In the commercial buildings sector, there is no shortage of opportunities to improve building performance and energy efficiency. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics from the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, 95 percent of commercial buildings in the United States are 50,000 square feet or less. These small buildings account for 44 percent of all commercial buildings energy use.
Because large commercial buildings and multi-building facilities are more likely to have dedicated energy or facilities managers, large buildings are most likely to benefit from the considerable growth in energy management systems, and commissioning and building energy performance services—the industry that has grown up around improving both the bottom line of the energy bill, and the operations and comfort of commercial-sector facilities. However small buildings are unlikely to have dedicated building operations staff, who know how to take advantage of these services. The average energy bill of a small commercial building is about $23,000 annually. Often, the decision to implement energy saving measures is based on simple payback period: if energy savings are 10 percent, the budget for energy efficiency services at these sites may only be $2,000-5,000.
Now, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a package of simple analytical steps—and a strategy—designed to bring better energy management and efficiency improvements by way of the service providers who are already taking care of these buildings: the HVAC contractors.
The Energy Management Package (EMP), developed with the help of contractors and small building owners, is now available for free at this website. The EMP can help HVAC contractors expand the business they do with small building owners by providing a simple step-by-step guide to provide basic energy management services. The selling point to small commercial building owners is lower energy costs, with minimal financial investment. The package focuses on offices, retail, food service and food sales buildings, where large opportunities for low-cost energy savings exist. The project targets three to five percent energy savings per building through low-and no-cost measures.
Scoping study reveals needs
Erin Hult, Jessica Granderson and Paul Mathew of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) conducted R&D for the Commercial Buildings Integration Program in the Department of Energy’s Building Technology Office to develop a better approach to bringing energy management into small commercial buildings. They began by listening to the voices of those involved in this market segment for a scoping study. They talked with contractors, utility energy efficiency program managers and vendors of energy information systems (EIS), the technology used in commercial buildings that helps managers understand real-time consumption patterns and monitor building energy use.
“We found that while some small building owners want to reduce their energy use, there are very few energy management tools and services specifically targeted to this market. Many of the existing tools are too complicated and expensive for small buildings,” says Hult.
The scoping study also discovered that there is no single tool that provides a simple, systematic way for anyone—contractors or knowledgeable owners—to complete the key energy analysis steps for small commercial buildings recommended by the research team. Owners need simple easy-to-understand information about their buildings that is actionable. “Two of the contractors we spoke to suggested that a one-page report for owners would be more effective than an online tool in motivating them to take action,” says Hult.
The research team considered several different approaches to creating a process for expanding energy management to small commercial buildings that would succeed in the marketplace, ranging from providing software for building owners to buy, to using utilities as the delivery channel. They settled on developing a package for HVAC contractors that shows them how to expand their existing services to the small commercial market to include energy management to improve whole-building energy performance.
“Contractors have existing relationships with small commercial customers,” says Hult. “They regularly visit these buildings to provide maintenance.” This keeps the transaction cost of providing energy management services low—something that emerged in the scoping study as a high priority.
Package emphasizes benchmarking, operational efficiency opportunities
With guidance from the study, the research team developed the Energy Management Package, and recruited a group of 16 contractors nationwide to participate in a demonstration study to determine how well the package worked, and what improvements were needed. Contractors have identified 24 demonstration sites totaling over 400,000 square feet. Participating contractors included AAA Air Care, Advanced Energy Efficiency, Air Comfort Corporation, Bay Air Systems, Burch Corporation, Cooper Oates Air Conditioning, Dynamic Air Services, Eric Kjelshus Energy HVAC, Energy Conservation Pros/Syntrol, Johnson AC, Gilbert Mechanical Contractors, Marina Mechanical, Mid MO Inspectors, Murphy & Miller Inc., Peterson Service Company and Zero Energy Associates. The demonstration program is ongoing; results should be available early in 2015.
“The package provides step-by-step guidance to contractors to minimize required training. For analyzing energy data, it leverages existing, free software tools. There are guidelines, worksheets, a simple reporting tool, and a business model for the user,” says Hult.
The process consists of five steps: benchmarking the energy use of the target building against similar buildings; analyzing from 3 to 12 months of hourly or sub-hourly electric interval data (two to three hours of contractor time); performing a walkthrough of the building (one hour); discussing findings with the owner; and checking results (every 6 to 12 months).
The package shows the user how to get the building’s total and monthly energy use from utility bill data, and how to use an existing online program such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to determine how well or poorly the building performs compared to others of its type. It explains how interval data can reveal spikes in a building’s energy usage that they can use to diagnose problems with equipment. The data can reveal opportunities to use temperature setpoints, overnight setbacks and other strategies to actively manage energy costs.
The EMP user is guided through the building walkthrough process by a checklist of what to look for, learning how to find simple low- or no-cost measures such as adjusting thermostat setpoints and lighting controls that can lower energy use with little impact on activities within the building.
The package’s focus on communicating with the customer helps demonstrate the bottom-line advantages of energy performance improvement, as well as other benefits such as better indoor environmental quality, and lower maintenance costs. Its model for incorporating energy management into a contractor’s business is designed to help make this a successful service offering that adds to the contractor’s business success. The model provides a detailed approach to calculating costs and benefits to the contractor and the customer.
Initial feedback from the demonstration indicates that contractors are deriving value from deploying this approach at small commercial buildings. Obtaining access to clients’ energy data can be a challenge for contractors, however, according to Hult. She believes that wider implementation of the Green Button data formatting standard and Green Button Connect data transfer protocol, in conjunction with utility smart meter deployment, are critical to enable the broad adoption of energy management strategies in the small commercial sector.
The free Energy Management Package is available now to all interested users at the website below. The project team plans to explore other channels for delivering the EMP to users, including the Architecture 2030 Small Commercial Toolkit (currently being developed with funding from DOE’s Building Technologies Office), and to work with building software vendors to better tailor their products to the small commercial sector.
Small Commercial Energy Management Package