What comes to mind when you hear the term “energy audit”? If you’re like most facilities managers, nothing good. The idea of closely examining your building’s energy needs and operating efficiency seems bound to stir up trouble, especially if things are going smoothly as-is.
I’ve done enough energy audits to know that things don’t always end the way people expect them to.
A commercial building energy audit is actually opportunity knocking. (In my view, it should be renamed an “energy opportunity assessment.”) Compared to a financial audit, where the best that could happen is nothing, an energy audit has positive outcomes: It’s the first step toward implementing an energy management program that will help you reduce costs and become a better steward of the environment. Both building managers and CFOs have a lot to gain as a result.
What incites an energy audit?
Usually one of two things: finances or sustainability initiatives (or both). CFOs might see a connection between a financial audit and an energy audit, and implement a plan to do them both annually. Or they may see a change or red flag in the financial statements pointing them to the need for an energy audit.
Because energy rates are low right now and have been for a while, a bigger incentive for an energy audit is a desire to boost a company’s sustainability. More than 90 percent of CEOs say that sustainability is fundamental for success, and 66 percent of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand.
Sustainability and energy are highly correlated. Sustainability is somewhat “squishy” and hard to measure, but energy is the component of sustainability that’s very easy to measure. Sixty to eighty percent of a typical organization’s greenhouse gas inventory (its carbon footprint) is tied to the building’s energy use. So if you want your company to become sustainable, then an energy audit is a good first step.
“Energy use is a barometer of stewardship. If energy is being consumed well—you understand how much it costs, what your energy profile looks like, and what the utility tariffs look like—chances are you’re doing a good job managing other areas as well.”
—Lawrence Eighmy, founder and managing principal of the Stone House Group
What’s involved in an energy audit?
For most people, an “energy audit” is a loose term and follows a general framework of identifying energy usage throughout the building, assessing building systems, and conducting on-site inspections. A final report is produced outlining energy conservation and system improvement measures.
For those within the industry, however, an energy audit is a very specific term defined by ASHRAE, a global organization focused on advancing technology to improve sustainability. ASHRAE specifies three types of energy audits:
- Level 1: A basic, high-level walkthrough. It requires data collection regarding the operation of building systems and a review of facility utility bills with the purpose of identifying major problem areas.
- Level 2: Includes a Level 1 audit and additional complex, detailed calculations in connection with proposed energy efficiency measures. In my view, Level 2 is flawed in terms of implementation: The literature suggests you have to do an entire workbook of calculations for each identified project, which means people tend not to identify small projects because the write-up is the same. As a result, Level 2 is less useful because organizations don’t consider ways to address the “low-hanging fruit” (such as LED lighting, for example) which tend to have low-cost and high return—avenues for energy efficiency that are certainly worthy of consideration.
- Level 3: Sometimes called a “comprehensive audit,” this level includes more detailed data analysis related to the projects identified during the Level 2 audit, as well as extensive cost and savings calculations.
The end result of any commercial building energy audit is to analyze and understand your facility’s energy usage. From there you can design appropriate strategies for making improvements that will reduce energy input and ultimately save money.
IoT Technology Tools For Energy Audits
An energy audit begins with data collection. Today, the IoT is making it possible to collect more data on energy usage than ever before, at the lowest cost. Data sensors attached to heating and cooling systems and other pieces of equipment aggregate detailed information about energy consumption that can then be analyzed and used to formulate goals for the future.
IoT solutions can also be utilized as part of a plan to help reduce energy costs. For instance, implementing automated demand response and demand control ventilation programs help you better manage your building’s energy needs and measurably improve efficiency.
Iota Communications has a variety of IoT tools that allow you to remotely monitor energy use, create energy profiles, and reduce energy consumption and demand charges. To learn more about how IoT solutions like these can help you gather real-time data for an energy audit—or enable more energy-efficient operations—visit the website or ask a question.