The commercial building sector is the largest electric energy consumption segment in the U.S. It currently represents almost 20 percent of all energy use and is growing faster than any other market segment. Given the sheer magnitude of energy use in commercial buildings, any measures designed to save energy in the segment represent a significant opportunity for impact.
With that, the market has seen a recent surge in the number of companies focused on driving energy efficiency in commercial buildings, primarily through retrofit projects. Research suggests that ESCOs will exceed $5.1 billion this year in energy efficiency project installations. This number is expected to grow to $16 billion in sales by 2020.
Despite the tremendous attention to commercial building retrofits, nearly half of the energy savings opportunity in commercial buildings remains untouched. Operational improvements — low and no cost improvements like changing temperature set points, implementing night setback schedules and reducing simultaneous heating and cooling — are the hidden and low hanging fruit of energy efficiency.
For example, imagine an office building in which most people have left the building by 7 p.m., but the building does not begin its HVAC shutdown until 9 p.m. That’s two hours, or 8 percent of the day, spent at a high level of energy consumption, with little to no benefit to the building or its occupants. Easy adjustments to the building’s HVAC scheduling could save such a building 2 percent to 3 percent over an entire year, at no cost.
Why are operational improvements so hard to find? Let’s start with the basics. In order to identify energy savings opportunities, utilities and building owners typically start with on-site audits. Typical assessments run between $5,000 and $50,000 and take several weeks or more to complete. They also require multiple days onsite and a significant time investment from the building staff.
These audits often use observations over days or weeks to make their conclusions. But beyond providing a look at monthly consumption patterns, these audits lack the ability to analyze a full year of daily and hourly consumption. Because companies looking for retrofit business often conduct these audits, they tend to focus on the physical assets of the building that can be readily observed. In short, there can be high barriers to even getting an audit, and if one is done, it’s unlikely to find operational issues.
Using highly sophisticated analytical techniques and an understanding of building science, a building’s utility data can reveal operational savings opportunities of up to 30 percent in commercial buildings. Some of these operational savings can be acted on by building owners without help and some may require retrofitting engineers to re-program, upgrade, or tune controls systems.
Scott Raybin, President of The Green Savings Company said, “Every time I go into a building to try and sell the T5 Retrofit Kit, I’m struck by the wasted electricity that nobody can see. The Green Savings Company does not make any money from operational improvements but we notify management of improvements that can be made. There is no doubt that building owners could save themselves thousands of dollars a year if they could get a handle on them.”