First of all, get your financial people involved at the beginning. Are they willing to invest in that? Is your organization willing to do that?
The trick really is to start simple and come up with a really simple solution for your problem, and not look at every possible variable or every possible scenario, because what happens is by the time you’ve looked at every possible scenario, you end up tangling yourself up in a situation where you can’t actually analyze the park for the trees.
You can get a hold of an energy contractor or a utility to do almost the “back of a napkin” math. The real equation is what existing technology have you got in what parts of your facility, and what can you possibly change it to? So ask a trusted advisor; if they walk into a parking facility and saw technology “X,” they can say, generally speaking, moving from technology “X” to technology “Y” will cost roughly this much. And they can do the full calculations of the energy savings, the installation, and all the other pieces.
It’s almost a funnel approach to see if it’s something you want to proceed with and work your way to the final detail. You don’t have to get the bullet-proof, gold-plated proposal Day One.
What are other ways facilities can address their energy usage to make better decisions?
There are a number of different ways to move ahead. One of the reasons a lot of energy savings programs don’t get approved is because people can’t quantify either the initial use or the potential savings.
Go with a couple of easy ones, go with a parking garage. You know it’s on 24/7, you know what the existing technology is, you know what the new one is—that gets you off the hurdle in terms of moving down the road to being more efficient.
Some of the other things, like if you went to the perfect situation of where lighting will be in 20 years, you’ll have a full IP-addressable, dimmable, occupancy-sensed task-controlled by the local inhabitants of the space lighting system. And you can do this today—you can dim the lights from your computer either in your office or down the corridor.
So moving from where we are to where we possibly could be going, just on the lighting side of things, you need to be able to quantify what people want.
And there are tools available. There are measurement tools away for the HVAC, which is a big draw on facilities, that can be installed so you get a full understanding of the energy use. There are tools you can use to actually put in place to understand the occupancy of spaces. If you have storage facilities, you could put an occupancy sensor there for a week and download off that sensor and it will tell you how often that space is actually occupied. With that, if you now know it’s unoccupied 65% of the time, you can switch off the air conditioning, the lights, and anything else in the space once you’re armed with that data.
It sounds like monitoring energy use is a significant piece of the overall energy plan.
A lot of people say “I don’t believe you,” because someone walks through the door and says they’re going to save 50% of your energy. That’s like saying we’ll change your car from 20 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon—that’s not a little stretch.
And so you have to justify, especially engineering managers, when presenting the multi-million-dollar upgrade upstairs—the upstairs guy wants a cast-iron guarantee that money’s coming through. It all rolls back to what is the overall plan for the building, and it could involve a couple of monitoring programs to actually ascertain where the problems are and a couple of upgrade initiatives.
If it was just a pure free market environment, what you’d end up with is the upgrade initiative actually provides the cost for more monitoring initiatives. Then it becomes a cycle, and you end up with an energy plan for the facility. It becomes self-fulfilling in terms of the income.
Jennifer Kovacs Silvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.