Monday, January 04, 2010

Energy Savings: What are They, and Where Do they Come From?

True energy savings come from three basic sources: (1) energy-efficiency baked into the design of a building and its mechanical systems, (2) operating and maintenance procedures, and (3) the behavior of its occupants. Read another way, energy savings are not simply a function of building design; human choices also play a role.

There is growing interest in “continuous commissioning (Cx),” which relies on information technologies to monitor and report energy performance anomalies. If it's simply a matter of shutting down an application that's left running after hours, Cx will allow a manager to do so. However, energy-wasting mechanical failures still need to be handled by a competent technician. Cx by itself saves nothing. It is the organizational response to Cx information that saves energy. If an organization has no staff accountabilities for responding to energy performance anomalies, savings potential is lost.

Similarly, increasing attention is being paid to energy benchmarking. In general, benchmarking is a good thing. Still, interpretive challenges remain. For example, you may have two comparable buildings: same climate location, same nominal category of use, same functional layout and mechanical system profile. The energy performance of the two buildings can be way different simply because of the occupancy patterns and habits. While benchmarking against OTHER buildings has its limits, it may be more effective to benchmark a building against its own base-year performance.

The free market has yet to drive the implementation of energy performance information. The “free market” assumes that organizations are rational in their maximization of profit. In practice, the free market breaks down when it encounters organizational complexity. Turf issues between departments get in the way. A typical business scenario would have one department paying for energy solutions, another collects the savings value, and the rest carry on business-as-usual. This is a recipe for non-action, benchmarking or no. This is the cultural hurdle we have yet to surmount.



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