As the energy efficiency industry gets more sophisticated, building owners and managers are increasingly interested in optimizing energy use with new technology and state-of-the-art equipment. It's critical to understand, however, that while next-generation systems can certainly help support energy efficiency initiatives, they are essentially worthless if not properly managed.
I recently compared two buildings from FirstFuel's database of thousands of remote audits: a new LEED-certified structure with all the latest energy-efficiency bells and whistles and an office building from 1971 with dated but well-maintained infrastructure. The assets of the respective buildings hid a deeper truth about how well their energy use was being managed.
The new building, despite having a large solar PV array and natural gas-fired condensing boilers, was wasting thousands of dollars annually due to poor system management. In fact, I found that the building had the potential to save 15 percent of its annual energy costs by making simple operational adjustments. For instance, by turning off lights and computers after the workday, the building operators could save an impressive $3,000 per year.
Not only that, but operators could save an additional $3,650 annually by modifying the sequencing of their brand-new gas boilers. Improving setback scheduling would save an additional $2,600 in gas. Other operational changes involved tweaks to data center cooling, lighting controls, HVAC scheduling control, HVAC boiler sequencing, HVAC boiler plant operation and maintenance, HVAC efficiency testing and air fuel ratio.
The older building, which was operating with much more dated equipment, such as vintage T-8 lighting and a fifteen-year-old gas boiler, required far fewer operational changes. Advanced meter data analytics showed that the building had a faster shutdown time than the newer structure and demonstrated greater alignment between its systems operations.
For example, the ventilation was well tuned with the heating and cooling; the structure had the proper night setbacks; and the building used free cooling from outdoor air. The majority of the building’s real opportunity was in retrofits, as property owners chose to push out capital expenditures for a few years longer by doing the best they could with the equipment they had.
This comparison is not meant to cast blame on property managers who have invested in revolutionary energy equipment. Rather, it serves as a cautionary tale about how even the newest of buildings can consume unnecessary energy. No two buildings are exactly the same, but through innovative analytics solutions that track energy use habits in real time, property managers can gain insight into specific ways in which buildings are wasting energy. With this insight, those managers can easily and effectively take the actions necessary to eliminate unneeded usage and slash utility costs.
By being mindful of how a particular building operates, property managers can determine the best ways to unlock energy efficiency for that structure through easy and free operational changes. If property managers across the nation adopted a similar analytical approach to determine energy savings, just think of the millions we would all save and the climate benefits we would reap.
Domenic Armano is the vice president of client solutions at FirstFuel.