In today’s economy, every business is looking for ways to reduce operating expenses. With the prominence of green business practices in the national consciousness, corporate management may pressure building owners or facility managers to find ways to reduce utility/energy bills as a “quick fix” to provide instant savings. “Energy efficient” has become a buzzword used by HVAC, lighting and appliance manufacturers and vendors as a way to provide an instant solution and cut costs. In many cases, upgrading or replacing systems is a viable option, especially with the benefit of available tax credits. However, the first step to savings on energy costs is to determine what is actually driving the cost of energy in the facility and develop a plan for the operation and maintenance of existing and future systems. Replacement without knowing all of the facts may turn out to be a complete waste of money in the long run. Conducting an energy audit is a logical first step in providing you with a more comprehensive view of both current energy usage in the facility and how to move forward in the most cost effective way.
The reality is that many factors may be influencing present energy expenses. Perhaps the first thing to determine is where in the building/facility energy is being consumed. Beyond lighting and temperature control there are energy costs associated with computers, equipment, appliances and other machinery. Is there machinery with substantial start-up energy requirements or equipment that is left running when not in use? Is there outdated or oversized equipment that could be replaced? Do you have older machinery whose motors need tuning or whose transformers are no longer carrying the load or calibrating the necessary load? Are there appliances like water heaters or refrigerators that are set too high? Are computers, copiers, printers and lights left on at all times? All of these common scenarios can significantly impact energy costs.
One factor that is often overlooked in energy usage is the role of the occupants. In any facility, there are systems in place that are old or new, efficient or outdated; but how they are used and the behavior of the occupants can have a major impact on energy usage. So, if you were to replace your old HVAC system with a new, energy efficient unit, would you see a significant savings if the occupants continue to leave doors open in the heat of summer or coldest winter? In that case, your new system will still be under stress as it shifts gears to accommodate the pressure differential and the thermal differential.
Perhaps you would see significant savings if computers and lighting were shut down when not in use. Are thermostats programmed to correspond with the energy requirements of the workday, or do individuals have access to raising and lowering the temperature at will? If you were to look at individual workspaces and storage areas you might see fans or space heaters plugged in under desks, or exhaust vents blocked with cardboard.
All of these factors and more are considered in a comprehensive energy audit. Even a simple Level 1 energy audit can turn up low-cost solutions to identified problem areas that result in significant ROI. Once you are informed and have a true picture of energy use and misuse, an effective plan for energy savings can be implemented.