How to make energy audits work for your building

By Guest Blogger Jim Maclay, Ph.D., LEED AP, Certified Energy Auditor

The purpose of an energy audit is to find energy conservation measures (ECMs) that, once implemented, will reduce energy costs. In the face of escalating fuel and electricity prices coupled with climate change legislation, which will effectively regulate how we use energy, it is more important than ever to get energy consumption under control.

An energy audit is composed of three main components:

  • 1. Determination of historic energy use and cost trends.

This first step helps to give a starting point to measure gains from. As the saying goes, ‘you can't manage anything you don't measure.' A number of our clients were shocked to see how fast their energy consumption and associated costs were increasing. But once these trends are clearly laid out, it is easy to see where they will lead if not brought under control.

  • 2. Analysis of on-site energy consuming systems.

Energy audits are a lot like detective work, whereby a diversity of sleuthing techniques are used to collect clues. These clues tell you where energy is being consumed at your site and estimates how much. In some cases, when equipment is malfunctioning, not properly programmed, or simply old, the end result is like catching a thief that is stealing money, on a daily basis, from right under your nose.

  • 3. Determination of cost effective energy conservation measures (ECM) using a decision matrix which shows the magnitude of energy cost reduction and payback in years for each ECM.

Of course, some ECMs will significantly reduce energy usage but they may be too expensive to implement. That is why the energy audit must not only provide information on how much energy each ECM can save but also its associated payback period. For example, ECM #1 may reduce energy use by 20 percent but take 30 years to payback the capital cost of implementation, whereas ECM #2 may reduce energy use by 10 percent but take two    years to payback the capital cost of implementation. Cleary ECM #2 provides the better savings opportunity. It saves less energy than ECM #1, but is cheaper to implement and so provides savings sooner.

Energy audits are becoming more common place every day as an effective means of controlling the costs and negative impacts associated with energy consumption. The energy audit process can also be extended to encompass building greenhouse gas emissions, and water consumption. A resource master plan will be even more inclusive and address all aspects of resource consumption and costs; a topic that will be addressed in a forthcoming blog post.

Jim Maclay, Ph.D., is the Energy Services Director at California-based design firm LPA Inc. He received a B.S. in Chemistry from U.C. Davis in 1998, and after working in the industry for four years as a research scientist, he returned to graduate school at U.C. Irvine where he received a M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering within the Advance Power and Energy Program (APEP).