What is Energy Management in These Uncertain Times?
What is energy management? Typically, energy management involves utilizing software which makes energy data management and monitoring easier. The software often includes customizable reporting and benchmarking capabilities, sustainability and variance reporting, notifications of grid peak times, and visual analytics, to name a few.
Additionally, for the modern company, energy is now more than a cost to be managed. With growing social expectations for eco-conscious corporate values and policies, energy management is making its way to the C-suite. By viewing energy management as a strategic initiative with the power to mitigate risk, increase value, generate branding benefits, and lessen the environmental impact of their usage and carbon emissions, companies can differentiate themselves in the marketplace and become more appealing to both consumers and investors.
During relatively normal times, energy management is multi-faceted but not extremely difficult with the right software. Peak load times are fairly predictable, residential and commercial buildings operate near forecasted energy usage levels, and there are no major triggers to cause companies’ energy budgets and actual usage to vary greatly in any one direction.
What is Energy Management in 2020?
2020 is not a normal time. Many office buildings that would ordinarily be occupied daily by workers are now empty, affecting where peak loads occur. In cities like New York, the wealthy have fled their apartments for houses upstate or in the Hamptons. Other residential buildings are seeing greater energy usage as people continue to work from home and take staycations. The hospitality industry is largely affected, as many hotels remain empty as travel bans remain in place. So, what does energy management currently involve?
1. Understanding How Health/Safety Measures Impact Energy Use
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has released guidelines detailing how buildings should be operated to maintain clean air during the pandemic. Some guidelines include running air handling units continually on full air supply (reducing speed only when the building is empty), running toilet extracts continually, and disabling heat recovery devices. All of these actions could result in buildings’ energy consumption increasing even if they are mostly unoccupied. This is particularly applicable if a building is being prepared to reopen, since the air systems may need to be run for a few weeks in advance of reoccupation. Additionally, if the lockdowns continue into the fall and winter months, building plants may run on reduced settings rather than fully off, in order to avoid starting up from cold.
2. Using Data to Minimize Energy Lost During Lockdown
Often, aging Building Management Systems (BMS) do not provide the expected control to systems. BMS systems may indicate they are switched off, but still run at night. Additionally, systems may show incorrect supply and return temperatures and quantities of recirculation. Thus, it is wise to check the status of your BMS against your building operations. Moreover, the pandemic has emphasized the importance of having accurate data. For example, your finance team may be under the assumption that an empty building is completely switched off (and expect energy and financial savings). As discussed above, this is often not the case. It is important to do regular reviews of building consumption, so everyone is aware of energy usage and cost.
As buildings slowly begin to re-open, they will likely operate at reduced hours and 50% capacity. Accurate data highlights where you can maximize the efficiency of an operational building running below usual capacity. Regular reviews of the energy data should similarly be made to identify higher than expected consumption as areas are re-occupied.
3. Leveraging Efficiency to Reduce Energy Costs
Usually, an office building’s largest energy-using systems are HVAC (40 percent), plug loads (33 percent), and lighting (20 percent). Now that buildings are experiencing lower occupancy and energy use, it is a great time to determine operational efficiencies to lower energy use and reduce operating expenses. Although you may be tempted, do not shut everything off in your building. Running minimal HVAC and ventilation systems prevent mold and ensure that mechanical systems will be in order when workers return to the space.
Because facilities and engineering staff are classed as “essential” workers, they are able to enter buildings on a daily or as needed basis. Now that there are fewer maintenance requests for them to address, they may be able to implement operational improvements on your building systems. There are several straightforward measures which commercial buildings can enact to lower energy use and costs:
- HVAC: Operate on a weekend or holiday schedule. Reduce hours, delay startup, and lower setpoints
- Lighting: Turn off the lights in areas where they are non-essential
- Plug load: Turn off and then unplug appliances like televisions, desktop computers, printers, and refrigerators
If there are any people using the building (besides facilities and maintenance teams), learn when they will be in the building to ensure your maintenance teams do not disturb them. Encourage those using the building to turn off lights and unplug any equipment before they leave for the day. Finally, make sure you are allowed to implement the above strategies; some buildings have contract agreements to pay for a minimum amount of energy even if it is not being used.
The answer to “what is energy management?” is now more complicated due to the pandemic. However, COVID-19 has given building owners the opportunity to identify improvements to optimize their buildings’ operations and help their bottom line. Consider improving systems across your full portfolio of buildings. This could include installing a new BMS or auditing your existing one, focusing on saving energy via low-cost upgrades (the U.S. Energy Star Program has created a “Treasure Hunts” guide to help building owners pinpoint simple ways to save energy), or reviewing lighting, water, and heating/cooling systems. Most importantly, make sure you have energy management software that empowers you to analyze your energy data and identify areas for improvement. For information on the many ways energy management software can benefit your company, download the whitepaper “What to Look for in an Energy Management Platform.”