Feedback on energy audits from energy professionals

April 7, 2014

Watson: Too bad the people designing the government and utility Energy Audit programs don’t pay more attention to experienced professionals like the ones who wrote to you! 

Watson: We have gotten several emails in response to your articles on Energy Audits. How would you characterize the comments?

Holmes: Thoughtful responses from Energy Professionals. Interestingly enough, not one has been in defense of Energy Audits. Near the end of my most widely read article, The Energy Audit; A Sacred Cow of Energy Management, I wrote the following:

"At an energy conference a few years back I heard one of the presenters describe how he did very detailed energy audits for industrial plants, sometimes spending weeks in a plant. His audits could cost up to $150,000; more than twice what G.E. paid us to install a turnkey energy monitoring system in their 1,100 acre plant in Louisville, a system that within a few weeks, exposed opportunities which led to actual documented savings exceeding $250,000 during the first 12 months; savings created through changes in operating procedures alone, savings requiring no capital projects.

As I listened to the presentation I just couldn’t help thinking what a waste of time and money. I had been in enough Plant Engineer’s and Plant Manager’s offices over the years and seen 4” thick Energy Audits laying on shelves gathering dust to know what kind of savings often resulted from energy audits; none. But it made somebody happy. It was the accepted first step; everyone knew that. And the next time the CEO or CFO asked plant engineering what they were doing to cut utility costs, they could say “We just spent $150,000 on a very detailed energy audit and implemented some of the recommendations.” “How much did it save? Let me see the bills."

"Well, I’m sure it saved a bundle but our utility costs actually increased. Remember, we only have one electric meter for the entire plant. Don’t forget about that new press line we just started up and the third shift we added over in finishing. And, oh yes, our electric utility company has added some type of charge that nobody can understand which has increased our bill by 12%. But without that energy audit, think how much more we would have spent.”

Watson: His audits could cost more than twice what G.E. paid us to install a turnkey energy monitoring system in a giant plant? You must be kidding?

Whoa, my common scents smells something really rotten; makes me want to roll on the Energy Audit.

Holmes: That might have been better that just letting it lay there on the shelf gathering dust. Back to feedback on Energy Audits.

I received one from a plant energy engineer that I think is pretty representative:

“Hi Bill - In the past 10 yrs, we have completed a couple of lighting efficiency upgrades, a retrocommissioning and numerous energy efficiency audits all in an effort to reduce energy consumption. All of the low hanging fruit “Low-Cost/No-Cost” energy conservation measures have been completed, but the estimated energy savings gained through the completion of the ECM’s is just that, “Estimated”. This year we will consume approximately 2.11 GWh of electricity, this is a reduction of almost 11% from 2011 but is mostly due to a turndown in the industry as well as the current economic situation. I am looking for a Energy Monitoring System that can provide me with data that I can use to determine how to optimally operate the facility and to minimize energy consumption.”

Watson: In other words, after they had taken all of the standard steps being widely promoted by many “so-called” energy professionals, utility companies and government agencies, all they had gotten were some general suggestions, common sense things they had probable already thought of on their own, but no specifics and no way to measure the actual savings from each action?

Holmes: You’re right. In the same article I challenged this profession to do away with the Energy Audit and focus on saving energy, producing and maintaining actual savings rather than just preparing to save energy with audits, studies and computer models.

A Professional Engineer, LEED AP and company Founder and President wrote:

“Great article and insight. Most energy audits sit on a shelf and today they are being done by people with 0-2 year’s experience, that haven’t ever been in the field or operated a building.”

An energy manager for a $5 billion metals plant shared an email he had sent to others in his company;

“Since there has been recent talk about lighting/energy audits, this seems like the ideal time to share this recent article with you and your facilities managers.…before your facility jumps on that high-priced bandwagon, please consider the article below. Holmes is in the forefront of this technology and has written many other informative articles on the topic for professional journals…and, based upon my 33 years of Plant Engineering work here, this guy is RIGHT ON THE MONEY. Please forward this to your facility managers! Thanks.”

You read the next two, Watson.

Watson: My pleasure. From a Sustainability Manager in a Cereal plant:

“Good morning - We need to cut energy and water usage over the next several years as a vendor to Walmart, and also as part of our own internal Sustainability plan. We’re obviously hoping for cost savings, but we understand (I hope) that we need a better idea of where everything’s going to really effectively make decisions about implementing new procedures or capital spending. We’ve had several energy audits provided by the utilities, for free, and we’re having a lot of internal debate about the validity of their recommendations.”

An attorney in the utility and energy fields wrote:

“Good morning, Bill - I’m catching up on some Sustainable Plant emails and just finished reading your article on energy audits and your argument for energy inventories. Your article was very good and hits some points that I’ve seen in my practice. …The “energy audit” facially appears to be the right thing to do and makes them feel warm and fuzzy. Meanwhile, there are some big, long-term opportunities being missed.

Holmes: Another said:

“Although this is one of the first of your articles I have read on the Sustainable Plant website, it is, by far the one that struck very close to home; (the article) describes exactly what our company is being challenged with as we try to expand our market presence. We sometimes find ourselves at the mercy of “energy auditors” hopefully passing on a recommendation to their clients to consider our solutions.

Our engineering team is fully qualified to complete detailed audits themselves (they actually are also qualified to teach the DOE Compressed Air Challenge and Airmaster+ programs), but because we are seen as “peddling” something, the utilities or energy engineering firms contracted to do plant wide assessments see us as tainted somehow. We have, in the past, performed intensive compressed air system audits at very large plants, being funded by the utility, where nothing ends up getting done, and then have been asked to come back in a year or so to “rinse and repeat.

All these reports start to look the same: 1) fix leaks and reduce artificial demand 2) improved system efficiency (SCFM/KW), 3) get the compressors under control. You cannot do this by putting in temporary data loggers once every couple of years and then sit in a review meeting and agree the that nothing has changed or if there is a change, find some justification for it (new production line, utility rate change, etc.).”

A large utility in western Canada invited us to a meeting with one of their large pulp & paper clients about doing a very involved audit on the compressed air system. The utility was paying for the audit. Although we initially indicated some interest in their program, we found out rather quickly that installation of one of our systems to perform continuous monitoring and trending was not what they were interested in, rather the utility was more interested in doing an “audit”. This particular utility has a history of this and they seem to be more interested in “putting numbers on a board” versus actually managing energy consumption. No measurable action to reduce energy is achieved in the end. I keep wanting to ask these folks how many dams can they decommission based on the energy savings studies they have done.

“I have forwarded your article to our CEO as we are really focusing our marketing strategy on how to get around the “audit” and at the very least give our customers a tool in which to make appropriate decisions, the timing of the article could not have been better.”

Watson: Too bad the people designing the government and utility Energy Audit programs don’t pay more attention to experienced professionals like these!

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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