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Reducing Operating Costs Through Energy Retrofits

Reducing Operating Costs Through Energy Retrofits

To a facility operator, the biggest obstacle to reducing utility operating costs is inertia—that is, how to get the process started. Do you hire a consultant? Perhaps, but this will absorb some of the potential energy savings and may not address all of the opportunities that exist. Do you bring in your existing vendors? Doing so might produce several ideas; however, the issue of coordination between the mechanical, electrical, and lighting contractors would need to be resolved. Another problem with the contractor approach is each contractor may only prescribe the product or approach that best fits his or her business model.

So, what is the best approach? How do you develop a comprehensive plan for saving energy without spending a substantial amount of money just to learn what will work for your facility?

It is not an easy task, but it can be done. A manufacturer in southern California recently was faced with a similar dilemma as it sought to reduce operating costs. This article will examine the steps the manufacturer took to achieve operational excellence through a carefully orchestrated energy-audit and retrofit process.

The Team
The manufacturer needed to reduce its overall operating costs. After several internal discussions, it decided to form an energy committee. The committee would consist of members of several departments, including a facilities engineer, as well as representation from the manufacturer’s key mechanical, electrical, and lighting contractors.

The manufacturer insisted the contractors have internal engineering capabilities with proven track records in energy programs.

Following initial meetings, the committee agreed reducing energy consumption by 25 percent would be its primary goal.

The team split into two areas of focus: (1) large and complex technical issues and mechanical, electrical, and lighting recommendations and (2) easily implemented process improvements, such as turning off lights when not in use. Several campus walkthroughs, or “treasure hunts,” as they came to be known, were scheduled for late at night, on weekends, and in the early morning hours to enable the team to see what systems were running when the building was empty. What the team soon realized is that basic housekeeping plays a key role in reducing energy costs.

The Actions
After many long hours, the team prioritized a list of activities ranging from no-cost measures to substantially more significant changes, such as retrofitting the automation system.

Once energy-saving measures were identified, the challenge became implementation. Among the first and most formidable obstacles was that of ingrained habits. To be successful, the team needed buy-in from all departments, as well as from corporate leadership. Several team members were tasked with promoting simple measures, such as turning off lights. The team e-mailed employees, letting them know how much energy could be saved by turning off lights, computers, printers, exercise equipment, and more.

Tackling larger, more-complex issues required the hiring of a mechanical contractor. The contractor developed an overall mechanical, controls, and lighting strategy and submitted cost estimates and expected savings. Measures were categorized based on cost and return on investment and presented to the manufacturer for review and funding.

The measures providing the largest return on investment included:

  • The retrofit of antiquated controls.
  • The installation of Internet access for the building automation system (BAS).
  • The replacement of aging mechanical systems.
  • The repair of the fresh-air-economizer system.
  • The retrofit of controls in the company’s design center.
  • Space-temperature reset.
  • The campuswide retrocommissioning of variable-air-volume zones.
  • The replacement of aging 10-SEER package air-conditioning units with new high-efficiency package air-conditioning units.
  • The integration of lighting controls into the new BAS.
  • The installation of monitoring equipment to determine peak-load use, time-of-day use, and space-temperature conditions. Based on the results, adjustments, including the resetting of supply-air temperature, condenser-water temperature, economizers, and run-time schedules, were made.

The Results
With 2009 the base year, the manufacturer was able to reduce its energy consumption by more than 10 percent in 2010. Most of the savings were the result of internal energy measures, including educating employees on simple energy-reduction tactics.

The installation of monitoring equipment allowed the manufacturer to review its use of large air-conditioning equipment and make simple adjustments to operating parameters without a large investment.

In 2010, the kilowatt-hour reduction was 660,000, while the electricity-cost savings from simple energy-saving measures equated to more than $100,000.

In 2011, the savings continued, with an additional 140,000-kwh reduction, which, again, was attributed largely to changes in employee behavior.

During the fourth quarter of 2011, the manufacturer started to implement larger, more-complex measures, including a campuswide controls retrofit, the replacement of aging air-conditioning equipment, and early stage retrocommissioning of campus heating/cooling zones.

Savings from larger-scale measures are expected to be seen in the latter half of 2012 through 2013. Although several measures remain to be undertaken, the manufacturer appears to be well on its way to achieving the goal established by the energy team in 2009.

Since the inception of the energy team, the manufacturer has reduced its kilowatt-hour consumption by more than 1.4 million.

Simple things can make a big difference; thus, an energy-efficiency plan must capture low-hanging fruit. Changing “the culture” is the first step in the process. It begins with educating employees on the importance of their contribution. New equipment will underperform if the ethic of efficiency is not embraced.

Develop an energy committee early, and begin canvassing the facility for opportunities to reduce waste. Translating inefficiencies into dollars often helps to secure necessary support from business leaders and employees.

The final critical step in an energy retrofit is establishing a complete and timely maintenance program. Too often, the projected return on investment from an energy retrofit is not realized because of deferred maintenance or untrained facility personnel. A carefully planned maintenance program delivers expected results and reduces annual operating expenses and downtime.

Secondary benefits of an energy-retrofit program include greatly improved indoor-air quality and more consistent tenant comfort, as systems are tuned based on expected occupancy.

Owners should examine potential sources of energy waste, such as mechanical and electrical systems, continually, particularly if the building is relatively antiquated.

Carefully charting the course toward a more energy-efficient organization has far-reaching implications. Organizational behavior, financial investment, and ongoing maintenance play critical roles. Take the time to seek input from all stakeholders before making an investment. This will lead to a more seamless transition and ensure a positive impact on both the bottom line and comfort.

With more than 35 years of facility-design, operation, and retrocommissioning experience, Lance English specializes in multiyear/integrated agreements, retrofits, retrocommissioning, and energy savings for Southland Industries. Over the years, he has managed numerous energy-retrofit projects.

Did you find this article useful? Send comments and suggestions to Executive Editor Scott Arnold at [email protected].

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