Monday, September 17, 2007

Free Energy Audits

You landed here because you’re looking for a free energy audit for your business facility. Please read this post--in just two minutes, you learn what an energy audit is and what it is supposed to do. You can then decide whether or not a "free" energy audit makes sense for you. I share some thoughts about other forms of free energy assistance elsewhere.

Understand the purpose and outcome. An energy audit identifies energy consumption that is in excess of what is needed to adequately serve a facility. The audit process itself doesn’t fix anything. It merely provides a “roadmap” that shows where savings are. A report of findings should list potential improvements, showing anticipated energy savings and an estimate of the cost to achieve those savings. Expect the recommendations to include “projects” (changes or upgrades of equipment) as well as behavioral and procedural changes.

Know the inputs that are required. An energy audit is not a commodity to be shopped for the lowest price. You will get what you pay for. Energy audits require professional expertise and experience. The auditor should have a technical understanding of heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, combustion, and other technologies. No one can stick their head in the door and guess in advance how much savings are in a facility. It takes time to prepare for, conduct, and analyze a facility and its systems. It involves a physical walk-through of the facility as well as the study of blueprints, mechanical drawings, and production or operating schedules. Your staff should be aware of this process, and prepare accordingly.

Who provides free audits, and what should you expect from these? There is no free lunch. A “free” audit is usually a front for a commercial agenda. This means the provider of a “free” audit is not truly working for you and your benefit. Different providers have different agendas-- and therefore they offer different value propositions. Your options:
• Some utility companies provide free audits, usually because regulators order them to do so. These utility programs, however well-intended, are chronically underfunded. Even the people who conduct these audits will tell you how they have to cut corners to produce a report that fits their limited budget. To be fair, it's better than nothing.
• Equipment vendors offer free audits. Do you really expect someone who makes money by selling their equipment to give you an unbiased audit? Having said that, if you choose to go this route, you should get more than one vendor to give you their "free" audit. You might get some valuable insight by comparing the differences between the vendors' findings.
• University or government agency audits. You can get some value here, but again, these providers are underfunded. They don’t have the resources to perform extensive study and analysis. At least there is a lack of commercial bias, and again, it’s better than nothing.

Do you not have the money to pay for an energy audit, or do you not have the authority to spend the money for it? If you don't have the authority to pay for an energy audit, you probably won't have the authority to make the investments or operational changes that an energy audit will recommend. The issue here is actions that will shape your energy bills for the next five, 10, 20 or more years. Do you want your cash flow for years to come to depend on the results of a "free" audit, or the results of a proper analysis? Research by the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the average industrial facility wastes 40 percent of the energy that it buys; and, on average, perhaps half of that waste is economically recoverable. Every facility is unique; your savings potential may be greater, or it may be less. What is certain is that the value of wasted energy wasted will soon outweigh the amount you could have spent for a proper energy audit. You might also want to see how your energy waste effectively raises the "price" of the energy that you actually use.

I realize that this may sound complicated, especially when compared to the way we've historically thought about energy bills. Similarly, I realize that many people are looking for a plug-and-play energy cost solution-- something that allows them to "fix" the problem and get back to regular work. Consider the business philosophy that will guide your organization's response to energy audit recommendations. Yours will not be the first organization to ask, "Now that I have an energy audit, what do I do next?"

If all else fails, simply scour the Internet for energy saving tips. Make a list of potential improvements, and prioritize these the way you think best: do what’s cheapest, do what’s easiest to accomplish, etc. Be sure you benchmark your energy consumption over time so that you can measure the impact of your improvements. How much potential savings will you capture this way? And how long will it take? To answer that question, you will need to secure... an energy audit. To make sure your energy audit does not sit on a shelf collecting dust, you'll need to act effectively. Consider these "seven steps to successful industrial energy management." And if you DO decide to take action, start thinking about if it's better to perform the work in-house, or if it should be outsourced. To make sure you're on the right track, see my checklist for a successful energy audit.

Of course, your last resort is to "do nothing" about your energy costs. It's a valid approach, but it has its costs, too. See How to Do Nothing About Energy Costs.

If you still have questions, contact me. I love talking about this subject.

Good luck.



At 5:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The San Diego State University Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) is one of the federally funded academic services you mention. Besides your excellent points, our energy audit focuses the attention of management on the engineering thermodynamics of their plant at least twice, the day we visit and the day the report arrives. A wonderful outcome of our visit can be a group willingness to save energy. Some plants make Saving Energy a goal on the information boards. They raise awareness about all electricity use in the Peak hours (noon - 6 pm) of the warm half of the year.
Thank you for your well written article.
Akasha Kaur Khalsa
Lead Student, SDSU IAC

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the excellent article. It was clear you did your homework on this one...

In case your readers are interested in having a professional energy audit performed on their house or building but are not sure where to turn to find one, I recommend the energy audit directory.

You can google "energy audit directory" or go right to to find someone in your area.

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know Christopher Russell - he has an impressive resume and I read his valuable book, the Industrial Energy Harvest, where he points to our greatest source of new clean energy - saving the energy that industry wastes.
Through my company, Conservation Engineering,
I help small businesses and multi-family building managers identify ways of saving energy.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Energy Audit said...

Energy audits are a great way to save costs for building owners and managers. There are a number of excellent sources of informatio on the web for energy audits, including, which has a good articles and news section.

William N. Bernstein, LEED(R)AP, AIA

At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Joe Derhake said...

Energy audits will be in high demand next year and your services will be greatly appreciated.

California Assembly Bill 1103 (AB 1103) requires sellers and lesser to disclose the energy rating of a building to the buyer or lesser. AB 1103 will help buyers and lesser make informed decisions much in the same way that consumers make informed decisions on automobile purchase by understanding car's fuel efficiency ratings.

In California, companies like Partner Energy ( are providing necessary energy audits so that building owners can meet disclosure obligation and take advantage of the knowledge gained to their buildings energy efficiency.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Free audits are a great way for building owners to begin to identify the opportunities in energy savings available. Energy Audits generally end up recommending a series of capital investments. The capital investmetns are generally 10 to 20 times as expensive as even a professional audit. If you look at the audit as a action plan, the strenth of the engineer that goes into the audit is more important than its cost.

Go to to compare professional engineering audits.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Joe Derhake said...

We can make great progress on Energy Efficincy. I think creating an energy efficienty premium for green buildings is very important and that starts with disclosure of the building energy star rating.


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