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Four Steps for Effective Energy Management

Examining the value of a carefully constructed action plan.

Like their federal counterparts, managers of state-, county- and municipally owned buildings are focused on increasing energy efficiency. Catalysts for this heightened focus include a growing cultural awareness of sustainability, rising electricity costs and tighter budgets.

However, it is critically important for all facility managers to distinguish between energy efficiency, a desired end result, and energy management, a strategic plan designed and implemented with the building life cycle in mind. It involves a continuous process to actively monitor, manage, improve and sustain savings. Driving energy management via a carefully constructed action plan will better position state, county and municipal facility managers to achieve energy efficiency goals in the short term.

At the federal level, legislation is a key driver for facility managers to set energy efficiency goals. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007), for example, requires all federal government facilities to reduce energy consumption by 3 percent per year through 2015 for a total 30 percent reduction. Additionally, recognizing that one can't manage what one can't measure, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) requires facility managers to install advanced electric meters on every building by Oct. 1, 2012. Finally, Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, which was enacted on Oct. 5, 2009, requires facilities to set targets, and measure and report on greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategies those federal facility managers deploy to comply with mandates can, and should, be replicated at the state, county and municipal level. It doesn't just make sense for the environment; it makes sense to their bottom line. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA), the per-kilowatt hour cost of electricity rose from 7.6 cents to 9.8 cents from 2004 to 2008, a 28.8 percent increase. The EIA expects that amount to increase to 10.7 cents by 2010, another 9.2 percent jump. Assuming that occurs, the cost of electricity will have increased nearly 40 percent from 2004 to 2010. Unless conservation measures are implemented, states, counties and municipalities may be forced to make cuts in other areas to pay utility bills. It is even more critical during these tough economic times when these government entities are struggling to meet their fiscal obligations.

Four Steps to Energy Management

A carefully constructed energy management action plan can help state, county and municipal facility managers hone best practices to reduce energy and life cycle costs. There are many ways to instantly improve an existing facility's energy efficiency by varying degrees, but the overall goal should be continuous improvement. Without a well defined, strategic plan, implemented tactics likely won't achieve their full energy and cost savings potential. A strategic energy management action plan that incorporates a keen understanding of many factors, including energy efficiency goals, budgetary parameters and payback threshold, along with the appropriate technology solutions, will foster a mindset of ongoing energy planning and accountability.

An effective plan should incorporate four basic steps:

Step 1: Measure. Collect data from energy consumers within a facility and analyze individuals' impact on total consumption. Measuring energy use via a metering system identifies potential savings opportunities and creates a baseline to gauge improvement.

Step 2: Fix the basics. This consists of efforts like installing low-energy-consumption devices, like LED lighting, and addressing power quality issues. However, while they can translate to substantial savings, such measures are typically a one-time improvement, or a passive approach to energy management.

Step 3: Automate. Measures like schedule-based lighting control and occupancy sensors automatically turn lights on only when they are needed, while HVAC control regulates heating and cooling at optimal levels, which can change day by day.

More importantly, these measures facilitate an active approach to energy management, because they can be "actively" adjusted based on fluctuating facility energy demands or supply-side programs, such as demand response, where pre-selected electrical loads are turned off based on

a utility request or when electrical rates meet a pre-set threshold.

Step 4: Monitor and improve. Unplanned, unmanaged shutdowns of equipment and processes; substandard automation and regulation; inadequate maintenance, and/or a lack of behavior continuity can eliminate previously gained efficiencies and savings. In fact, typically up to 8 percent savings per year is lost without a monitoring and maintenance program, and up to 12 percent savings per year is lost without regulation and control systems.

Power meter installations, energy management systems (EMS), regular maintenance and retro-commissioning can all help achieve a long-term positive return on investment.

Savings Potential

Like their federal counterparts, state, county and municipal facility managers that commit to this type of active approach to energy management can realize up to 30 percent savings in a relatively short duration. Value is realized in these areas:

  • 10 to 15 percent: Installation of efficient, low-consumption devices and building insulation.
  • 5 to 15 percent: Optimized usage, including turning off devices when not in use and regulating motors or heating at the optimized level.
  • 2 to 8 percent: Continual monitoring and improvement through a rigorous maintenance and re-commissioning program, proactive and constant measurement, and immediate reaction if deviation from desired levels occurs.
In addition to creating and implementing a strategic energy management program, a facility manager must also educate stakeholders on how to maximize energy savings generated by active energy efficiency measures. For example, no matter how stringently adjusted a building system is upon initial occupancy, facility usage changes over time -- the lighting control system is overridden, the set points on the HVAC system are changed and equipment begins to age. These factors translate to energy and cost savings erosion. A facility manager can avoid this by emphasizing a lifecycle approach focused on maintaining those savings. This sets the stage for more effective long-term energy management, and a greater opportunity for success.