By John Watkins
Did you know the average commercial building owner wastes 20-30 percent of the energy they pay for? Not only is that bad for the environment, it’s bad for your bottom line! Becoming more conscientious about your building’s energy usage is a necessity, especially as the cost of traditional energy services continues to climb. The good news is there are now more ways than ever to become more efficient, and the methods of improvement keep getting easier and more effective. From simple habits that translate to measurable savings over time, to advanced “smart” systems that manage where, when, and how your building consumes power, here’s a breakdown of all of the steps you can take to make sure you stay in the green.
1. Hire an Energy Auditor
For companies who are serious about reducing their energy needs, a professional audit is essential. Energy auditors are trained to analyze a building’s power usage, pinpoint exactly how much energy each system is using, and advise on what practices, tools, and technologies to put in place to bring down costs and inefficiencies. The price of the audit will vary based on the size of your building or building campus, but it’s an investment that can translate to big savings down the line. Make sure you have all relevant documents and forms ready for your auditor before he/she arrives; this will save time (and money) so you can focus on the good stuff during your appointment.
2. Implement Better Practices
Remember, the average commercial building wastes 20-30% of the energy it uses. To put it in other terms: in 4-5 years, a building will have wasted enough energy to power it for a full year. That’s a lot of power!
Why is this degree of waste so common? You can blame a number of inefficient systems and energy practices. First up are HVAC systems with their myriad opportunities for wastefulness. Keeping systems on overnight, or allowing them to heat and cool unused rooms, is a common mistake. You can also place some of the blame on well-meaning employees who might adjust default settings, then forget to reset the system once the room reaches a comfortable temperature. Even three or four extra degrees in heating or cooling can accumulate to a lot of energy over the course of the year. Finally, HVAC systems get old fast, resulting in malfunctions and inefficiencies that can really suck up power. Make sure to have your system regularly maintained to avoid this kind of issue.
Another common energy-waster? Lighting systems. Leaving lights on overnight or in unused spaces is an obvious mistake, especially if you’re using incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.
Finally, powering on all of your devices/systems at once can create a situation known as “peak load,” which demands a lot of energy from the grid in a very short amount of time. This ends up being more expensive than spreading your startup process out over a couple of hours. For best results, create a schedule that staggers your daily system activations.
3. Invest in Smart Automation
You could try to take on all of the common energy drains mentioned above with a manual approach, but it might be easier and more reliable to automate your “best practices” with a Building Automation System (BAS). These systems will do things like turn off lights at a certain hour, and reset HVAC systems to default controls. If you don’t have a BAS in place, you should definitely install one; if you have a system that has not been replaced or updated in the past 10 years, it might be time to do so. Newer BA systems are integrated with “smart” technologies and are easy to update as technology improves, offering optimal features as they emerge without having to install an entirely new system. Among these “smarter” features are:
- Zone Scheduling: turns systems in various areas of your building on and off based on need.
- Automated Seasonal Temperatures: adjusts the default temperature setting of your HVAC system to coincide with seasonal temperatures (e.g., default temperatures will be slightly hotter in the summer and slightly cooler in the winter). This is especially helpful for spaces in your building that don’t get used very frequently, as you won’t be spending as much energy cooling a room in the summer that no one is using.
- Daylight Harvesting: sets your lighting system to adjust based on the availability of natural light. Lights will automatically dim when the building is receiving the most sunlight, and then brighten when the sun goes down, so you’re not paying for lighting when it’s not needed.
- Linking lighting to card entry access: ideal for buildings with workers who come in after hours, this feature turns lights on when an employee accesses the building via keycard, and turns them off after he or she leaves, eliminating the need to leave lights on all night for just a few employees.
- Central Monitoring: with this feature, all systems can be controlled and operated from one master console; you don’t need to adjust individual components as you had to in the past.
4. Install LED Lights
If you’re still using incandescent or fluorescent systems to light your building, you should strongly consider switching to LED. LED lights use 17 percent of the energy of fluorescent systems, and only 10 percent of the energy of incandescent systems. Plus, they can last up to 50,000 hours, which is significantly longer than any other type of lighting. They’re also easily programmable with smart Building Automation Systems, making them ideal for implementing a wide array of energy-saving practices.
5. Consider Going Solar
Once you’ve taken all of the necessary steps to reduce your energy usage, you might want to look into installing a solar energy system, especially if your lot receives ample sunlight. Though the cost of solar installation is never low, the work you’ve done to maximize your building’s efficiency will reduce the size of the system you need, which, incidentally, reduces its cost. Converting to solar also earns you significant savings on your electricity bill over time. In fact, the average commercial building that runs on solar will see a 75% reduction in their monthly power bills. Add to that the various tax incentives and rebates offered for solar energy on both state and federal levels, and you’re looking at a pretty sound investment, with an ROI that averages between 3 and 7 years.
Going solar also decreases reliance on the municipal power grid, freeing you from the inflation and price fluctuations of a volatile market. Whether your city runs on coal, nuclear power, natural gas, or hydroelectricity, the costs of its services are based on finite resources, which will only get more expensive as time goes on. The sun, on the other hand, is essentially a free, unlimited source of power.
Online tools can help you decide if it’s a viable option for your building, breaking down installation costs in your area and estimating ROI (https://http://www.energysage.com/solar/calculator-results/).
6. Seek Out Rebates and Tax Breaks
There are tons of tax incentives and rebates offered on both state and federal levels that benefit businesses taking steps to be more efficient, whether improving HVAC, lighting, power systems, or all of the above. Readily available resources (such as Dsire USA) can help you discover which state and federal benefits currently apply to your building’s green initiatives.
For commercial properties, any step taken in the direction of energy efficiency is a good one. Whether you go all-in with solar panels, smart BA systems, and lighting upgrades, or you start small by implementing one or two good practices, your efforts will undoubtedly pay off over time. Commit, make some changes, and keep it up. Your bottom line and the planet will thank you.
John Watkins has been in the energy efficient lighting industry for over 25 years. With a background in lighting controls, power management and IoT, as well as LED solutions, John oversees FSC’s product development, sales and marketing efforts directly. He also manages the company’s overall P&L.