How to Do a Basic Energy Audit

by | Jun 14, 2012

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I have surveyed hundreds of facilities and wanted to share some best practices in the hopes that it will help more people save more energy. I once surveyed a facility that had a $21 million annual energy bill, yet they had no dedicated full-time energy manager. Although surprising to some, I have seen many facilities that are willing to spend multiple millions on energy expenses, with little to no oversight or management. Many facility managers perceive energy as a “necessary evil” and believe there is little that they can do about it. This is literally amazing when you consider that with some basic oversight, a 10 percent savings is highly probable, especially if there has been no energy management practice within the last 5 years. A 10 percent savings on $21 million is $2.1 million, which should be enough to fund an energy department and even some capital improvements… every year.

An energy audit (probably better to call it a “survey”) is one of the first steps to obtaining savings, so this article focuses on the basic steps to conducting an energy survey for a facility. The process is very similar to going to a medical doctor, where you get a routine physical exam, so you can see the big picture and where savings opportunities exist. The procedures described below are some of the things I do almost every time.

Before you go on any audit, you should collect one to three years of historical energy bills (water/sewer bills can also be helpful to review as well). The goal is to understand the basic trends of the building throughout the year to determine if energy consumption is increasing and if there are seasonal trends. I usually ask for the historical energy bills before I will even schedule a site visit, because if they cannot provide the bill data, they may not really be committed to the energy survey.

Beyond the historical consumption data, it is critical to understand the utility rate schedules (the demand and kWh costs per unit). Without understanding the rate structure is analogous to going on a diet without understanding that eating chocolate cake has a lot of calories in every bite! The rate structure should influence the direction of your survey. For example, if the facility has a high demand cost, you may want to focus your efforts on opportunities that reduce or shift load to off-peak hours. Many facilities may have a “ratchet clause,” which can mean that they pay all year for their high demand during a few peak hours. FYI, in my discussions with people from thousands of facilities, many have reported that demand charges are 20-30 percent of their total electric bill…sometimes even a higher percent!

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