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Heat is on for electricity demand projections

Vaccination rollout period deemed prime time to contemplate the ‘what ifs?’
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
By Barbara Carss

Electricity demand projections through the vaccination rollout period should take two contradictory factors into account, energy management specialists affirm. Office occupancy is likely to lag pre-pandemic densities well into 2022, but more rigorous ventilation specifications could offset savings from reduced plug and systems loads.

“This is where you do the ‘what ifs?’. What’s the new normal going to look like? Are we expecting people are going to start coming back in September or October?” Scott Rouse, managing partner with Energy@Work, advised during an online seminar sponsored by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Toronto last week. “You’ll also want to consider what your facility requirements are going to be. NRCan (Natural Resources Canada) has put out a very good tool for this, and ASHRAE has been fantastic in providing direction on what we need to look at with respect to filtration, relative humidity, filter size, etc.”

NRCan’s free online guide, Efficient HVAC Operation during a Pandemic, includes a self-administered assessment scorecard and related discussion to help building managers and operators gauge the effectiveness of filtration, outdoor air intake and humidification, along with general maintenance, commissioning, training and communications standards. Meanwhile, ASHRAE opened a COVID-19 technical guidance portal in March 2020 and soon after established an epidemic taskforce to assemble and coordinate resources to support healthy building operations and mitigate risk, including extensive guidance on requirements for reopening buildings and re-establishing their pre-pandemic functions.

“The idea is to bring operations and management together to determine the best HVAC strategy, and then you can project what the impact is on your energy use,” Rouse recommended. “Filtration has an impact. Relative humidity and how much outside air you need are also big ones.”

Ontario-based property and facilities managers may be able to tap into incentives for energy-efficient HVAC upgrades through the recently launched 2021-24 Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) Framework. Rebates on the installation of a range of prescribed products will be a main thrust of the initial years of this four-year program cycle, reflecting new directions from the provincial government.

“We’re really focusing on the prescriptive track. That is lighting, HVAC and manufacturing and other equipment. So it’s an enhanced list of measures, and looking at reducing administrative burden for applicants, which will turn into a quicker pre-approval and a quicker incentive payment,” Rob Edwards, business manager, private sector, with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) told online attendees. “We’ve got about half the budget that we had previously, but we’ve really had some efficiencies in the market and we’re looking at some good programs that are really going to be a good fit for the commercial real estate sector, the (CDM) program delivered under the IESO and the Save On Energy brand.”

Further supporting the case for energy-efficient HVAC, associated monitoring and controls, large commercial customers enrolled in Ontario’s Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) program have renewed incentive to curb energy loads during peak demand periods this summer. The 2020-21 pause on measuring enrollees’ peak demand during the five hours of highest total system demand has been lifted. Entering heat wave season, industry insiders foresee opportunities to achieve favourable billing factors — which will be used to calculate their share of global adjustment costs in 2022-23 — given that building occupancy is expected to remain low during the period when the five peak hours conventionally occur.

“For the second summer in a row, many of your properties will likely have a lot fewer people in them every day than you would see under normal circumstances,” reiterated Mark Olsheski, vice president, energy and environment, with Sussex Strategy Group.

Data from approximately 30 Toronto office buildings shows a general, but varying drop in electricity consumption in 2020 compared to 2019. Rouse cited year-over-year outcomes ranging from a 1 per cent increase to a 34 decrease in buildings his company monitors. Discarding the best and worst performers, he pegged the average reduction at 25 per cent during the 2020 heating season and 30 per cent during the cooling season.

“That was consistent across building types from mid-tier to A to AAA,” he said. “But anybody on deep lake cooling wasn’t affected as much during the cooling season.”

Despite CDM incentives and a promised long-term reduction in the global adjustment component of hydro bills via the so-called renewable cost shift, many building owners/managers view the prospect of further unexpected announcements and measures with some wariness. Olsheski characterized last year as something of a bumpy ride.

“If there are changes on such a frequent basis, that does factor into decision-making. Sometimes the best intentioned interventions of government can have consequences of layering in additional considerations when it comes to investment and things like that,” he submitted.

“Energy savings are kind of baked into our capital budget year. If these projects are going to be executed and we’re going to get these savings, we factor that into making our Class A or Class B decision (for the purpose of the ICI program),” noted Terry Flynn, a general manager with BentallGreenOak and the chair of BOMA Toronto’s energy committee. “COVID was a disruptor that certainly nobody predicted years ago in their strategies.”

Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.

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