Taking A Holistic Approach To Energy Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

by George Danellis

The case for commercial building portfolio owners to address energy resource consumption today is undeniable, including reduced costs, cooling towershealthier indoor environments, and staying a step ahead of regulatory compliance issues.

But this doesn’t mean that owners are always effective in upgrading building systems on ways to immediately reduce costs. A recent report at the Sustainable Operations Summit showed a pent-up demand to act on energy efficiency, and that much of the inefficiency evident today is based on weak operational choices, like lighting being on outside of working hours or poor temperature regulation. In Johnson Controls recently issued fourth annual Energy Efficiency Indicator they report that 52% of building executives and managers are planning to make operating budget expenditures in energy efficiency programs in the coming year. But 38% report that limited capital availability is the main barrier to taking action.

Additionally many building owners and managers are not experts in the energy systems that run their buildings or the solutions available to them. While there are a myriad of well-known benefits for acting on energy efficiency, building system upgrades are often chosen that that fail to deliver solid ROI. In today’s financial environment this lack of expertise means capital projects often fail to get funded.

However when whole building measures are determined based on ROI and higher rate-of-return solutions the likelihood of gaining funding improves dramatically.  These measures need to be based on the size of each building and its complexity, utility and government incentives, as well as the unique state of energy systems in the building – for example the age and condition of particular HVAC plant and lighting.

Lighting remains the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency, with training of staff/occupants also showing good ROI based on low investment and quick return. Investments in HVAC and the right building controls are a play that can justify greater expenditure as can upgrades to windows. Heating and cooling systems that operate more efficiently save money daily and lead to reduced maintenance costs. While cost reduction is still the number one factor for most decision-makers to move forward, improving brand image and building valuation are also key drivers to act. And many building owners and executives are looking to get ahead of expected regulations related to energy efficiency and carbon-based emissions.

Ultimately building performance will benefit most greatly when buildings are viewed as unique, whole units, and decision-makers tap the appropriate expertise to assess both their buildings and their intentions before developing and acting on an energy efficiency plan.