Energy Management Trends: Stepping Up Energy Management

By Maria Tikoff Vargas
From the September 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Best Buy achieved its goal to reduce energy use in its stores by 20%. (Photo: Best Buy)
Best Buy achieved its goal to reduce energy use in its stores by 20%. (Photo: Best Buy)

Throughout the United States, about $400 billion is spent on energy each year to operate commercial and industrial buildings. About 20% to 30% of this energy is wasted. By now most facility managers (fms) recognize that energy efficiency can reduce costs and help the bottom line, but they may still be searching for the most effective solutions. Despite the fact that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to efficiency solutions, the need to innovate and collaborate is essential.

In fact, leading CEOs, fms, and other executives of U.S. companies, universities, school districts, multifamily organizations, and state and local governments are successfully collaborating and innovating when it comes to efficiency. Through their participation in the Better Buildings Challenge—a national leadership program launched in 2011 with the goal of making commercial, multifamily, and industrial buildings 20% more energy efficient in the next decade, they’re proving that common barriers such as financing, access to data, and internal hurdles can be overcome with innovative thinking, action, and proven strategies. For the Challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy offers technical assistance and highlights innovative solutions as models for others to follow. While the solutions are varied, the results are the same: partners in the Challenge are leading the way and sharing their strategies so that other organizations can learn, adapt, and benefit.

Retailer Improves Comfort And Savings

Within the walls of a Best Buy store, customers know they can find any number of energy efficient products to purchase and a “blue shirt” salesperson ready to help them. But what they may not know is that the stores themselves are energy savers. Best Buy has reduced energy use by 24% across more than 47 million square feet of retail space.

In its Las Vegas store, the company implemented a multi-faceted energy upgrade that included installing skylights and a dimmable fluorescent lighting system to harvest daylight, reducing lighting energy use by an average of 45%. Best Buy also installed sub-metering for lighting in the store, which enabled alarms and energy models to ensure proper lighting schedules during unoccupied hours, employee-only hours, and store hours.

Allowing more natural light into the store enhanced the overall customer and employee experience—especially on sunny days. In addition, the retrofit is tied to an enterprise energy management system that alerts staff when critical equipment isn’t performing to capacity, allowing Best Buy to be proactive and ensure that issues are fixed before compromising the customer or employee experience.

Best Buy is one of the first partners to achieve the Better Buildings Challenge’s 20% portfolio-wide reduction goal.

“At Best Buy, we set a goal to reduce our carbon emissions 20% by 2020, which aligned with the Better Buildings Initiative, making our participation an easy decision,” says Hugh Cherne, environmental sustainability senior manager for the company. “We share the belief that solutions which can be scaled, such as our 800 store lighting retrofit, lead to the greatest reduction in carbon emissions as well as improved financial performance.”

Committed To Health And Energy Reduction

Healthcare facilities, especially in-patient centers, are among the most energy intensive commercial buildings. Cleveland Clinic is doing its part to tackle the energy use of this sector by working across a portfolio of more than 60 buildings and 20 million square feet. To date, Cleveland Clinic has improved its energy performance by 5% through an employee behavior change campaign, hospital lighting upgrades, and the installation of more efficient HVAC and water systems.

In particular, its “Greening the OR” initiative empowers a team of surgeons and hospital staff to improve efficiency of operating rooms and encourages them to link patient care to smarter energy choices. These efforts allow money previously spent to power the hospital to be reinvested into services or other building upgrades, increasing value to patients and shrinking the hospital’s carbon footprint.

Manufacturing Energy Savings

To manufacture gypsum wallboard (otherwise known as drywall) is highly energy intensive. However, that didn’t deter manufacturer Saint-Gobain from building its new 500,000 square foot plant in Roxboro, NC to be as energy efficient as possible. From conception to construction, high performance was at the heart of the design of the facility.

The company used a host of smart design features to improve the plant’s energy efficiency by 10%, including employing multiple heat recovery systems in every major product process step. Using heat recovery for the gypsum board dryers alone improved efficiency by 15% over conventional processes.

In addition, rather than use calciners that vent process gas, the company chose direct contact calciners to contain gas and reuse the latent heat in a closed loop system, leading to improved efficiency. Additional features include a closed loop system to reduce process water usage and the reuse of in-plant wallboard scrap back into the manufacturing process. Since 2009, Saint-Gobain has reduced energy intensity across its 118 U.S. manufacturing operations by 10%.

Cities And Schools Saving Energy

The City of Beaverton, OR, like many municipalities, is committed to reducing energy use in its own buildings, while also fostering a community-wide commitment to greater efficiency. In the case of Beaverton, this means more than 1.5 million square feet of space.

To jump-start its commitment to save energy under the Better Buildings Challenge, the city implemented a variety of energy efficiency upgrades at the Beaverton City Library. These included complete lighting and heating controls retro-commissioning. Also as part of this project, employees monitor energy usage, allowing them to identify trends, respond quickly to equipment malfunction alerts, and make changes in real time. The retro-commissioning project cost $54,600 and has saved $23,000 annually, paying for itself in less than two and a half years.

Stevie Freeman-Montes, sustainability coordinator, Sustainability Program, City of Beaverton, says, “From an internal, organizational perspective, I think involvement in real-time energy monitoring was a tipping point for the city to buy in and support energy efficiency. When we were able to see immediately the effects and savings from these efforts, it was instant gratification and validation of the initiative.”

Freeman-Montes adds, “I’m also hoping our strong cross-sector collaborations will help build momentum for other buildings throughout our community to join the Challenge and that other entities can realize actual savings and the associated positive environmental impacts.”

Across the river in Camas, WA, the Camas School District is renovating Lacamas Heights Elementary, one of the district’s six primary schools. Completed in March 2014, the project includes a number of energy efficiency initiatives, and is anticipated to achieve at least 21% savings. The project consists of numerous efficiency upgrades, including the refurbishment and improvement of the HVAC systems serving the Pod areas (modular classrooms), and replacement or upgrade of most of the HVAC systems serving the main school building and offices. In addition, the control systems were modified to improve comfort and reduce energy usage throughout the school.

Efficient Affordable Housing

One of the powerful messages of the Better Buildings Challenge is that partners in every sector are demonstrating their commitment and sharing their innovative energy efficient solutions—from large corporations to schools to nonprofits. One such nonprofit is Aeon, an affordable housing developer, owner, and management firm that has built, preserved, or renovated more than 2,000 apartments and townhomes in Minnesota since 1986.

“Becoming part of the Better Buildings Challenge made practical sense and was a quick and easy decision for Aeon,” says Gina Ciganik, vice president, Housing Development, Aeon. “We have been engaged in finding high performance, energy efficient solutions for a long time. We liked how the Challenge offered a nice framework to organize the work of various Aeon departments as well as the opportunity to share information. Not only would we be part of a national group who could teach us, we could share experiences and help advance the cause.”

Following the successful completion of a multi-building, multi-family development on the western edge of Chaska, MN, the City of Chaska approached Aeon with The Landing Apartments, a new development opportunity to help address the need for affordable senior housing.

Aeon worked closely with the city to ensure the design met the needs of current and future residents, and complemented the surrounding Minnesota River and historic districts. The Landing Apartments focus is on aggressively reducing the energy consumption. Passive House principles such as superinsulation, building orientation, and thermo coupling as well as geothermal heating and cooling, were integrated into the building’s design. Expected savings is estimated at 34%.

Aeon is not stopping there. They’re about to break ground on The Rose, an affordable housing development that uses Living Building Challenge standards as a sustainability framework, and is expected to be approximately 75% more efficient than the current energy code.

By improving energy performance in commercial and industrial buildings by just 20%, more than $80 billion can be saved annually throughout the nation. Better Buildings Challenge partners see the opportunity, and by sharing performance data, documenting how results are achieved, and collaborating across sectors and among peers, they provide a successful model for others to follow. Vargas is the director of the Better Buildings Challenge 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.

Vargas is the director of the Better Buildings Challenge 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.