Simple Steps to Improved Energy Efficiency Programs

by | Sep 17, 2018

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that commercial buildings consume energy differently than in the residential sector – which means energy efficiency programs need to be designed differently.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the typical uses of energy associated with this sector include space heating, water heating, air conditioning, lighting, refrigeration, cooking, and running a wide variety of other equipment. Accounting for 36% of all US electricity consumption, commercial buildings cost more than $190 billion in energy every year.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many facility managers and building owners to manage these end-uses, many others are failing to make their properties more energy-efficient. A report from the EPA found that an astonishing 30% of the average energy used in commercial buildings is wasted.

The management of energy and improving energy efficiency has long been necessary for industry and commerce, not only to save on cost but also to reduce carbon footprint and promote social responsibility. So, if energy efficiency programs are a win-win for companies, what is preventing them from making their properties more energy-efficient?


Barriers to Efficiency

Aside from well-known obstacles such as high initial costs that block large-scale investment in building energy efficiency, the Cryptic Barriers to Energy report from American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy explore other hidden barriers to successful energy efficiency programs that are often overlooked:

  • Regulatory uncertainty or reluctance of building owners to install a new technology due to unfamiliarity with energy codes and regulations;
  • Archaic regulations that have not responded to changes in technology or building techniques;
  • Inaccurate energy rating method which is crucial to measure the performance of equipment installed on the premises.

Building ownership also makes it challenging to implement upgrades and retrofits to buildings. Often, businesses do not own their buildings; landlords are responsible for capital improvements while tenants are responsible for operating expenses. This conflict leads many business tenants to see energy efficiency as an optional external cost, which can push energy efficiency projects to the sidelines.


Collaboration: Key to Winning Energy Efficiency Programs in Commercial Buildings

While most of the barriers mentioned above require the intervention of the government and energy regulatory bodies, tenants and commercial building owners can team up toward a unified goal.

One of the success stories of landlord-tenant collaboration took place in one of the most iconic buildings in history, the Empire State Building. In 2011, building owner Empire State Realty Trust committed to establishing the Empire State Building as one of the most energy-efficient buildings in New York City and the world’s most environmentally conscious office tower build before World War II.

Together with its tenants, who worked on certain initiatives like reducing lighting use and plug loads, the Empire State Building completed a deep energy retrofit that ultimately saved 38% of pre-retrofit energy, with a three-year payback. Without tenant participation, the upgrade would not have succeeded. The energy components of the retrofit even attracted new tenants and supported retention.


More Steps to Owner/Tenant Collaboration for Energy Efficiency Program Success

Share energy usage data: while collecting data has a cost, that cost has considerably decreased as utilities, governments and technology solutions make more energy consumption data more accessible. Con Edison, for instance, no longer charges its customers for aggregated consumption data. The building owner should share energy consumption data across all tenants, then establish their relationship around the building’s underlying energy performance.

Involve tenants in energy saving initiatives: building occupants, directly and indirectly, control a significant portion of energy use in a building, yet building owners hardly consider their schedule, equipment usage, and attitudes when planning for energy efficiency. In a report from the DOE, establishing camaraderie and understanding with tenants can result in a reduction of 10% in energy use.

Plan for deep energy retrofits: energy-efficiency retrofitting can be one of the best ways to lower commercial real estate costs, boost business revenues, and protect the environment. However, green retrofits require big upfront investment,net in design, analysis and communication between owners and tenants. When done right, a retrofit can equate to an energy savings of up to 35%.

Consider VRF HVAC systems: a VRF system is capable of supplying heat and cooing and can do both simultaneously to different areas in the same building. The system is comprised of small air handles that can be individually controlled. The individual controls provide both the tenants and the landlord the opportunity to save money because heat and air conditioning can be turned down or off in rooms that are unoccupied while rooms in use can still be provided with heat and air.

Conduct an energy audit and aim for Energy Star rating: hiring a consultant to conduct a professional energy audit is a critical step to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings. It benchmarks the building’s overall rate of energy consumption against other buildings of similar function, size and geographic location. It allows the building owner to establish an achievable target for energy consumption. Building owners should make it a goal to achieve Energy Star rating for their properties. Buildings that have earned such ratings report 35% less energy consumption than typical buildings and offer significantly smaller carbon footprints.

This article was compiled from information culled from an infographic created by Lockatong Engineering.

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