If you’re responsible for a facility’s energy budget, you probably hear frequent claims from various sources about how you can save 10 or 15% on your bills through an energy audit, energy assessment, or retro-commissioning. But if you’re like many energy-decision-makers, you may not fully understand what each of these things entails, and why one might be better for your organization than another.
Navigating the sea of available options to get your facility on the course to energy efficiency doesn’t have to seem like you’re sailing through the Bermuda Triangle. This article lifts the fog on energy audits, energy assessments, and retro-commissioning, and offers four steps to help you figure out which approach to energy efficiency might be best for you.
1) Start with the basics: know where your energy is going.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. That’s why investing in any effort to improve energy efficiency starts with getting visibility into your operation: keeping track of utility bills, and monitoring energy consumption and costs over time. Consider benchmarking your facility’s energy costs against similar buildings. Benchmarking is a great way to figure out which sites might have the best opportunity for improvements.
2) Understand the different approaches to deep energy savings.
Once you’ve accessed and begun to analyze your energy data, and perhaps even picked the low-hanging fruit of quick energy efficiency project fixes or upgrades, it’s time to dig deeper into your facilities to maximize energy efficiency and unlock the real value of your investment through deeper processes like an energy audit, retro-commissioning, or an energy assessment.
It’s important to note that these approaches aren’t mutually exclusive: what’s best for your facility right now depends on your needs as an organization. Read on to understand these approaches and determine which one might best benefit your organization.
Need #1: “I want a report of prioritized, actionable recommendations I can implement at my facilities.”
Let’s start with audits. By definition, energy audits are designed to give building managers a sense of all available opportunities to reduce energy waste, to the tune of anywhere from 10-40% savings on your energy bill. In a traditional energy audit, an energy professional visits your building, reviews mechanical, electrical and control systems, interviews operations staff, and recommends operational adjustments or capital-intensive equipment upgrades to improve energy efficiency. You’ll then receive a report of recommendations, typically prioritized by financial payback.
Need #2: “I want all issues identified and then addressed so that my building is running more efficiently than ever.”
Approach: Retro-commissioning (RCx)
Retro-commissioning is more of a full-facility tune-up, kind of similar to taking your car to the shop for a routine 60,000 mile checkup – except that through RCx, you can save up to 15% of your facility’s annual energy costs (so that’s where the analogy ends – try telling your mechanic to improve MPG by 15%!).
RCx is an interactive and participatory process, during which your operations staff will work closely with an energy professional to run mechanical, electrical, and controls systems through rigorous tests. The team will identify actionable measures like replacing leaking valves and adjusting temperature setpoints, which you implement over the course of the project. Each issue found will be tracked to completion, so that at the end of the project, your facility’s systems are operating smoothly and efficiently.
Need #3: “I have a specific, targeted problem area that I need to investigate further to understand the root issue and how to fix it.”
Approach: Energy assessments
Energy assessments are more targeted projects to dig deep into a particular facility system, such as a compressed air system or central chilled water plant. If you know you have a problem with one of these systems, an assessment is a great way to understand what you can do about it. The assessment can also help present the business case to justify potentially costly improvements to building systems.
3) Consider your budget, now and next year.
You’ve now decided which process is right for you, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. Budgeting for energy efficiency investments is an important step in setting your course to success.
The range of options from low-touch virtual audits to deeper retro-commissioning obviously span a wide range of prices. If you have limited resources now, but are looking to develop a capital improvement plan for budgeting next year, an ASHRAE Level II Energy Audit will present low-cost savings opportunities and give you estimated costs for capital-intensive energy projects. If you have committed funding for projects this year, but are uncertain what the future will bring, an RCx project can bring your facility back to its ideal state, locking in savings for the next few years.
4) Figure out how much time you can commit.
Realizing energy savings takes some effort – whether it’s scheduling an on-site visit during an audit or managing implementation during retro-commissioning, the most successful audits, assessments, and retro-commissioning exercises happen when facilities staff can engage in the process and resulting outcomes.
Energy audits are generally much less demanding of facility operations staff, because the auditor is there to observe and report on building systems. Retro-commissioning is more time intensive, requiring facility staff to participate during system testing. This has additional benefits, though, empowering your staff to deeply understand the causes of energy waste within the facility.
Each of these processes can identify areas of improvement for your facility and help to make it more efficient, but it’s important to choose the right approach given your organization’s goals and your facility’s unique characteristics – understanding that over time, achieving and maintaining deep energy savings can require a few different approaches. Like any journey through the high seas, it’s important to set a course of action, measure performance, and adjust your plans over time.
To read the full article click here.
Categories: Energy Efficiency