By John Segletes,
Director, Lilker EMO Energy Solutions, LLC
Behavior shifts and operational tweaks will affect a change in the energy consumption of commercial buildings, but the only way to truly target efficiency opportunities is by having an energy audit.
An audit is a smart approach to weighing economic considerations and environmental stewardship, and marks the first step in assessing the energy usage of your building portfolio. For building owners and managers, it’s an excellent way to merge energy goals and conservation with a systematic approach to decisions regarding operations and maintenance (O&M). The primary goal is to analyze all building energy systems so you know in financial and non-financial terms which improvements offer the best savings and benefits.
Reducing a building’s energy usage and significantly cutting utility costs are the immediate and direct benefits of an energy audit. Others include learning which buildings and benchmarks to prioritize for the most savings, figuring out the end-uses with the highest percentages of energy savings, and extending the return on investment to reap more savings.
There are a multitude of other benefits that can be realized. When a building is upgraded with new equipment using money saved from energy reduction, maintenance and repair costs are reduced. This will improve the building’s O&M budget capabilities in future years. The new equipment and systems will also increase the asset value of the building. Factoring in these economic advantages with the energy cost savings can double the return on investment.
The energy audit also will identify projects that increase the Energy Star rating of the building, and can make it easier to achieve Energy Star and LEED EBOM (Existing Building Operations and Management) Certification. This can increase the “leaseability” or resell value of a building.
The audit can also provide a roadmap indicating which projects present the best opportunities for investment. All building equipment will need to be replaced at some point. Making these decisions after equipment has failed is the most costly and risky strategy, but basing these decisions on which option is the best energy and economic opportunity can assist building management in planning for the future.
The ASHRAE Level I energy audit (Preliminary Audit) is primarily intended to evaluate buildings for low- and no-cost energy and water efficiency measures, and requires the least out-of-pocket expenditures. The resulting recommendation can reduce annual utility costs from 10 to 15 percent. When implemented, the return on investment (ROI) for these projects can be anywhere from 70 to 200 percent, making them an outstanding value for anyone who owns or manages a medium to large size building.
The audit should result in a preliminary energy-use benchmark that will help you understand how the building performs relative to facilities of similar size and usage, and establish a baseline for measuring improvements. From there, you’ll better be able to decide if further evaluation is warranted, and if so, where.
The ASHRAE Level II Audit (Comprehensive Audit) is appropriate for building owners who want to invest in significant energy improvements to their building. A Level II energy audit includes a detailed analysis of not only the low-cost and no-cost measures, but all capital intensive energy and water measures as well. The result of a Level II audit is a recommended bundled package of energy conservation measures (ECMs), in which individual measures have varying payback periods but the bundled package meets the building owner’s economic requirements.
This audit typically can reduce building utility costs by 25 to 35 percent, and in some cases up to 50 percent. Often building owners will bundle energy upgrade projects with other capital improvement projects, recognizing that energy savings can help pay for needed projects that don’t necessarily save energy. Project costs are usually three to six times the annual energy savings, allowing for an ROI of 15 to 33 percent, which outperforms many other investment options while realizing environmental benefits.
An ASHRAE Level III Energy Audit (Investment Grade Audit) includes all of the same aspects of a Level II audit, except that greater detail, effort and expense are involved to assure that the project costs and savings are determined most accurately. The purpose of a Level III audit is to provide the owner with all of the information needed to make final energy upgrade decisions, and enough detail to allow contractors to provide specific pricing details. This more extensive audit involves obtaining actual contractor pricing, rather than estimates, for recommended energy conservation measures, and employing enhanced equipment monitoring and data logging during the assessment period to assure an accurate calculation of energy usage. A Level III audit often requires building energy modeling, calibrated to the actual utility usage, to guarantee the accuracy of the pre- and post-improvement strategies. The expectation is that the building owner pays more for a higher quality energy audit to reduce the risk of unexpected higher project costs and lower realized savings.
Which audit is best for you? That depends on your expectations for energy savings and improved building performance and the amount of capital available for current and future improvements