energy audits

Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

An investment in sustainability can take many shapes, but one unavoidable fact about today’s high-performance technologies is that they usually cost money to implementand most of the time, it’s all up front. But if you’ve been ruling out a sustainable solution for purely financial reasons, we’d like to introduce you to a concept you really ought to know about: Energy Performance Contracting.

It might just change your mind about sustainability. And it might just save you a whole lot of money, too.

Energy Performance Contracting, to borrow the Energy.gov’s phrasing, is a “budget-neutral” method for reducing energy and water consumption while increasing efficiency in your building. In other words, Energy Performance Contracting helps your building use less energy while creating zero negative effects on your bottom line.Understanding Energy Performance Contracting

“Normally offered by Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), this innovative financing technique allows building users to achieve energy savings without up front capital expenses,” notes HUD.gov. “The costs of the energy improvements are borne by the performance contractor and paid back out of the energy savings.”

You get the benefits, while somebody else shoulders the financial burden. Not bad, huh?

“Energy performance contracting isn’t the best choice for everyone. But it can be a major tool for many budget constricted companies or governments,” says Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama. “At the end of the day, don’t let upfront cost stop a project when you have a tool like energy performance contracting.”

 

So, Where To Start?

The process is surprisingly simple, as outlined here at EnergyStar.gov. First, you competitively select an Energy Service Company (ESCO). This part is completely up to you. Of course, we’re happy to help!

Once you’ve selected your contractor, the ESCO will develop and then execute an all-inclusive energy-saving plan for your facility. The project should include an introductory energy audit as well as some kind of Monitoring and Verification (M&V) process that ensures continued savings. Besides energy efficiency, the ESCO might also focus on water conservation and distributed generation, among other components.

With the plan in place, you’ll work with the ESCO to set up long-term financing through a third party. This could be an operating lease, municipal lease or something else entirely. The idea is that the improvements cost you nothing in capital expenditures up front.

(Lease-purchase agreements are probably the most common method for financing an Energy Performance Contracting project. If you want to know more, that link has plenty more information.)

 

Reaping the Rewards

Finally, the ESCO should offer you a guarantee that your project will pay for itself through the savings generated by that all-inclusive energy-saving plan we mentioned above.

It’s as easy as that. Boost efficiency. Save money. Reap the rewards.

So, what kinds of buildings are ideal for Energy Performance Contracting? Government facilities ara a good choice, since governments generally own their buildings long-term. This makes a 10- to 20-year financing term attractive. But really, any large building could be a good candidate. Hospitals, schools, corporate headquartersthese are just a few of the facilities that could benefit from Energy Performance Contracting.

For more information, or to learn how to get started, contact Energy Alabama CEO Daniel Tait by email at dtait@alcse.org.

Energy Audit

Energy Audits: Is Your Building in Top Shape?

Cross-posted to NABPC.org

The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge is up and running, which means it’s time to start conserving energy. If you’ve signed up for the challenge, you’ve committed your company to attaining 20% energy savings in your building within 10 years.

Today, we’re continuing our three-part series about the primary steps that facility owners should take in order to achieve that target. By the time you finish all three posts, you should have learned a good bit of the info you’ll need to craft your energy-saving strategy.

Last time, we looked at energy benchmarking, and next time we’ll discuss commissioning. Today, though, the topic is energy audits.

An energy audit, to quote Energy.gov’s rather straightforward definition, is “a survey that shows how much energy you use in your house or apartment. It will help you find ways to use less energy.”

For our purposes, let’s just pretend they didn’t limit their explanation to houses and apartments. Whether the building is a home, business, factory, corporate headquarters or something else entirely, the concept remains the same. By giving your building an energy audit, you’ll be assessing how much energy it uses. And with that information in hand, you’ll know what measures you can take in order to use less energy and make your building more efficient.

Energy Audits vs. Benchmarking

Simple, right?Energy Audit

Now, at this point, you might be thinking that this sounds a whole lot like benchmarking, the topic of the previous entry in this series. The two concepts are indeed similar, but there’s a key difference.

Benchmarking compares your building to similar facilities in order to give you an idea of where it stands in relation to its peers. An energy audit goes one step further and sets out a plan for action.

Or, to use a fitness metaphor, benchmarking only tells you how overweight your building is. An energy audit analyzes your building’s energy usage and gives it a customized workout plan. By following the plan, you’ll whip your building into shape in no time.

Saving Money

And once your building’s energy consumption is on track, you’ll start saving money on your utility bill. How much money? According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, our national model, most companies can easily capture 20% energy savings. When we say easily, we mean that most businesses can see these kinds of savings with minimal effort and investment.

That kind of reduction to your energy bill would set you on course to conquer the Huntsville Better Buildings Challenge. Plus, it would pretty much make you a rockstar at your company.

So, then, what does an energy audit look like?

In residential settings, weatherproofing and insulation are generally two big areas of concern. For industrial or commercial buildings, audits would be more likely to focus on production equipment, lighting or climate control. In either case, you’ll want to find a professional to conduct the audit for you.

What Will This Cost?

Of course, some of this may come at a cost. Preliminary energy audits, or PEAs, and (usually) Level I audits can be done for free if you proceed with upgrade work–or at least at a very low cost. For more detailed audits the cost will be a little higher.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that detailed energy audits generally run between $0.12 and $0.50 per square foot. We call these Level II or Level III audits. For a great rundown on the difference between the different types of audits, check out this article from Microgrid Energy.

Depending on the size of your facility, that can amount to a serious chunk of change. But it’s not all bad news, as PNNL notes:

A convention center in a major metropolitan city reduced energy costs by almost $80,000 annually by implementing energy efficient changes to equipment, controls and system. Payback for these changes was less than a year, and facility staff predict an additional savings of $174,000 annually if longer-term equipment replacements are installed.

Those figures represent savings that virtually any company could appreciate. And it all came about because of energy auditing.

Naturally, no two auditing experiences will be exactly alike. But in almost every case, you should be able to find ways to increase efficiency–and save money.

With that, you’re ready to take the plunge with an energy audit. Up next, it’s time to talk about commission. See you then.

Energy Benchmarking

Energy Benchmarking: Does Your Building Match Up?

Cross posted from NABPC.org

The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge is up and running, which means it’s time to start conserving energy. If you’ve signed up for the challenge, you’ve committed your company to attaining 20% energy savings in your building within 10 years.

That’s fantastic. Hooray, you! But wait, now what?

We’re glad you asked.

Starting today, we’re running a three-part series about the primary steps that facility owners should take in order to achieve that target. By the time you finish all three posts, you should have learned all the info you’ll need to start crafting your energy-saving strategy.

Ready? Let’s get started. Our next two posts will cover energy audits and commissioning, but today, our topic is energy benchmarking.

Energy benchmarking, to give you a five-second definition, is the process of measuring how much energy a building consumes, and then comparing it to the same data from similar structures across the country. In other words, it’s a simple way for owners to see how efficiently–or inefficiently–their buildings are performing.

The process is part of the federal government’s ENERGY STAR program, and if you do well enough, your building will earn ENERGY STAR certification. But that’s for later. For now, you’ll need to figure out where to start.

Energy Benchmarking: First Steps

To do that, all you need is some basic information about your facility. Based on what type of building you have, you’ll use one of three specialized tools, all of which are available at EnergyStar.gov. Commercial buildings utilize the Portfolio Manager, while industrial plants need the Energy Tracking Tool. (There are actually 80 types of buildings in the Commercial category. You can see the full list, as well as the information needed for Portfolio Manager, here.) For new construction, there’s the Target Finder.

Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be ready to benchmark. Based on how well your facility performs, you’ll receive a score anywhere between 1 and 100, with 100 being the best possible rating. A score of 50 is average, and anything over 75 will earn you ENERGY STAR certification.

Keep in mind, however, that not every building type is eligible for an ENERGY STAR score. (To find out what types are eligible, click here.) That said, the vast majority of property types do provide an Energy Use Index (EUI) reference.

What Next?

As you can see, there’s plenty of data out there, so benchmarking should give you a pretty good idea of where you stand in comparison to your peers. The news might be good or bad, but at least you’ll know. A wise man once said knowing is half the battle, and he was right. Once you’ve made that all-important discovery, you’ll be able to take action.

Oh, and another thing. Just because you’ve gone through the benchmarking process once, that doesn’t mean you’re finished forever. Actually, it’s the opposite. From EnergyStar.gov:

Benchmarking works best when it’s done consistently over time. Can you imagine a weight-loss plan in which you only weigh yourself once a year? Of course you can’t. That’s because you can’t manage what you’re not measuring.

In a recent study, EPA found that buildings that were benchmarked consistently reduced energy use by an average of 2.4 percent per year, for a total savings of 7 percent. And, buildings that started out as poor performers saved even more. See EPA’s Portfolio Manager DataTrends series for more information.

That’s why benchmarking is important, and why you should be doing it consistently. Once you have the information about your building, you should have some idea where to make improvements. And if you keep benchmarking year after year, you’ll continue to save money on energy costs.

Taking Action

Now that you know, it’s time to take action. If you’re interested, the process is as easy as it is accessible.

A couple months back, Energy Alabama and CEO Daniel Tait held a “benchmarking jam” session at a local brewery. Besides sampling some craft beer, energy experts and business leaders discussed ways to maximize energy and water efficiency throughout the community. To take part in the jam, the business reps only had to bring the following:

  • Laptop or tablet
  • The building street address, year built, and contact information.
  • Twelve consecutive months of utility bills for all fuel types used in the building.

That was enough to get the ball rolling. And from there, the path runs straight toward evaluating your building and saving money on your energy bill. More energy benchmarking events are in the pipeline, but you don’t even have to wait. If you’re ready to begin the process now, contact Energy Alabama CEO Daniel Tait for more information.

Easy as it is, energy benchmarking isn’t the only step toward conquering the Huntsville Better Buildings Challenge. Next time, we’ll look at implementing what an energy audit can do for you.

solar isn't the answer to energy efficiency

Solar Isn’t the Answer to Energy Efficiency

We talk a lot about solar here at Energy Alabama and I think sometimes that confuses people and makes them think that that’s what we are all about, but it’s not true. Solar is great, solar is awesome, but solar isn’t the total answer to energy efficiency.

First off, there are many areas where solar just isn’t even a possibility. I live in the woods so installing solar on my house would just be silly because of all the tree coverage. However, there are many things I can do to improve energy efficiency and we’ve been working on that quite a bit lately.

In January we had Southern Valley Services come out to our house and provide an energy audit. We live in a home that was built in the mid-1960’s, and while it was well-built for the time, it has some issues and we knew it. It was pretty interesting to watch Tommy Marr go through our house with an infra-red camera and point out spots where the cold was getting in. He then provided a very thorough list of ways that we could improve our home’s energy efficiency. His list included things that would benefit older homes including a heat barrier in the attic area above our garage, proper insulation in a variety of areas (sometimes I wonder if the insulated this place at all), sealing of duct work, finding and sealing air leaks in our sunroom windows, and encapsulation of our crawl space.

None of these were huge things as far as price goes, but the all work together to cause major energy inefficiency. We’ve not done everything on the list yet but just the few things we chose to do first have made a big difference in our home’s comfort level.

You may recall our interview with Rick & Pat Trescott; their home is about the same age as mine. They’ve spent years improving their home’s energy efficiency before they finally reached a point where they were ready to install solar panels. They live in an area where they have the right solar access so solar made sense after they had completed all the other improvements. They knew that if they’d put solar on first it would have been a huge waste of money, because they would simply be grabbing energy from the sun only to have it escaping due to improper insulation, unsealed ductwork, poorly sealed windows and poorly selected blinds. The list of small things you can and should do to improve energy efficiency is endless. Solar is just the icing on the cake.

Here are just a few things you can and should do to your home to improve energy efficiency before you consider solar:

  • Seal all ductwork (including the spots where ducts enters the house)
  • Make sure that all walls and attic areas are properly insulated
  • Encapsulate your crawl space
  • Update your water heater and/or heat pump to ENERGY STAR rated versions
  • Update all light fixtures to LEDs
  • Replace all appliances with ENERGY STAR rated appliances
  • Replace windows with ENERGY STAR rated windows

So, the next time you start getting a little anxious that you don’t have solar yet, calm down. You might not be ready for solar yet. In due time. Look for the small things that you can do now to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Solar will just keep getting cheaper and it’ll still be there when you are ready.

Energy Saving Hacks - use a programmable thermostat

10 Home Energy Saving Hacks

We don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Going solar is NOT the only way to save energy!

We know that many of you have seen amazing energy (and money) savings with some simple changes around your home or business. Heck, Randy at Avion Solutions saved over 41% on their energy bills by simply becoming aware of the tools at their disposal and learning how to use them.

Avion saved another 11% by changing out their light bulbs. Now that’s a simple change that anyone can do!  We’ve talked to a number of you who have seen massive savings just by converting your lighting to LED. Of course, you don’t have to go LED to save a massive amount of money. Even switching to CFL bulbs can save you 75% over traditional light bulbs. That being said, most LEDs are now just as cheap if not cheaper than CFLs!

So, that gave us an idea, why not share with you some simple energy-saving hacks that anyone can do, and that don’t require a massive investment.

  • Use Power Strips – All those electronics in your home continue to use power even when they are in standby mode. Just because your laptop is asleep doesn’t mean it isn’t sucking power. So, instead of just letting your electronics sleep when you aren’t using them, how about using a powerstrip to shut the power off to the devices. Instead of trying to remember to unplug all your devices you can simply flip the power strip to off and stop wasting all that energy.
  • Energy Saving Hacks: Install a bi-directional ceiling fanRun Ceiling Fans Backwards – Did you know that most ceiling fans will run in two directions? There’s a reason for that and it’s quite simple. When the weather is warm you want your ceiling fan to run counter-clockwise to pull warm air up and create a nice breeze. But, don’t just turn the fan off in the winter, flip the switch so that it runs clockwise and pushes the warm air down into the room.  This can help save a bundle on energy.
  • Wash Clothes in Cold Water – We know it’s not the first time you’ve read this tip from us, and it may not be the last. Probably because washing your clothes in cold water instead of warm not only saves a bundle on energy but it also makes your clothes last longer and saves you even more money in the long run.
  • Pack Your Freezer Tight – If you have a standalone freezer there’s a good chance it’s not full to the brim and if it’s not, then it’s using more energy than it should. We’re not saying you should run out and buy a bunch of extra food to store, but you can (and should) pack it full with bags of ice. When your freezer is full the frozen foods help keep the air cool meaning that the freezer doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cold. Another benefit is that if we have a major power outage your food will last a lot longer before it starts to thaw.
  • Install and adjustable thermostat – If you are still using one of those old-fashioned thermostats that does nothing more than set a temperature, you are seriously wasting money. Adjustable thermostats are fairly inexpensive and can have a huge influence on your electric bill. An adjustable thermostat allows you to set the temperature based on the time of the day. So, if you prefer it cooler overnight the thermostat will automatically adjust. There are even adjustable thermostats that learn your household patterns and adjust the temperature automatically.
  • Caulk and seal your windows and doors – proper weather-stripping will help your home hold in heat (or cool) and better maintain your preferred temperature. This means that your HVAC system won’t have to work nearly as hard. This is one of those fixes that takes a little bit of work, but pays off in a huge way.
  • Choose filters wisely – More and more of us have switched over to those accordion-style HVAC filters. But, did you know that those filters actually reduce the airflow through your vents?  For better HVAC efficiency you are better off using the older style filters. They also happen to be a lot cheaper.
  • Change your filters – Remember that your HVAC filters should be changed about once a month. The accordion-style filters suggest longer intervals, which is one reason many people have opted for them. However, you can use the cheaper filters and change them three times as often and actually save yourself some money and energy.
  • Wash dishes wisely – Make sure to run your dishwasher when it’s full. This energy-efficient choice is actually a better choice than washing dishes by hand (and a heck of a lot easier!).
  • Get a Home Energy Audit – If you really want to know where your home is losing energy, have someone come out and do a free Home Energy Audit. They will tell you exactly where your home is losing energy and how to fix it. This is probably the most cost-efficient tip we can give you!

Got more energy-saving hacks? Share them in the comments below. We want to hear what you do to cut your energy use and costs.