Optimizing energy performance in your office building starts with no- and low-cost strategies to reduce energy consumption. Deploying occupancy sensors, adjusting temperature setpoints, upgrading lighting to more efficient options and utilizing smart power strips are tried-and-true options for achieving significant energy and cost savings without large capital outlays.
But, if you’re looking to take the next step towards deeper energy reductions, addressing deferred maintenance or facing the end-of-useful life for building systems, then capital investments are necessary. Replacing old and outdated equipment is a great place to start, but the true opportunities lie in understanding the interactions between the various building systems and how they affect efficiency.
STEP 1 BENCHMARK (AND MORE)
Before identifying the next capital improvement project, acquire a deeper understanding of property functions contributing to operational costs. With routine energy consumption and cost data benchmarking comes analytics-driven and information-led decision-making and successful implementation.
Start with monitoring monthly energy consumption and costs to track performance over time. Identifying these trends will reveal whether a building is underperforming and help property teams prioritize their efforts. Install meters and sensors at the system level to collect granular data and determine sources of high plug load; inefficient lighting or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; and behavior-based energy use. Additionally, some platforms offer cloud-based software that works with building automation systems (BAS) and energy management systems (EMS) to provide advanced analyses and diagnostics to further operational visibility. These types of Software as a Service (SaS) platforms can drive actionable solutions and show operators how to control performance drift and reduce utility costs.
STEP 2 CONDUCT AN ENERGY AUDIT
Energy assessments or audits offer a technical approach to uncovering the details of operational performance. Property professionals can contact their local utility to see if professional energy audits, such as ASHRAE Level 1 and Level 2 audits, are offered or rebated. Additionally, state or local government energy or weatherization offices can help identify local companies that perform audits.
ENERGY STAR® offers a list of service and product providers that have partnered with the program to assist commercial building operators with improving energy efficiency performance, including through audit services. Jointly, the information collected from benchmarking and energy assessments helps prioritize projects in a way that maximizes energy savings.
These audits tend to produce a range of findings that may be surprising, such as simultaneous heating and cooling occurring in the building; inefficient and outdated technology; inefficient behavior-based energy usage; systems and equipment in need of maintenance and upkeep; and systems and equipment requiring seasonal schedule changes.
STEP 3 SEQUENCE YOUR UPGRADES
The results of an energy audit at a property can vary widely, and available opportunities will be entirely dependent on specific building systems. The diagnostic and energy use data from the BAS or EMS will identify pieces of equipment that are underperforming. Project upgrades then can be sequenced to maximize energy performance benefits.
Before money is invested in making large-scale improvements, it’s important to have the cooperation of a knowledgeable staff. Effectively utilizing advanced diagnostics and controls on building systems relies on an educated workforce that is empowered to recognize and implement performance improvements. Investing in building operators through increased training and education can ensure that building equipment is properly operated throughout its life cycle. BOMA’s Building Re-Tuning Training program materials, developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation, estimate that identifying and correcting building operational problems can reduce energy use by up to 25 percent.
After that, reducing energy loads from lighting and plug loads may allow a manager to "right-size" an HVAC system for greater benefits. First, if only upgrading a building’s lighting to LED on an ad hoc basis, consider updating the rest of the building. Many lighting vendors will assess and present various lighting options. Installing LEDs building-wide all at once also can drive down the cost per lamp.
Although systems can be expensive to replace, the technology for HVAC equipment has increased significantly over the years and building use has changed. Equipment, such as boilers, chillers and rooftop units (RTUs), often are the largest sources of energy use in commercial buildings. These pieces of equipment typically have a useful life of 10 to 20 years—and sometimes more with good maintenance practices. With the advances in efficiency in current models, it often can benefit a building to replace or retrofit these systems before they hit the end of their useful life. For example, one Washington, D.C. building’s HVAC system upgrade contributed to energy reductions of 35 percent, saving nearly $800,000 annually. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Rooftop Unit campaign reports that older RTUs can waste $900 to $3,700 annually, and retrofitting or replacing these units can yield substantial cost savings through energy reductions and avoided maintenance. See what replacement options are available by contacting your HVAC equipment manufacturer or service and product provider.
For even more information, check out the ENERGY STAR Building Upgrade Manual, a practical, comprehensive guide to maximizing financial and energy savings through benchmarking, retro-commissioning and sequencing building upgrades to right-size building systems.
STEP 4 LOOK AHEAD
New building technologies that promise to deliver energy reductions and cost savings are constantly hitting the market. At the same time, the industry is experiencing unprecedented disruption in the built environment. Many technologies that were unheard of not so long ago now are cost-effective solutions that provide significant energy savings in commercial buildings—technologies like LED troffers for interior lighting, RTU controls to increase the efficiency of existing rooftop units, energy management information systems that help automate building systems to reduce energy waste and advanced power strips that reduce "vampire" loads when equipment is not in use.
As their prices continue to fall, two technologies have the potential to reduce energy costs and improve the environmental impact of buildings: energy storage and building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs). Energy storage provides building owners with a significant opportunity to reduce peak demand charges. By purchasing energy when demand is lowest and storing the energy on-site, a building can deploy that stored energy when demand (and electricity prices) are at the highest, yielding big cost savings. Energy storage is most effective in regions with significant utility incentives, such as Arizona, California, Florida, New York and New Jersey. Energy storage options often are most beneficial in buildings that spend more than $100,000 per year on energy, and service providers can talk property managers through options for each specific application.
Building integrated photovoltaics are materials used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope—such as the roof, skylights or façades—that convert light to electricity. They are increasingly being incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power. As prices continue to fall and technology continues to be refined, existing buildings may be retrofitted with similar technology. The advantage of integrated photovoltaics over more common non-integrated systems is that the initial cost can be offset by reducing the amount spent on building materials and labor that would normally be used to construct the BIPV parts of a building.
Significant energy savings opportunities are available to building owners and operators who can dedicate capital to improvements. Start by benchmarking, investing in advanced diagnostic tools and training staff to identify energy efficiency opportunities. Then, engage the market of service providers and utility programs to prioritize and implement the upgrades that best benefit your building.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deb Cloutier, CRE, is president and founder of RE Tech Advisors, Inc. She has more than 25 years of leadership experience consulting with clients in commercial real estate, energy management and environmental sustainability.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2018 issue of BOMA Magazine.