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Virtual Audits Help Identify Opportunities for Energy Efficiency

Over the last several years, energy auditing startups have analyzed billions of square feet of commercial building energy usage analytics.  These metrics create highly useful data to learn how energy use can (potentially) be minimized.  These virtual audits can be part of a viability study to determine if energy efficiency measures should be examined.  The virtual studies are by no means a benchmark, but rather, a guide as to what may be possible to attain in energy savings within a facility.

Often, smart energy solutions are quicker and easier to implement than we think.  Small changes can have significant long-term impacts on energy consumption.  In evaluating 60 million sf of buildings in its database, one company was able to determine that over half of the opportunities for efficiency improvements required no retrofitting at all.  The company calculated the opportunity for savings in this space and then scaled this proportion of energy efficiency savings across the US to determine that over $17 billion in savings could be realized…simply adding small policy changes to behavior and operations of the facilities.   Other times, it makes sense to retrofit facilities to improve efficiency.  For example, dated electronics and systems tend to use more energy and often have a depreciable life cycle.  By examining the payoff periods of replacing these regularly, or even early, facilities can realize energy savings that exceed the cost of usage and maintenance of the systems.  A virtual audit can provide a cursory look into both options. 

Some things to note when reviewing data generated through virtual energy audits.

1) It is important to understand that not all building types perform the same in an audit
While an average may provide a general guideline, the data is highly deviated on a granular level.  “We found that the top 20 percent of buildings sampled had savings potential of more than 40 percent, while the bottom 20 percent only offered 3 percent savings.” says Retroficiency CEO and energy efficiency expert, Bennett Fisher.

2) The way the energy is used matters
Buildings with data centers may have high energy consumption that would skew the projected results of an efficiency study if they cannot be reduced.  A large computing center would show high potential for savings but offer little in the way of practical savings.

3) Total consumption doesn’t correlate with savings potential

How a facility uses its energy is highly correlated with the amount of savings it can produce.  Lighting, for example, only represents ~15% of energy use in a commercial office building.  However, it can represent over 30% of the total facility energy savings due to its rapid payback.

4) Savings can be realized over long(er) periods of time
Building owners often look for short payback periods for their efficiency investments.  “Retroficiency found that increasing payback periods from short-term to mid-term in length offers an additional 3.4 percent of annual savings on average. This allows for bundling projects together, reaping more savings than a one-off measure that may be attractive only because it offers a rapid payback.”

Facility managers must take all variables into consideration when analyzing the potential for efficiencies.  Virtual audits are not the holy grail for determining what is possible but can offer useful insight and acts as another tool in the complex process of selecting the options that maximize the value and return of the real estate interest.

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