Missed opportunities: Watts up with that?
For every energy-bill complaint that’s been muttered by a utility customer, there’s probably a small but effective move that could be done today to make next month’s bill a little smaller. Flicking a switch here and plugging a leak there impacts your energy efficiency and really does add up.
That’s the advice of Bala Gnanam, a recognized expert in energy efficiency. Gnanam is Director of Sustainable Building Operations for the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Toronto Area (BOMA Toronto). Below are some great insights he recently shared.
Gasping for air
Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that approximately 10 per cent of a typical industrial facility’s electricity goes to generating compressed air. At some facilities, that percentage can run as high as 30 per cent or more.
The DOE research also found that overall efficiency of typical compressed air systems hovers around 10 to 15 per cent. “Compressors are one of the most energy-inefficient systems out there,” says Gnanam. “For a company that uses compressed air as a primary means of energy for its processes, there are significant savings” to be had by plugging leaks and using a high-efficiency system.
Staying in tune
Motors are another way energy can be saved. As an example, Gnanam points to the motors that might be used to operate an elevator. “You can retrofit with high-efficiency motors combined with variable frequency drives,” he says. An elevator equipped with a variable frequency drive uses less power when it’s lightly loaded.
“It’s not just the loading, it’s the waiting,” Gnanam adds. He explains that in some older buildings, elevator motors continuously draw electricity to keep the elevator available when somebody presses a button. If you have a variable frequency drive, it knows that the elevator is not being used, so it drops down to the absolute minimum energy use to keep the system ready.
Plugging it up
Some 60 to 70 per cent of building heat loss happens around windows, Gnanam says. They’re part of the “building envelope,” which includes all the architectural elements of a building that separate the interior from the exterior. The losses, he continues, flow “not particularly through the windows bur rather around them where the seals are.” So, by making sure doors and windows are properly sealed, you’ll “significantly impact how much energy the building uses. If it’s summertime, you’re containing cooling. If it’s winter, you’re containing heat.”
Set a baseline by tracking your hourly and daily energy consumption for a period of time before making energy efficiency improvements. Then you can prove the impact of your efforts.
Whenever you build a building or add new equipment, there’s a step to take called “commissioning.” “It’s the process by which you make sure that the systems within your building are operating as per design,” explains Gnanam. Technically, commissioning should verify that all the sensors, motors and systems are running smoothly. Often commissioning isn’t done, or it’s not done properly, Gnanam notes.
That’s okay, because you can always recommission systems. Even if you did the commissioning years back, such effort is worthwhile.
People sometimes change settings or turn sensors off during maintenance and never turn them back on again, Gnanam explains. “If you do a proper recommissioning, you can capture as much as 20 to 30 per cent savings. This is before you do any capital projects,” he says.
Remember the old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” It makes me think of another question: If you do all these projects and don’t measure the results, did you save energy? The answer is yes, but you won’t be able to prove the impact of your efforts.
To see the results of this activity, track your hourly and daily energy consumption for a number of days or months leading up to the time when you’re going to begin making energy efficiency improvements. This sets a baseline of your consumption.
Then, go after those leaks, or replace those motors, or go all-in and look at a whole building/production line commissioning. Once those projects are complete, get the same consumption data and see how that compares to your baseline. Compare your results to the averages Gnanam identifies here and see how your efforts measure up.
With all this data, you can calculate the cost of the energy saved and, at today’s energy rates, the ROI on the investment of your time will, I bet, be pretty high. Better yet, those savings will stay with you from one energy bill to the next, giving you more reasons to keep energy efficiency a priority.
Are you interested in more easy ways to reduce your energy consumption? Download our ebook: Energy Management Made Easy.