The energy profession has it backwards!

July 9, 2014

Watson: By installing an Energy Monitoring System at the beginning of every project, all of the hours and dollars associated with benchmarking, estimating energy use, projecting savings and other tasks can be eliminated. The owner can spend their time producing Results instead of Reports.

Watson: By installing an Energy Monitoring System at the beginning of every project, all of the hours and dollars associated with benchmarking, estimating energy use, projecting savings and other tasks can be eliminated. The owner can spend their time producing Results instead of Reports.

Watson: As you know Holmes, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about Benchmarking and Energy Auditing. Since I am just starting into this field and they have become mandatory in so many States and Cities, and a part of most Utility Company and Government Energy Programs, I am making every effort to understand them.

Holmes: You should. I have been trying to do the same for years. You need to objectively look at all of the options out there and decide for yourself what makes the most sense, what path you want to follow.

Watson: I realize the easiest path for me with my degree in Energy Engineering would be to follow the sheep, to assume that since so many people and organizations are involved in training, certifying and employing Energy Professionals to do Benchmarking and Energy Auditing, that must be the best way to do it.

The problem is, the whole process makes no sense, it seems to be exactly the opposite of what it should be.

Holmes: Explain what you mean.

Watson: Let me use the process recommended for a building owner described in the Website for the Energy Star Program:

  1. The first step is to Benchmark your building, to fill out their worksheets with data about your facility and energy consumption.
  2. Then you use their tools to tell you how your building’s energy performance stacks up against similar buildings nationwide.
  3. If you get a low score, the next step is an Energy Audit.

Holmes: What happens if you get a high score?

Watson: I assume you scratch or lick yourself, say “good dog” and assume you have done all you can do. Back to the Energy Star process:

  1. You have you choice of a Level 1, 2 or 3 Audit depending on the depth, detail and scope you desire.
  2. You decide to do a detailed audit to identify Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) and estimate the costs and savings.
  3. Assuming the Audit identifies ECMs that look like good investments, you hire an engineer to design the Measures and prepare construction documents for bidding.
  4. You take bids, select the best bidder and implement the ECMs.
  5. You most likely will need to hire a separate contractor to “Commission” the project to get all of the modifications working properly.
  6. Then you hire a Measurement and Verification (M&V) company to verify the resulting savings during the first few months.
  7. Thereafter, at least once a year you repeat the Benchmarking to “determine how much energy has actually been saved.
  8. If the Annual Benchmarking shows that the savings and performance have not been maintained, you will need to bring back the Commissioning contractor to “Retro-Commission” the project and building to restore the performance to where it had been. Many owners repeat this step every 2-3 years.

Does that sound about right Holmes?

Holmes: It does according to the way I read the Website. Does it give any guidelines on timing?

Watson: Not that I could find but I would expect that the total process could take at least one year and possibly more depending on the size and complexity of the facility and the ECMs. During that time period the owner is spending money and has yet to save a BTU.

Holmes: At the beginning of our conversation you said the whole process makes no sense, it seems to be exactly the opposite of what it should be. When are you going to get around to explaining what you meant?

Watson: I’m almost there. As you know, to fly an airplane, pilot a ship, drive a car or cook a turkey, you need Real-Time, accurate information. Just try any of those with estimated data that is collected once a year. So at the very end of this whole process, in order for the building and all of the energy systems to be operated as efficiently as possible 24/7, an Energy Monitoring System must be installed. Obviously that data doesn’t exist otherwise the owner could have used it and avoided all of those steps required by the Energy Star Program.

Operators are the Building Pilots; they must have continuous Real-Time and Historical Data on the total facility and all of the Energy Systems in order to keep them running efficiently.

Holmes: Have you forgotten Watson, that the Building will be Benchmarked once a year to provide the data necessary to assure that it is continuing to operate efficiently.

Watson: That’s ludicrous. Doesn’t anyone out there but me see how ridiculous the whole concept is of reviewing data once a year to verify that a building is being run efficiently? Come on, I’m a dog and I can see it. I’m betting even a really smart cat could see it too!

Holmes: You’re absolutely right. Building systems are dynamic. They change every minute of every day. When we were running buildings, we estimated that we spent 1/3 of our time every day fixing things that had been running perfectly the day before, that someone had screwed up. So what is your suggestion Watson?

Watson: Elementary Holmes. The very first step, not the last should be to install the instrumentation, the Energy Monitoring System. From then on the owner will have accurate, continuous and unbiased information. Don’t you see?

They can eliminate the Mountains of Paperwork, Benchmarking, Detailed Energy Audits and all of the hours associated with estimating energy use and savings. They can eliminate the Commissioning, M&V Evaluation, and periodic Retro-Commissioning. They will have better data to evaluate Capital Projects and track and verify any that are implemented. Plus they can use the data from the Energy Monitoring System to tune-up the existing energy systems and start saving money the first day it is installed.

Without actual Real-Time Data there is really no way to tune up the existing energy systems. That’s a serious oversight in the Energy Star Program.

The Energy Monitoring System will provide all the information that is needed and the savings from all of the steps that have been eliminated will more than pay for its cost. Just seems like common scents to me Holmes. The owner can spend their time producing Results instead of Reports.

Holmes: I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately the Energy Establishment has always been focused on Capital Projects. I’ve never understood whether it was from greed, lack of knowledge or just the herd mentality.

We’ve been installing Energy Monitoring Systems and using the resulting data to Tune-Up Building Energy Systems as long as we have been in business. In our experience the best opportunities with the fastest paybacks always come from no-cost, low-cost changes that match the operation of the energy systems to the energy requirements of the facility; not from Capital Projects, not from Energy Audits, not from Benchmarking, not from Paperwork, and not from Layers of Bureaucracy!

Hopefully your analysis and explanation will help others both new to this Profession as well as those who have realized that there must be a better way but didn’t know what it was, Watson. Thanks!

Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.

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