Energy Savings and YOU

     According to ENERGY STAR, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary energy program, while new technologies and renewable energy sources are gaining in popularity, energy efficiency remains the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to cut energy use. The most energy-efficient buildings in America, the program touts, use 35 percent less energy than typical buildings -- all without trade-offs in performance or comfort.    

     Research also shows that more efficient buildings have higher occupancy rates and increased asset value compared to typical buildings. Tenants want real estate with lower utility bills, and more and more organizations are implementing leasing policies mandating environmentally-friendly space.

     So on Wednesday, April 26, nearly 30 Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members were able to learn more about increasing their energy efficiency (while reducing operating costs) from a local expert in the field, Dynamix Energy Services, or DES.

     “A good first place to start with any conservation or energy savings measures is to understand your utility bill,” said Sean Weber, an Energy Engineer at DES.

     Weber began the session by dissecting an AEP utility bill (which varies drastically from an office facility to an industrial facility). Weber pointed out the three main parts of a utility bill – transmission, distribution, and generation (where you can shop for power).

     According to AEP, Transmission Services cover costs associated with transporting electricity via high-voltage lines from the generating plant to local substations. On the other hand, Distribution Services cover costs associated with delivering electricity to your home or business.

     By focusing on the transmission and distribution services, said Weber, the most cost savings can result. Looking at the transmission services component, demand has a significant impact on the amount of energy used during the workday. How can you lower demand? Lower your minimum billing demand (calculated in either a 15- or 30-minute cycle). Because you can be billed for more than you actually use in your work place (based on “highest previous demand”), Weber says strategically lowering demand on a regular basis can lead to lower monthly bills.

   More specifically, AEP takes the highest previous demand over a 12-month rolling average – 100 (KW) x .06 (or 60 percent minimum monthly contract amount) to equal the minimum billing calculation. High previous demand can be reset by AEP. Weber says that if a business has a demand management system, though, demand could be kept lower thus minimizing the “highest previous demand” used by AEP to calculate monthly bills through a lower minimum billing calculation.

     “So the idea is to keep this overall demand low enough that you never pay for what you don’t use,” said Weber. “So just by paying attention to these types of things, it’s kind of an easy way to save two or three thousand dollars depending on the size of your facility.”

     Weber explained that AEP relies on peak or high demand in its billing process because the company must look at what the potential usage is rather than the average usage. Because it will need bigger systems in order to provide for peak demand, it must maintain systems which can handle that peak demand. That costs more to maintain, costs AEP is going to pass along to its customers.

     So what can businesses do to help control costs? Shop out or find a utility company that has the best rates (Kwh).

     Businesses can also look at PJM capacity charges. PJM is a neutral, independent regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity across the grid in 13 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia. RPM stands for Reliability Pricing Model. This is an auction process PJM uses to set market prices for capacity in the PJM region. Prices are set for three years ahead and are designed to send long-term price signals to the marketplace to attract needed investments for maintaining existing generation assets and encouraging development of new sources of capacity. PJM charges a separate demand based on the entire grid (based on five peak days that occur between June 1 and September 30, excluding weekends and holidays).

     “It’s ever-changing and very complicated,” said Weber.

     Your average, then, is your capacity charge for the following year. “But there are things you can do to manage that charge as well,” said Weber. First, benchmark your facility. Benchmarking is the practice of comparing the measured performance of a facility to itself and its peers by examining energy use intensity. In doing so, Weber says you can then isolate areas in your facility where you can reduce energy costs. Once you know where to start, Weber suggests creating a Systems Operating Map by documenting occupancy schedules for each area identified; determining what type of HVAC systems services each area; determining lighting and HVAC schedules and methods of control; looking at occupied and unoccupied set points; determining unit heaters in each space; and examining use of other large energy users like EFs, Air compressors, etc.

     Once areas of improvement are identified, low-cost or no-cost energy saving opportunities can be implemented. Weber suggests tightening HVAC and lighting schedules so they match occupancy schedules; adjusting occupied and unoccupied set points; ensuring that at least a two-degree deadband exists between cooling and heating set points; adjusting terminal unit heater set points; turning off terminal unit heaters in the cooling season; tying exhaust fan schedules to HVAC schedules; fixing leaks in air compressor lines; and lowering air compressor set points if possible.

     Other low-cost energy savings opportunities include encouraging occupants to shut off computer monitors and lights; removing incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with LEDs; replacing exit lights with LEDs; closing gaps around doors and windows; optimizing janitorial staff so fewer lights are on at any given time (Nationwide Insurance did this successfully); and utilizing an effective preventative maintenance plan.

     Weber suggests that facility managers should investigate the building’s automated and control systems, asking themselves does the system simultaneously heat and cool often; are outside air dampers properly sealed; are economizers functioning optimally; is more outside air being brought in that needed; are there sensor errors; have pneumatics been calibrated; and have systems sequence of operations been adjusted as spaces have changed?

     Once all these areas have been examined, further fine tuning and re-commissioning is possible, said Weber. Retro-commissioning is the process to improve the efficiency of an existing buildings equipment and systems. It can often resolve problems that have developed throughout the building’s life as equipment has aged and building use has changed.

     “Retro-commissioning can take existing buildings and probably get done what should have been done all along and fix those issues, making the systems operate much better,” Weber added.

     Capital investments can also lead to increased energy efficiency, but come at a cost. Those include building-wide LED lighting replacement; BAS upgrades and/or replacements; fundamental system design changes; and the replacement of boilers and chillers with energy-efficient options.

     “This is an ongoing process and it never ends,” said Weber. “You benchmark and figure out where you stand. Then you start going around and figuring out what measures are best for my building. Then you implement them. How did you do? Go back and benchmark, and overtime things start to degrade, and things filter up. Then you have to start the cycle all over again.”