Five tips for making informed energy efficiency decisions

by FM Media
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JENNIFER BALTATZIDIS, principal consultant in energy engineering at Origin Energy, provides a few tips on how to improve a building’s energy efficiency in an affordable and reliable manner.

As a facility manager or property owner, you may be feeling pressure to improve your site’s energy efficiency or to help tenants reduce their energy bills. And, unfortunately, the expectation can sometimes be that you do this with no additional resources and little budget, which can ultimately leave one in the position of having to rely on vendors. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be at their mercy. I have outlined a few tips for those who don’t want to be experts in the energy efficiency field, but want to be capable of making informed decisions when it comes to improving their building’s energy efficiency in an affordable and reliable manner.

Sometimes it may be tempting to install a new lighting option in a storeroom or other area where you can test its reliability and see if you get any complaints. The problem with this approach, however, is that many emergent lighting technologies won’t pose too many issues in the time-frame that you would test them. Typically, they’re considered emergent because their long-term reliability has yet to be consistently proven and it’s very unlikely that you’ll have the capabilities to fully test a three-year light in a single year.
Plus, chances are that you’ll be testing it in a room that has a different environment from the ultimate location in which you’d like to install it. This can make such scenarios misleading; however, when it’s the least expensive fix, it can seem very appealing and that’s where my second recommendation comes into play.

When considering an energy efficiency upgrade, one is often faced with the dilemma that the least operationally expensive and most reliable solution is often the most capital-intensive solution too. And often decisions can be made that minimise the capital cost without fully taking into consideration the risk associated with that choice. The end result can be that you don’t save the money you expected from either a capital or energy efficiency perspective.
Make sure a life cycle analysis is done and that you agree with the assumptions that went into it. You don’t need to know all of the details of exactly how it was calculated, but rather what assumptions were used and if they apply to your business. Then you’re ready to step back and look at the project as a whole.

When evaluating energy efficiency upgrades, one really does need to consider the project at a holistic level and not just at an individual application level. For example, if given a quote for an energy efficiency upgrade that includes changes to lighting, sensors, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and the building management system, one cannot simply choose to apply just a portion of the upgrades and achieve the same savings as estimated in the quote for each individual technology.
This is because savings associated with one technology can be dependent on the relationship that product has with another technology. Your vendor should be able to explain to you these interrelationships and what aspects of the savings you would forgo if you chose to apply only portions of the solution they’re suggesting. Next, you’ll need to check how they’ll verify the savings.

Many companies offer an energy savings guarantee associated with an upgrade; however, a guarantee is only as good as the measures that verify it and the follow-up that exists in the long-term. Unfortunately, there may be times where a company offers guaranteed savings across an agreed time period, but it does not consider the lifespan of the product implemented or its associated warranty.
Perhaps, by the time real issues arise, the manufacturer’s warranty is likely to have expired and a long-term relationship is not the focus. This can have the detrimental effect of giving others the impression that energy efficiency projects can’t be relied upon and that the savings they proclaim aren’t real. Ultimately, additional initiatives lose momentum, which is also another key aspect of making any upgrade successful.

Energy efficiency typically has a very cyclical level of interest. People move into a new office or a major retrofit is completed and there is lots of excitement. However, the problem is that energy efficiency is very seldom embedded in business as usual.
Regular reporting to tenants can allow them to proactively manage their energy usage and maintain awareness of how they compare to similar tenants. The key is making sure that timely reporting is provided, so that when an anomaly is reviewed, people can better troubleshoot what is causing the issue. Such insights can be considered as value adds to your tenants.
In summary, energy efficiency upgrades don’t have to require you learning all the details of the technology used. Ensuring, however, you get a solution that will be reliable and align with the unique needs of your building does require some effort. This doesn’t mean that you should reinvent the wheel and rely on your own testing, instead, focus on a long-term holistic analysis.
And, remember that there is a relationship between different solutions and that using a vendor’s quote and installing just a few of these products on your own may not provide the energy savings you’re expecting. Also, look closely at the guarantee your vendor is offering and consider how they’re going to prove the savings they promise.
Finally, don’t just complete a major upgrade and then consider your energy efficiency work done. Maintain an ongoing reporting system of some kind to show people what has been saved. And, if you do it right, this may make it that much easier to justify additional energy efficiency upgrades in the future.

Jennifer Baltatzidis has a Bachelor of Science and Engineering in Bioengineering from Arizona State University. She currently works as a principal consultant in energy engineering at Origin Energy. Her career in the power utility industry includes distribution design, power plant engineering and renewable energy, with an extensive background in power plant energy efficiency management.

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