3 Keys to Energy Optimization in Commercial Buildings

October 30, 2019

As a commercial building owner or facility manager, rising energy costs must be of concern to you. 

If money were no object, you would likely make every energy optimizing improvement possible tomorrow, because you know improving your building’s energy efficiency will lower your operating costs and significantly reduce its impact on the environment. After all, commercial buildings are the largest consumer of energy in the world by a large margin. And, energy costs are often the largest portion of any facility’s operating budget. 

But, money is a realistic limitation, and time is a factor too. You and your facility management team are busy and need to prioritize the schedule and the budget. 

That’s why we’re offering this quick and simple guide to the “low-hanging fruit” of commercial facility energy optimization: three areas that have proven to be highly effective and relatively easy to accomplish. Take the time to analyze your facility’s energy use, then use this list to prioritize what you can do to have the biggest impact on improving its energy efficiency going forward. 

 

Lighting

Lighting is the greatest energy consumer in most commercial facilities. While switching out your current bulbs for more energy-efficient options is an obvious choice, getting the energy cost of your building’s lighting under control actually requires a multi-pronged approach. There are no less than five different ways to optimize your facility’s lighting for maximum efficiency, and some of them are absolutely free.

After taking the time to analyze your current equipment and usage patterns, consider the following specific tasks that will have a marked impact on your energy consumption:

  • Behavioral modification - Training people to turn off lights when they leave a room is a deceptively simple “strategy.” But, as every parent knows, it can be challenging to say the least. Successfully accomplishing this simple task will cut down your building’s energy usage dramatically. In relatively small facilities with a small group of long-term occupants, it’s easily the best first option. 

  • Install motion sensors - To accomplish the same purpose in a more predictable way, installing motion sensors wherever artificial light is used can guarantee that unoccupied rooms aren’t wasting lighting energy any longer. This strategy isn’t free, but it requires a relatively low initial investment, with notable savings that show up immediately. Larger facilities that accommodate hundreds or thousands of people every day will likely find this option far easier to accomplish. Focusing on efficient workspace management can work hand-in-hand with motion sensors to make sure lights aren’t even turning on when it’s not really necessary. 

  • Take advantage of natural light - If your building isn’t surrounded on all sides by taller buildings, windows and/or skylights may provide sufficient natural light for at least a few hours a day. If so, another free and simple option would be to reduce or eliminate the use of artificial light wherever practical during those hours.

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives - This may be the single most valuable step you can take as it has been proven to provide immediate savings ranging from 25 - 80 percent in what you’re spending on electricity. The cost of this investment is fairly high, especially for a large facility, so many owners choose to handle the upgrade in phases over several months.

  • Replace older, inefficient wiring and fixtures - This is potentially the most expensive option for improving the energy efficiency of your facility’s lighting system, but it’s still worth considering (especially if your building is old). Full or partial replacement of the existing wiring and lighting equipment with newer, higher-efficiency equipment can be the most effective choice if the existing system is decades old. Not only will it result in operating cost savings, but it can enhance the resale value of the property and improve safety. 

 

HVAC

Your HVAC system is likely the largest energy consumer of your facility after lighting.

As noted above, choosing the appropriate upgrades or adjustments from the list below will depend on how your building is used, the equipment you’re currently running, and other factors. It’s also important to recognize how the law of diminishing returns comes into play when trying to optimize an HVAC system that’s already running well. So, a thorough analysis is in order. 

  • Adjusting the thermostat - In many cases, commercial facilities are cooled or heated more than necessary to maintain the occupants’ comfort. Even a very small adjustment of the thermostat can save a great deal of energy when it’s applied facility-wide over an entire year. For example, if you normally cool an office building to 67 degrees fahrenheit all summer and you raise the thermostat to 69 degrees instead, the occupant may not even notice a change that can make a meaningful difference to the top line. 

  • Make sure all HVAC equipment is properly maintained - The HVAC system includes many interconnected parts, so there are plenty of opportunities for something to go wrong. It should be a priority for your maintenance staff to visually inspect the system components. There are also a number of routine maintenance activities, such as changing out filters and cleaning motor housings, that can’t be neglected if you want the system to function in top form. A planned maintenance program is the best way to keep the system running as efficiently as possible.

  • Upgrade old equipment with more efficient models - As with upgrading the lighting system, this is the most expensive option an owner can consider for improving HVAC energy efficiency. But, the potential ROI is high for facilities running old, outdated equipment that doesn’t meet current efficiency standards. In some cases, updating the HVAC system can cut monthly energy costs in half. 

 

Tools for monitoring, controls, and analytics

Although this third point is not connected to a specific area in the building, taking advantage of the latest building control and analytics solutions offers incredible potential for ROI across many building systems.

Building automation and monitoring systems incorporate hardware and software like sensors, switches, and programmable interfaces. Many systems include a robust analytics engine that can provide valuable data for technicians or engineers working on the system while providing you an ongoing record of historical usage and important clues for continual improvement.

By including these tech solutions in your overall energy optimization strategy, you can keep your commercial facility constantly progressing toward more efficient and cost-effective operation. 

Check out some of the tools available to help understand building performance at https://www.sketchup.com/products/sefaira.

 
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