 1 week to put it all together in a nice report with some high-level recommendations

Obviously, if your organization takes forever in determining goals, or has a terrible way of managing data, this timeline may become considerably longer.  But a reasonably organized operation should be able to get it done in 4-6 weeks.  Just make sure that you are including the right number of people to collect/analyze data.  You may want to add additional people if you’re talking about an energy audit for multiple buildings—especially if they are spaced out across a wide geography.

Q 2. Will a do-it-yourself audit be useful in applying for tax incentives (credits, deductions, rebates, etc.) or do you need to have an independent professional conduct the energy audit?

It depends on the type of incentive you are considering, and for that reason it’s a good idea to get a general understanding of the options available in your area.  Go to http://dsireusa.org/ and look up your state to see a comprehensive list of the state, local, utility, and federal incentives applicable to your organization.  Read the details on each one to get an idea of what kind of energy data is required.  If it seems that most of the incentives in your area require an independent, professional energy audit, then you have a great reason to pitch that idea to your executives!

Q 3. You mentioned that peak surges often occur in the morning when employees arrive at work.  Do you have suggestions about how to lessen these morning surges?

There are two key ways to manage peak demand in the morning.  First, a building management system can coordinate a gradual turn-on of overhead lights, rather than have all employees flip on the lights right at 8:45 a.m. when the vast majority of them arrive.  Spread it out over 30 minutes (for example, starting at 7:30 a.m.).  People who happen to arrive early can always turn on their office lights, but you’re not waiting for employees to get the ball started.

Second, a network power management system for your IT system can boot up people’s computers on a rolling basis, similar to the light example above.  Check out www.verdium.com for more information about network power management.  There are significant cost-saving opportunities here!

Q 4. If an organization develops a performance contract with an ESCO, would the selected firm typically perform the type of energy audit you have discussed?

Again, this will vary based on the performance contract (especially on its scope — whether it covers complete building retrofitting or an isolated project like upgrading HVAC systems).  Typically ESCO companies will have relationships with energy auditors and will be able to give you a discount on a commercial energy audit.  In other cases, they may just split the cost with you, or perhaps even create an agreement that covers the cost of the audit if you choose to execute the ESCO contract (but in which you pay for the audit if you decide NOT to execute the contract).  ESCOs are often flexible, so feel free to ask them for a deal that suits your needs!

Q 5. How do you implement measures where space is leased (triple-net lease)?

This is a GREAT question, since energy auditing and reduction plans are somewhat limited when you don’t have direct control over utility billing and building equipment.  I would point you to two resources: http://www.squarefootage.net/resource_articles.html and http://sustainca.org/green_leases_toolkit.  The Green Lease Toolkit in particular is helpful in providing tenants with ways to more formally negotiate energy (and other “green” issues) into a commercial lease.  It provides sample contract language too, which may be helpful the next time you’re up for lease renewal.

Q 6. What are the pros and cons of monitoring based commissioning (MBCx)?

This is a great (and complicated) question and rather than give you a short answer, I will instead point you to http://videostar.osisoft.com/UC2009/presentations/SF09_CF_2_1_1_Quantum_Jump.pps.  This PowerPoint presentation gives a great overview of Retro Commissioning (RCx) versus Monitoring Based Commissioning (MBCx).  The key point is that MBCx, while more expensive and time consuming, is an ongoing process that provides a system where employees can self-monitor and tweak their energy performance systems.  With an RCx process, it tends to be easier and cheaper, but the savings realized often are not long-lasting.

Q 7. If you think Power Factor is a problem at your facility, how can you measure that?

There is a great fact sheet on Power Factors here: http://www.energyideas.org/documents/factsheets/reducing_pwr.pdf.  For an overview of harmonics measuring and monitoring, check out this website: http://www.cosphi.com/get-the-measure-of-your-enemy.html.  Be aware that there are a LOT of scams around Power Factor “Correction Devices.”  To understand why this is a problem (in plain English), check out: http://www.nlcpr.com/Deceptions1.php

Q 8. Are you familiar with energy tracking software? If so what do you recommend?

I hesitate to recommend specific software — partly because I like to maintain my independence as a consultant and partly because new technology comes on the horizon all the time and I hate to be caught with old information!  One software option that has just been rolled out that I think is amazingly cool is www.talkingplug.com by Zerofootprint.  I saw a demo last week and it’s absolutely fascinating to realize that we now have the capability to monitor each and every piece of equipment running throughout our building.  I think this kind of real-time continuous monitoring is the future of energy management because it puts information directly into the hands of individual employees.  They are doing a pilot program, so if you’re interested you should definitely get in touch with them!

Q 9. What features should I look for in a thermal imager?

Here are two great resources for evaluating thermal imagers:

Q 10. What is the best way to prioritize multiple buildings?

Great question!  Assuming that you don’t have the resources to do a full energy audit of all of your facilities, I like to choose three buildings to begin: a “new, efficient” one, an “average” one, and an “old and inefficient” one.  Basically, you want to get a sense of the similarities and differences among the different buildings you operate.  The outcomes of that preliminary audit will give you more insight into next steps.

For example, if you realize that all three buildings have problems with employee behavior, you know it’s a corporate-wide problem.  If it’s just a problem at one facility, you need to delve deeper and find out what makes THAT facility different.

Or perhaps you might find that your “new” and “average” buildings perform similarly, but the old buildings are much, much worse.  That might suggest focusing on old buildings, and putting smaller retrofits of “average” buildings on hold for now.

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