Common Sense Criteria For Energy Improvements

By Matt Gates

Facility professionals in every industry are searching for ways to reduce energy consumption in order to save money, trim waste, and shrink their organization’s environmental footprint. Finding and applying the right portfolio of energy efficiency measures for a particular facility may seem like a daunting task. But improving building performance and managing utility costs is possible with a well developed and well executed energy management strategy.FE-WebOnlylogo

It may seem obvious, but the first critical step in the process is for building owners and operators to commit to improving the way they manage their energy use. It is surprising how many organizations—large and small—fail to use the same disciplined approach to energy management that they use with other key business initiatives. They make changes without assessing the current state, setting goals, developing a plan, or measuring their results.

Facility management professionals are almost always among their organizations’ thought leaders when it comes improving building performance. They recognize that high performance buildings cost less to operate over their decades-long lifecycle and create better, healthier, more comfortable, and more productive places for occupants and visitors.

Once an organization has committed to an energy management strategy it is wise to conduct an energy audit to determine where, when, why, and how energy is used in a facility and to identify opportunities to improve efficiency. Many organizations enlist the help of an energy service company (ESCO) or another third-party resource to conduct an audit.

An energy audit can pay for itself many times over when it comes to a commercial building’s occupied life. In fact, an effective audit can identify energy efficiency measures that can reduce energy and operating costs in an existing building by 40% or more, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).Trane_energy_audit

For organizations that are unable to commit to a full energy audit, a newer generation of intelligent building advisory services exists that can provide a quick, noninvasive virtual energy audit. These new services use data that already exists and are readily available from utility smart meters and other sources to provide a point-in-time assessment of a building’s performance. Compared to a conventional audit, these offerings dramatically collapse the time and resources it takes to gather and analyze data, create recommendations and take informed actions designed to reduce energy use.

Once the organization understands its energy baseline, energy efficiency measures can be identified, selected, prioritized, and implemented. Using advanced modeling software, energy engineers can help building owners and operators evaluate potential energy efficiency measures to determine which make the most sense and which will provide the best return on investment over time.

In many cases, an audit uncovers potential operational improvements that can be implemented without significant capital investment. In the experience of Trane, savings in the 10-25% range are achievable with relatively simple “tighten and tune” strategies. These include reducing peak energy demand and reprogramming building automation systems to adjust for building operating schedule and occupancy levels.

Today’s advanced modeling tools enable facility teams and their energy industry partners to use net present value (NPV) based cost analysis. Compared to the simple payback view of return on investment, NPV provides a more realistic picture of the total savings that energy efficiency measures will generate over a building’s occupied life.

This information enables an organization to create an optimum portfolio of energy efficiency measures including those with short-term (less than two years), medium-term (two to five years), and longer-term (more than five years) payback. The portfolio that will have the greatest impact over a building’s full lifecycle will likely include energy efficiency measures from each category. An ESCO can help the organization create an ideal portfolio to achieve its specific goals.

Measuring results is the best way to ensure that the expected results of various energy efficiency measures are being achieved and sustained. Changes in total building utility use and costs are one top level measure. Today’s technology also enables building owners and operators to isolate and track each energy efficiency project to ensure that it is realizing the anticipated savings.

Technology advancements have dramatically improved the energy efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting and other building systems over the last decade. But even the best mechanical systems will underperform unless they are well maintained and operated, which underscores the importance of providing appropriate levels of knowledge, training, and reinforcement for the facility team. In addition, it is important that associates, tenants, and other building occupants understand what the organization is trying to accomplish and how they can help achieve the goals of the energy management program.


Gates is vice president, energy technology for Trane, a global provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. Gates works with Trane customers to develop solutions and services to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings. He has more than 23 years of experience in the HVAC, building management and construction industries.