ARCHITECTS and ENGINEERS

Energy Watch: Tracking Energy Usage

04.21.16
Brendon Dorn

HGA Building Performance Analyst Brendon Dorn highlighted how facility Owners can save money through energy tracking at his program, "The Energy-Efficiency Gap," in May at the 2016 Wisconsin Energy Efficiency Expo. Below he details three basic steps to track energy.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR FACILITY OWNERS TO TRACK ENERGY USAGE?

Proper stewardship of resource consumption is the primary reason facility Owners should track energy. Gas, electricity and water are inefficiently priced too low in the market and as such, tend to be over consumed. Within the context of stewardship, energy use is still a cost that should be managed like any other cost on the balance sheet. Perhaps more important, though, companies should track energy usage because of what it leads to--tracking is not an end or solution. It creates awareness of how much firms are spending on utilities--mainly gas, electric, and water. Awareness typically leads to reporting, questioning, and ideally reducing usage and cost going forward. "What gets measured, gets managed," as the saying goes.

WHAT ARE SPECIFIC TRACKING STRATEGIES OWNERS CAN IMPLEMENT?

Think of energy tracking as a spectrum on which Owners can identify where they are and where they want to be, from Entry (just getting a handle on utilities) to Intermediate (implementing more advanced tools such as sub-metering) to Sophisticated (high-performance analysis).

"Entry" Owners should utilize online bill access or portals and take advantage of free tools the utility provider has already built, such as time comparisons, site comparisons, and detailed reports.

"Intermediate" Owners who already have familiarity with the on-line tools from their utility provider, should progress to more detailed analysis and data collection. This requires some infrastructure upgrades, such as inexpensive data loggers in specific areas or equipment sub-meters that allow direct access and analysis up to the previous 15-minute period.

"Sophisticated" Owners, having already adopted the first two steps, should implement fault-detection diagnostics to triage demand spikes or consumption anomalies. They can then use this data for preventative maintenance and predictive models about future energy use, space utilization, and equipment replacement.

HOW CAN OWNERS BALANCE UPFRONT COSTS OF ENERGY INNOVATION WITH LONG-TERM BENEFITS?

There are a host of hypotheses from the engineering, psychology, economics and political spheres that attempt to explain this energy gap between upfront cost and long-term benefits. A mentor once suggested the best advice you can give is "Do Not," and I suggest three Do Not steps companies can take to balance costs and benefits:

  1. Don't think in terms of ROI: Companies should think of energy savings as the right thing to do and not just in terms of ROI. In fact, evidence suggests that consumers need four to five times the ROI to adopt an energy-efficiency project. Creating a paradigm shift toward better stewardship--as opposed to profit--helps reframe how companies choose to manage their utility consumption.
  2. Don't propose an annual flat-rate budget increase: Energy managers, sustainability directors and facility leaders should negotiate a performance-based, data-informed budget for utility spend. This allows for "savings" (or avoided costs) to be reallocated internally for more projects to save more on energy use and potentially frees up more capital for other non-energy related investments in the firm.
  3. Don't do it all at once: Think small, use free resources to start (such as your utility billing portal), and create a simple baseline and budget. From there, create target reductions or redistributions and implement one project at a time. There are exceptions, but typical "economies of scale" only leads to very complex proposals that rarely are adopted--and if adopted--are difficult to determine which project created which effect. By managing one project, owners create an experimental atmosphere and build momentum and cascade effect of savings and reinvestment.

Topics: Energy & Infrastructure

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