By Maria T. Vargas
From the June 2018 Issue
Three billion dollars is a big chunk of change. Yet that is the amount of money saved over the last seven years by participants of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings Challenge. This group represents 30 Fortune 100 companies and 12 of the top 25 U.S. employers. It also encompasses 12% of the U.S. manufacturing energy footprint and 13% of the country’s total commercial building space, as well as 28 states and 93 local government entities. But beyond the big names and billions in savings, what’s most impressive about the program is the way it drives innovation and collaboration across all sectors of the economy, proving that leadership in energy efficiency comes in many shapes and sizes.
Leadership, Collaboration, And Investment
Leadership is the backbone and core strength of the DOE’s program. It serves as an incubator for testing out new technologies and fosters collaboration to solve big challenges by sharing successes and lessons learned amongst partners as diverse as single school districts to retail giants like Walmart. The more than 350 market leaders that DOE works with through the Better Buildings Challenge represent more than 4.4 billion square feet of building space. This year, these partners reduced their energy intensity by an average of 2%, keeping them on track to meet the program’s goal of a 20% reduction over 10 years.
The program also helps spur investment with 40-plus Better Buildings Financial Allies having contributed more than $12 billion in capital towards efficiency projects. DOE has also extended its reach to the industrial sector. Nearly 200 manufacturers and other organizations now participate in the Better Plants program. These achievements show that the DOE’s platform, founded on experimentation and shared solutions, is accelerating the energy efficiency space in a big way and driving real results and cost savings.
Meeting Milestones, Pushing Boundaries
In 2017, 16 Better Buildings Challenge partners and allies achieved their energy, water, or financing goals. This brings the total number of partners and financial allies that have met their original goals since the start of the program to 65. Financial allies support energy efficiency investments by making their finance products available and share their successful financing models and strategies publicly.
Now that these partners have met their milestones, many have publicly committed to new goals, showing that the program both helps organizations reach targets and encourages them to continue to push boundaries and implement new innovations.
Partners who reached Better Buildings Goal Achiever status in 2017 are:
- Anthem (energy and water)
- Bank of America Merrill Lynch (finance)
- C. F. Martin & Co., Inc (energy)
- Citi (finance)
- Columbia Association (energy)
- EDF Renewable Energy (finance)
- General Motors (energy)
- Jersey City Housing Authority (energy)
- Legrand (energy)
- Metrus Energy (finance)
- North Carolina (energy)
- NYCEEC (finance)
- Pace Equity (finance)
- Shari’s Café & Pies (water)
- Sol Systems (finance)
- UW Health (energy)
Behind each one of the 16 partners that has met their goals is a larger story about the people who helped achieve those goals through innovation, creativity, and hard work. Here we take a deeper look at two partners, C.F. Martin Guitar and Shari’s Café & Pies, to see how changes both big and seemingly small have helped drive their success.
Case Study: C.F. Martin Guitar Makes More With Less Energy
C. F. Martin & Co., Inc., a guitar manufacturer based in Pennsylvania, included its Nazareth facility in the Better Buildings’ Better Plants Challenge in 2015.
When C.F. Martin Guitar first joined the program, the company was facing a significant challenge. Its senior management team had determined the maintenance and utility costs associated with its facility’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system had become unsustainable. With some HVAC components nearly 20 years old, the existing infrastructure was at the end of its useful life. Its facility operators also observed decreased reliability and rising maintenance needs.
C.F. Martin Guitar considered many retrofit solutions for the aging HVAC system, from a relatively inexpensive replacement of the oldest of 24 separate rooftop units to a complete system overhaul and installation of a centralized plant. After evaluating each option, the company selected a factory-built central HVAC plant that produces hot and chilled water. The final project cost came to $8.85 million.
The retrofit also included upgrades to the Nazareth facility’s three water-cooled chillers (each with a capacity of 500 tons), and associated cooling towers, pumps and relevant accessories. C.F. Martin Guitar also installed a plate and frame heat exchanger as a waterside economizer, allowing for free cooling in colder winter months.
The system was installed throughout 2016 and became fully operational in November of that year. To assess the retrofit’s success, C.F. Martin Guitar began tracking electrical and gas savings in late 2016. During the first three months of operation, the facility’s team observed reductions in both electrical and natural gas consumption on monthly invoices and online metering. Ultimately, C.F. Martin Guitar exceeded its expected 40% reduction in electricity use, achieving savings of 46% as well as a 20% reduction in natural gas consumption. Together, the electricity and natural gas savings translated into a 27% improvement in energy intensity at the C.F. Martin Guitar plant.
Case Study: Shari’s Café & Pies Achieves Significant Water Savings
As part of its facility evaluation and efforts to reach 20% energy savings across its portfolio, Shari’s Café & Pies discovered a source of substantial water and energy savings: dipper wells. These perpetual-flow sinks are used to sanitize utensils at Shari’s 93 restaurant locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. Originally, each restaurant had five dipper wells on-site, resulting in millions of gallons of water waste each year. By replacing existing dipper wells with heated dipper wells, which sanitize utensils properly without requiring water to be continuously flowing, Shari’s found a way to save 20-25 million gallons of water each year.
To ensure staff used the new dipper wells effectively, Shari’s installed push-button metering faucets that required staff members to refill the wells manually when needed. Shari’s was also able to reduce the number of wells at each location from five to four since the new dipper wells were more efficient and easier to use. In the end, Shari’s dipper well replacement drove an average 35% reduction in total water use, with some restaurants realizing reductions of up to 50%. By cutting down on the volume of water that needs to be treated, distributed, and heated, Shari’s new dipper wells lead to significant energy savings as well.
Better Buildings’ Knowledge-Sharing Platform
Today, solutions like those implemented by Shari’s and C.F. Martin Guitar are among nearly 1,500 proven energy reduction case studies available within the Better Buildings Solution Center. This resource library offers efficiency solutions drawn from the real-world experiences of more than 900 organizations participating in the Better Buildings Challenge and has recently been updated to make it even easier to find the best-fit fix for an organization’s challenge.
These online solutions include innovative technologies that have been validated in the field by private companies and public sector organizations. Many are organizational strategies that create significant energy reductions at little to no cost or use big data solutions that leverage sensors and controls to optimize operations and improve energy efficiency.
By sharing energy- and water-saving strategies and results, Better Buildings partners demonstrate their leadership and help other organizations replicate their successes.
The industry leaders involved in DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge are driving the adoption of new energy efficient equipment through targeted technology campaigns. They are helping break down market barriers to energy efficiency and increasing the flow of financing to clean energy through investment. Moreover, these companies are improving manufacturing competitiveness and creating thousands of U.S. jobs.
By setting a replicable example for energy upgrades and savings, this group of organizations is saving billions while significantly reducing the nation’s energy footprint. Through their leadership, Better Buildings Challenge partners are demonstrating that energy efficiency delivers significant benefits to American workers and the economy.
Vargas is the director of the Better Buildings Initiative at the U.S. Department of Energy. She also serves as a senior program advisor in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy.
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