Utility energy expenditures are a major operating expense for many businesses, representing up to 25 per cent of annual operating costs.
As a result of inefficient equipment or improper operation, many companies actually spend more on energy than is necessary. Over time, HVAC systems become dirty and drift from their ideal settings for efficient performance. Lights are often left on to illuminate unoccupied rooms, produce more lumen than is necessary for a task, or are outdated and output more heat than light energy.
On the bright side, energy consumption can be controlled. If a facility manager knows where to look and what changes to make, unnecessary costs can be eliminated.
Here are seven strategies to minimize energy waste.
1. Measure energy consumption and expenditures
Facility managers must know how much energy a building is using, how much energy is being wasted and how much that energy costs.
Examine utility bills for the rate structure for power (demand in kilowatts), consumption (energy in kilowatts per hour), peak rates, time of use rates and any penalties or discounts. Also, check utility bills for inaccurate meter readings and invalid charges.
Next, walk through the facility at low-load and maximum capacity conditions to identify underused and unnecessary equipment.
Finally, survey the main factors that affect energy use – weather, operations, production, occupancy and seasonality – to identify controllable factors that can be used to reduce consumption.
2. Maintain equipment for maximum efficiency
Keep equipment in proper working condition and configuration for maximum efficiency and reliability. This can be accomplished by implementing a regular inspection schedule for boilers, chillers, air conditioners, ventilation, motors, fans, pumps, lighting, computers, peripherals and any equipment that consumes a large amount of energy. Check for dirt, clogging, blockage, corrosion, leaks, excess cycling, noise and vibration, and measure voltages, currents, temperatures, pressures and flows (as necessary).
3. Operate equipment to optimize system performance
Operating a system at maximum performance usually costs more than it is worth. At low performance, efficiency is low or waste is high. For maximum value, tune systems components so the performance of the whole system is optimized for lowest operating cost, and adjust until the output is high and the costs are low. Any increase in total efficiency saves money during every minute of operation.
4. Get rid of old, worn-out or broken equipment
Review equipment that consumes a lot of energy, either by size, quantity or volume of operation. Also, look at control systems, windows and doors. Replace wasteful or inefficient equipment with energy-efficient models (such as Energy Star qualified or high energy efficiency ratio) that are properly sized for the load profile. The financial justification for replacement is determined by factors such as capital cost, cost of energy, operating expenses, interest rates, financial incentives, taxation and alternative investments.
5. Educate employees about energy use and costs
The most efficient equipment will not save money if employees don’t use it properly or they have habits that waste energy. Talk to them about energy-sapping equipment and the factors that affect its energy consumption. Show staff how to operate the equipment for the highest efficiency and the lowest cost. Employees are the best observers of finding new ways to save, so share energy-saving opportunities with them and provide incentives for practicing energy-efficient behaviour.
6. Turn it off, turn it down
Only use as much energy as needed, when it’s needed (preferably when energy rates are the lowest), while still balancing cost-savings with employee comfort, productivity and safety.
Turn lights, equipment and appliances off when not in use. This includes power bars to reduce standby (phantom) power. If equipment must remain on, reduce the power level (if possible).
Occupancy sensors can be used to control lighting, HVAC and other equipment. Adjust thermostats to the limit for comfort but no more. Check that each HVAC zone is set properly for the season, including pre-heat/cool times and temperature setbacks during periods of no occupancy. For lighting, reduce ambient light levels by using dimmers or staggering the activation of fixtures, and use task lighting for specific work areas.
Check that any energy-saving features (screen saver, sleep mode and hibernate) are activated on computers and office equipment.
7. Buy energy properly
How energy is bought affects its price, delivery and (possibly) consumption.
In a regulated energy market, companies have few or no choices of providers. Facility managers must ensure they’re on the best rate plan for the organization’s equipment capacity and consumption profile.
In a deregulated market, get quotes from third party retailers for energy supplies and services that match the organization’s load profile. It may be possible to negotiate for discounts or special terms. Consider purchasing a 12-month contract for future supply of natural gas or electricity to lock in the price and delivery.
Blair Kingsland is president of Cortex Energy Management Inc. in Toronto. He helps companies with energy assessment, improvement, verification and monitoring.