Why building management energy improvement programs should always start with an energy audit

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Tom McDonald is the former Business Development Director, Airmaster Australia Pty Ltd. Airmaster is a Master-level BMS EcoXpert™.

Companies are always interested in reducing cost, providing it does not have any negative effect on their external or internal customers. Adding to the quest for savings, there is stakeholder pressure on management to not only be financially responsible but also environmentally sensitive in all business operations. Energy is a unique big line operating expense because it offers so many opportunities for savings, has few, if any, downsides on users and generally results in a positive environmental impact. Because of all these reasons, energy efficiency gains in building management simply cannot be ignored.

Noticeably, our conversations with customers about energy use have accelerated in urgency recently as the effects of climate change have become a clearer and more present danger. As a Schneider Electric EcoXpert™ Partner, Airmaster has more than two decades of experience and proven expertise in building management systems and smart building automation to increase the efficiency of everything from heating and ventilation to air conditioning and refrigeration solutions.

In the old way of doing things, proof of energy efficiency emerged as equipment was operated. Only the causes of substantial or unexpected rises in consumption were ever investigated by facilities management. Today, all that has changed.  Systems and equipment have become more sophisticated and are able to pinpoint opportunities for improvement.  We are continuously working with business-savvy customers who are looking to modernize their operations and need a robust business case for proposed equipment and software.

An independent energy audit can mean cost savings

Airmaster advice is to always start with an independent energy audit.

Why? In simple terms because the professionals providing the energy audit are on the customer’s side. In other words, they offer an unbiased opinion of the current state of the infrastructure being considered.  What is more, standards-based energy audits add authenticity because they are based on measurement and verification (M&V) rather than best guesses. This point is really important, because it instantly adds credibility to any ROI projections where even a small miscalculation can have a big impact on costs over the 15- to 25-year lifecycle of, say, a piece of equipment like a chiller.

Secondly, an energy audit could help you get money back from the Government. In Australia, for example, all States offer programs to help businesses and households cut their energy use and power bills together with their greenhouse gas emissions, by providing access to energy efficient products and services. Under the Victorian Energy Upgrades program for instance, custom upgrades are available to large-scale projects; however, a measurement and verification (M&V) approach must be conducted before remedial work commences.

For what is known as “deemed savings” under this sort of scheme (for example, exchanging halogen for LED lighting), every megawatt (MW) saved by the replacements entitles the business to tradeable white paper certificates. At Airmaster we are currently seeing a lot of interest in funding opportunities to support migration away from compressed air systems to more modern, energy efficient alternatives.

If you are just starting out on the energy audit front, it is worth understanding what sorts of audits are available to you because they can incur an upfront cost which is dependent on the level of granularity required. The Australian Standard (AS/NZS 3598:2000) describes in detail what energy audits should comprise. In round terms, a Level 1 Audit provides a +/- 40 percent accuracy when it comes to energy savings; Level 2 increases to +/- 20 percent accuracy and Level 3 – the most accurate and comprehensive service – offers +/-10 percent accuracy. The more complex and holistic the audit (Level 3), the greater detail of the insights into the full extent of savings on offer.

Building management energy savings can come from optimized operations

I would be remiss to suggest that energy savings are simply a matter of audit, make upgrades and reduce costs, because as any good facilities manager knows, optimized operations are also key. We recently undertook a replacement lighting scheme for a major Australian retailer when an energy audit highlighted the cost of illuminating stores during closing hours. In addition to an LED upgrade, Airmaster implemented a building management system to automate lights out/lights procedures an hour either side of opening hours, and to monitor energy use.  This optimized solution ensured that the operational steps needed to capture the projected savings were executed.

Interestingly, however, the story did not end there. In the immediate aftermath of the upgrade, the reduction in energy costs did not meet up with the anticipated savings. The mystified customer came to us seeking answers. After the Airmaster team carefully reviewed the energy data and cross matched it with feeds from internal CCTV surveillance we identified the culprits – the cleaners! Since they were on premises at night and unable to work in the dark, they were simply putting the system into manual mode to get their cleaning done. Unfortunately, when they completed their work and left the premises, they also left the lights on. With process adapted to meet real world circumstances, the new system delivered on promised savings.

Energy efficient equipment together with efficient operations are good for business and good for the planet. If you’d like assistance in building a business case to upgrade electrical and compressed air equipment, or if you’d like to find out more about energy audits, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and remember to start with an independent energy audit.

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  • Energy Audit

    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this article. Great!

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