The importance of energy audits

Sources of energy waste lurk in almost every building. These overlooked energy drains have a high financial and carbon cost. Nicola Martin makes the case for energy audits. Energy is wasted every day in every organisation, and identifying how and why that energy goes to waste can unlock the potential for substantial financial savings and vital carbon reduction. For this reason, the free Carbon Surveys initiative provided by sustainability advisory body, the Carbon Trust, was hugely popular among businesses.

The service provided expert on-site visits to scrutinise the way that organisations were heating, cooling, lighting and otherwise using energy in their buildings. However, the withdrawal of core government funding for the Carbon Trust has meant that the service has been terminated in England, leaving many organisations bereft of an important energy auditing service.

“The Carbon Trust’s Carbon Surveys scheme played an important role in encouraging better energy management,” comments Peter Lawrence, General Manager of Steinel (UK) Ltd. “The axe falling on Carbon Surveys for organisations in England has dealt a great blow to UK sustainability. Yet it’s important for organisations to realise that energy auditing is still worthwhile.”

Overlooked energy waste

The Carbon Trust says that, since 2005, its Carbon Surveys helped businesses identify potential cost savings of £170million and over 1.3mt of carbon dioxide emissions. Although many organisations may purport to already have a firm handle on their energy use, the fact is buildings are still prone to sources of energy waste that may surprise even the most rigorous of building managers.

Not only are some sources of energy waste overlooked, but potential solutions are also overlooked. This is partly due to the rapid innovation of the retrofit low-carbon market. In the past, improving the performance of a boiler could only be done by replacing the boiler; low-energy lighting could only be installed at high capital cost; and presence detectors only existed in new builds. Now, however, it is possible to retrofit presence detection sensors, slot energy efficient lamps into existing fittings and fit boiler controls to better regulate older boilers.

Taking a cue from Whitehall

When the Coalition government took office, one of its first green goals was to cut the carbon footprint of central government buildings by 10% – a target that it actually exceeded. It is notable that, in seeking to cut carbon on-site, government officials chose to forego the ‘eco bling’ of solar PV or wind turbines, and instead focused on encouraging simple common sense measures, like reducing the use of cooling systems and turning off IT equipment when not in use.

There is a lesson here for organisations that assume costly carbon-cutting projects like microgeneration of renewable energy provide the only avenue to reducing environmental impact. Instead, energy audits tend to identify small measures that organisations can undertake to reduce energy consumption. The erstwhile Carbon Trust surveys typically recommended cost-effective, retrofit measures, like energy efficient lighting, intelligent building controls and boiler controls. After all, a number of small energy efficiency projects can add up to big savings.

Beyond the Carbon Trust

With fuel prices set to rise this winter, by as much as 19% in some cases, it’s never been more important for organisations to carefully analyse exactly what they spend on energy in various areas of the business. A desktop audit, conducted in-house and involving a review of utility bills and other available data, combined with conversations with relevant staff members, can be a valid starting point.

However, in order to get a true picture of energy waste within an organisation, it is often necessary to enlist expert help and implement specialist technology. This raises the question, now that The Carbon Trust is no longer an option for organisations in England, are there any cost-effective alternatives available?

“Feedback that Steinel received from business and industry made it clear that companies wished to accurately monitor how much energy is wasted in lighting,” comments Peter Lawrence. “With stretched budgets and cost-cutting measures the norm, it is unsurprising that energy auditing is growing in popularity, especially with the financial savings that are available through installation of equipment to save energy. In response, Steinel has launched PROLog. This is a lighting and occupancy measurement device that accurately monitors instances of lighting energy waste.”

Mobilising funds

Although many organisations would like to invest in energy-saving measures, the economic climate means that getting the green light on funding to install energy efficient equipment is extremely difficult. Hard evidence of how much energy is being wasted, obtained through a device like PROLog, is often what it takes to mobilise funds.

“The need for hard evidence of energy waste makes it imperative that any type of energy audit that organisations undertake is highly accurate,” says Mr Lawrence. “A risk-averse board of directors is likely to be difficult to persuade, unless the evidence in favour of undertaking energy efficiency upgrades is indisputable.”

It’s common sense that, if the lights are left on in an unoccupied room, it wastes electricity. However, just how frequent are these lapses made, and just much energy is wasted as a result? For that matter, what about corridors, stairwells and restrooms that are lit continually? It poses a health and safety risk to keep these areas unlit, but the lights may remain on unnecessarily for hours. How much does this wasteful energy use contribute to company overheads?

Need for accuracy

In order to provide an accurate answer to these questions, the PROLog device, which operates independently of the mains power supply, can be positioned easily and unobtrusively below the ceiling at various points within a building. It records in minute detail the actual usage of lighting over a month-long period, taking approximately 400,000 measurement readings.

PROLog is able to detect how people actually use the area; how long artificial light is switched on for; how long daylight is sufficient for the required light level; and how much of the lighting use is unnecessary. The PROLog software then configures the data to show the actual lighting energy use, compared to the ideal energy use. Using further data, such as the wattage of lights, energy tariffs, service tariffs and lamp life, PROLog also provides a highly-accurate projection of the total energy savings that will be accrued over one, three or ten years, if presence detectors are installed.

New innovations

“Retrofit sensor-controlled lighting, which only switches on when people are detected in the room, can lead to huge energy savings that dramatically reduce an organisation’s financial outlay on electricity and cut its carbon footprint,” comments Mr Lawrence. “According to the California Energy Commission, sensor-controlled lighting helps to reduce energy waste and costs by 35–45%.”

What’s more, innovation in the sphere of presence detection is making sensor-controlled lighting even more effective. Steinel’s newly-launched Control PRO range of sensors, with their square-shaped detection characteristics, allow, for the first time, complete coverage of rooms with presence detectors, without overlaps or leaving gaps.

“In lean economic times organisations are not content to merely guesstimate the energy savings they could make,” Mr Lawrence adds. “Instead, they need to be fully briefed on how much energy they are currently wasting, how much presence detection technology coul
d reduce their electricity bills, and what the precise payback period would be for sensor-controlled lighting.”

Undertaking energy audits not only identifies sources of energy waste; it also provides cold, hard data that can be used to make the business case for energy efficiency improvements. Although many UK businesses have lost the support of the Carbon Trust, it remains both possible and worthwhile to closely monitor on-site energy use and seek out carbon-cutting solutions.

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