Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency - July 26, 2017 - By Andrew Klein
What businesses can learn about energy use – and savings – during the dog days of summer
On average, energy represents 19% of total expenditures for the typical office building and could be even higher in the summer months thanks to office thermostat wars, where employees play a proverbial tug of war with the office AC and inadvertently cause companies to waste energy and money. Summer should serve as a wakeup call for business and property owners to take simple steps that can rein in energy spending not only between Memorial Day and Labor Day – but all year round.
Minor changes make a big impact
Our recent analysis of more than 880 office buildings found that 79% of offices have energy savings potential through operational changes that have little to no cost. One mistake many businesses make, especially in the summer, is running AC systems longer than is actually needed, such as when the building is unoccupied or during bookend hours of the day. For instance, instead of turning on the air two or more hours before employees arrive in the morning, an hour and a half or less of preconditioning is typically enough to cool the space down sufficiently. The same goes for the end of the day. If most employees head out of the office around 5 p.m., the AC can be shut off by 4 p.m. without most people even noticing. Those few hours per day can save businesses big bucks over time: Our analysis found the average savings potential for office buildings was 1.4 kWh per square foot, and when simple operational changes like these are put in place, an average size building – which is 14,900 square feet – could realize savings of up to $2,700 annually.
In addition to easy operational tweaks like adjusting HVAC settings, retrofitting energy inefficient appliances can also help. Of the hundreds of offices we analyzed, 80% also had savings potential through retrofit options. We found that LED lighting could save 3 kWh per square foot on average, which would equate to savings of roughly $5,800 for the average building. Businesses can even make savings outside their buildings by upgrading parking lot lighting to LEDs to reduce their total energy consumption by between 2% and 3%. While getting buy-in for the initial spending can be a challenge – especially when scaling for a building that is tens of thousands of square feet – the data proves that the potential for long-term savings makes energy efficiency investments worthwhile in the long term.
Tips for business owners
Smarter energy use can be even more impactful for businesses with abnormal operating hours and environments. Fast food is a prime example of an industry that grapples with managing high levels of energy use year-round, as fast food restaurants use almost six times as much energy per square foot as the average commercial building. Many even operate 24 hours a day, which means kitchen, interior lighting and HVAC equipment needs to run around the clock. Kitchen equipment is extremely energy intensive, with usage attributed to cooking, refrigeration and kitchen ventilation hoods often accounting for 60% to 70% of a building’s total energy use. Identifying outdated and inefficient equipment and upgrading to more energy efficient models can make a significant difference for businesses.
No matter the industry, there are various steps businesses can take to optimize their energy consumption. Closely monitoring when and where energy use is highest will give businesses more control over their energy spending even after the heat of summer has passed.
Andrew Klein is a building energy engineer at FirstFuel Software, a SaaS company that provides a business customer engagement platform for utilities. Through the analysis of building energy use, Andrew arms utilities with recommendations on energy efficiency measures for their business customers. Andrew is also a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) in MA (Environmental) and holds a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) credential.