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Blueprint for Energy Cost Control
Careful planning is the key to the success of most businesses. That's also true of facility management. Capital improvement plans lay out expected facility capital expenditures, sometimes as much as 10 or 15 years into the future.
Despite the importance of planning in facility operations, too many facility executives abandon it when managing energy use. Instead, they undertake a series of uncoordinated activities that typically include equipment upgrades, system replacements and energy services contracting. In some cases, specific steps may even prove to be counterproductive. Too often, these measures simply mirror what other facility executives are doing without considering the needs of a particular facility. Implementing one “energy project of the month” after another may reduce the use of energy, but it isn’t energy management.
While energy conservation measures implemented without an overall plan reduce energy use and costs, they do so with an unequal impact. Since energy conservation budgets are not unlimited, facility executives need to implement those that produce the most favorable returns in terms of energy and cost savings for a given investment in a given facility.
Another problem with not having an energy management plan is missed opportunities. One of the key elements in an energy management plan is the identification of when, where and how much energy is used in the facility. Successful programs identify big energy users and focus efforts on them. Without that step, facility executives can’t know what measures will produce the best results.
Lack of an energy conservation plan also leads to uncoordinated – and often counterproductive – efforts. For example, installing high efficiency central chillers will improve the overall efficiency of the chiller plant, but under electricity deregulation, the installation of an alternative drive chiller, such as an absorption chiller or engine-driven centrifugal chiller, might reduce costs even more. Or upgrading to T8 lamps and electronic ballasts without first considering the lighting needs of the space may result in inefficiencies due to the overlighting of some areas.
Finally, lack of an energy conservation plan places the facility in a position where it must react to rather than anticipate marketplace changes in the supply and cost of energy. For example, deregulation is giving facilities the incentive to flatten electrical loads. Facility executives who have developed an energy management plan already know how their electrical loads vary with the time of day and the season of the year, so they are able to take steps to reduce load peaks.
Once the loads have been reduced, facility executives can further reduce their electrical load during periods of high rates by, for example, installing engine-driven chillers or gas-fired absorption chillers. Without an energy conservation plan already in place, facility executives would have little time to react to the changes introduced by deregulation.
A facility’s energy management plan is a road map to efficiency. The plan identifies where the facility is currently in terms of energy efficiency, where the facility needs to be and how it is going to get there. To make the plan successful, it must include all three elements. Skipping one or more may save time, but it will not allow a facility executive to manage energy use.
The energy management plan also should be flexible and able to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace. As facility executives have seen over the past year, the energy industry is volatile, with electricity price spikes, heating oil shortages and price instability.
Finding Out Where You Are
Before a plan can be developed to manage energy use, the facility executive must understand how energy is used in a facility. What types of energy sources are used? How much does the facility use? When does the use take place? Where is the energy used? Why?