What Is an Energy Audit–And Why You Should Do One

26 Feb
energy audit

Energy / Environment

Comments: No Comments

Want to reach your sustainability goals, improve your energy efficiency, and save money? An energy audit can help you better understand your energy usage and issues—and identify opportunities to create energy efficiencies, reduce your carbon footprint, and positively impact your stakeholders.

What Is an Energy Audit?

An energy audit is a key part of energy management. Energy management involves monitoring and controlling energy consumption across an organization to save energy, save money, and protect people and the environment. Energy management should be part of any organization’s overall strategy. An energy audit helps determine energy usage and opportunities for efficiency projects at your facility, building, or process. The overarching goal of an energy audit is ultimately to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency without impacting work processes or products.

Types of Energy Audits

An energy audit can take a range of forms depending on how detailed and extensive it needs to be:

  • Preliminary Analysis: Review bill, conduct energy usage trending.
  • Treasure Hunt: Conduct a group exercise walking around identifying obvious wastes.
  • General Audit: Analyze specific systems, conduct detailed inspection.
  • Comprehensive Audit: In addition to the areas covered above, may include longer term monitoring and mechanical/electrical/civil engineering reviews.
  • Ongoing Audit: Long-term monitoring of efficiency systems, scheduling retro-commissioning.

General Energy Audit Process

In general, the energy audit process comprises several steps and activities that culminate in final recommendations to improve energy performance and efficiency.

The pre-audit is a desktop review that helps to identify energy consumption patterns, including the energy “hogs” and peak usage trends (i.e., the hours of the day during which demand for electricity is the highest). It consists of the following activities:

  • Review utility bill for demand charges, power usage, load factor.
    • Demand charges are fees applied based on the highest amount of power drawn during any interval during the billing period. Demand charges can comprise a significant proportion of commercial customers’ bills.
    • Load factor is a measure of the utilization rate or efficiency of electrical energy usage. It is an indicator of how efficiently energy is being utilized.
  • Review equipment repair and occupant complaint logs.
  • Review past audit results.
  • Discuss with management internal goals, financial criteria, upgrades, and future plans.

The site visit allows the auditor to observe facility operations and assess how systems are operating in practice. It comprises activities such as the following:

  • Conducting interviews with operators, key decision-makers, and other plant staff.
  • Collecting data, including facility data, nameplate data, forms, and logs.
  • Performing a site walkthrough/tour to review:
    • Site development.
    • Building envelope.
    • BTUs of boiler/HVAC, compressors, refrigeration, large equipment, etc.
    • Building exterior (e.g., roof plan, outdoor lighting, exterior equipment).
  • Taking measurements (i.e., combustion, lighting, temperature, ultrasonic).

After collecting the pre-audit documentation and site visit observations, the auditor is able to then perform a detailed analysis of energy performance. This analysis involves calculating the following:

  • Energy usage, including baseload and peak energy, adjusted for weather, occupancy, and production.
  • Energy costs, including accurate application of rates, time of use applications, seasonal applications, utility bill ratchet.
  • Energy efficiency measures (EEMs), including material and installation, disposal, engineering design, permits and fees, and rebates and incentives.

The final report provides an action plan highlighting short-term (i.e., low-hanging fruit) opportunities, long-term budgeted improvements, and company goals. It should also reference site management, potential future problems, and testing programs that can all impact energy programs and operations.

Impacting People, Planet, and Profit

Energy audits directly impact the three Ps of the triple bottom line:

People. The United Nations has identified climate change as the number one threat to human societies. Brown energy releases can substantially impact air quality and have significant negative impacts on human health. Creating energy efficiencies and reducing the use of non-renewable energy is key to mitigating this threat. Beyond the human health threat, improved EEMs can improve employee satisfaction and, subsequently, create a corporate culture shift that embraces sustainability. For example, optimized lighting, ventilation controls, and incentives for driving electric vehicles may lead to healthier and happier employees and improved retention.

Planet. In its simplest terms, reducing energy usage helps reduce carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of global warming. For example:

  • Fossil fuels are a finite resource. Reliance on them leads to the destruction of protected ecosystems and habitat. Lower energy demand decreases the need for power generation and the use of fossil fuels. 
  • Energy audits identify ways to reduce energy use. This, in turn, reduces air emissions and global pollution levels. The equation is simple: the less energy you use, the fewer carbon emissions you produce.
  • Beyond energy efficiencies, energy audits also identify waste. Eliminating these waste streams prevents unnecessary landfill use and contributes to environmental sustainability.

Profit. The Carbon Trust estimates that most businesses can cut their energy costs by at least 10% (often by 20%) with simple actions that offer a quick return on investment. Operating more efficiently reduces energy consumption, which equates to significant savings on utility bills. This is particularly important as energy costs reach all-time highs. In addition, organizations that consume significant amounts of energy are at greater risk of being impacted by energy price increases or supply shortages. When an organization can reduce its demand for energy, it also reduces the risks associated with an energy shortage. Having greater control over energy consumption creates resiliency against energy price fluctuations.

Return on Investment

Once you have a comprehensive understanding of how energy is being consumed, it becomes possible to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement, whether related to behavior (e.g., asking employees to turn off lights every night), technology (e.g., implementing integrated building management systems), or process (e.g., increasing operations during off-peak hours).

Energy audits may identify the following opportunities to reduce costs:

  • Reducing operational inefficiencies, including continual running of motors, unoccupied spaces (light sensors), compressed air leaks, and others.
  • Implementing EEMs, such as monitoring systems for malfunctions, insulating hot/cold water piping, implementing efficient lighting, and ensuring heat recovery.
  • Optimizing building systems, including ventilation systems, lighting control systems, insulation, efficient windows, green roofs, etc.
  • Identifying financial incentives, rebates, and demand response programs.

Energy Audit Best Practices

To get the most out of an energy audit, it takes time, data, budget, and buy-in. The following can help ensure your audit is successful and provides return on investment:

  • Start small, plan ahead. Select the right type of audit based on the resources (i.e., time, financial, personnel) you have available. You can scale up your efforts over time.
  • Set clear objectives. Identify what your organization wants to get out of the audit. Consider the 3 Ps—people, planet, and profit—and be open-minded. It may be about energy savings and cost reduction, but it also may be about meeting sustainability goals, creating a culture change, or retaining and attracting employees.
  • Gather data. Review utility bills. Trend energy consumption. Assess building specifications.
  • Enlist audit expertise. Engage the right auditors with the right qualifications. A Certified Energy Manager (CEM) and someone with an engineering background can add a depth of expertise to help identify concerns and opportunities beyond the “low-hanging fruit”.
  • Conduct routine inspections and assessments. Update your maintenance program to include steam trap surveys, compressed air leak inspections, duct cleaning, and other routine inspections. These routine inspections allow for early detection of costly issues, and predictive maintenance can help reduce downtime and expand equipment life.
  • Conduct routine measurement and verification. Just because you have implemented a system, process, or equipment does not mean that it is functioning as intended. Assess your EEMs regularly to ensure they are achieving the desired results.
  • Engage your stakeholders. Include management staff, employees, and other decision-makers in your efforts. Engaging these stakeholders in creating solutions can help create buy-in and a culture change that makes energy efficiency and sustainability a way of doing business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *