The Case for Comprehensive Energy Audits in Small to Midsize Buildings
This article about the importance of energy audits for commercial buildings was written by Mike Kaplan from Retroficiency provides worthwhile information regarding energy efficiency audit solutions.
When it comes to utility energy efficiency programs, there are a litany of solutions addressing the residential market. And large commercial customers often have access to personal account managers who can help guide them to the right program (although those account managers could be more effective with sophisticated energy analytics).
Lost in the shuffle is often the small to midsize building. In fact, utility executives consistently comment that this customer segment can be the most difficult to drive energy efficiency savings. Small and midsize buildings combine the main challenges of residential and commercial. Like residential, there are many sites (95% of the 5.2 million buildings in the US are less than 50,000 square feet). On the other hand, small and midsize buildings have energy systems that can be just as complex as many larger buildings, making it equally difficult to quickly and cost-effectively identify and evaluate energy conservation measures (ECMs).
So what strategies can utilities develop to attack these buildings? Most importantly, they must be able to target the buildings with the greatest potential and engage them with compelling operational and retrofit opportunities to get them interested in efficiency. And they must do it at scale. Analyzing interval consumption data or employing statistically based asset analytics like Retroficiency’s can help here.
But what happens once a building owner wants to go to the next stage of developing ECMs through an on-site energy audit? Historically, small business audits have been dominated by single measure evaluations – often lighting – tied to prescriptive programs. The reason for this is that with traditional tools, such as spreadsheets or complex energy models, it has not been economical for auditors to deliver a comprehensive, whole building audit. Given the amount of consumption for a single small building, it has been difficult to justify the many hours spent on data collection, making engineering calculations or setting up models, and developing reports to submit for utility incentives. The result has been to default to the lowest common denominator – a simple lighting audit by counting fixtures and determining the wattage difference between the current lights and the lighting retrofit.
But what about the other major systems, such as heating, cooling, hot water, ventilation and plug loads? And what about operational changes to reduce consumption? Amongst a sampling of buildings under 50,000 square feet analyzed by energy engineers with Retroficiency’s Automated Energy Audit (AEA), lighting accounted for an average of approximately 25% of the total savings opportunity in the recommended ‘mid-term’ package (typically a payback of 2-3 years).
How can we capture the remaining 75% of the opportunity? Instead of spending the minimal amount of time possible completing a lighting audit, auditors could use a tool like AEA to do a comprehensive on-site energy audit. Even if the comprehensive audit took slightly longer, the assessment would capture 4x more savings. Additionally, building owners will be much more likely to actually implement measures and realize those savings, because they have the option to select the most optimal measures for their site out of all possibilities, not just lighting.
Utilities and their partners must re-think their approach to small and mid-sized buildings. With analytics-driven targeting and engagement, followed by comprehensive audits, these buildings can transition from utilities’ biggest energy efficiency challenge, to their biggest opportunity.