Guide to Commercial Energy Efficiency Techniques

Energy efficiency allows you to conserve energy without sacrificing occupant comfort needs. This will not only yield considerable monetary savings but will also help to lower carbon footprints.

While there’s no shortage of ways to conserve energy, unfortunately, the global rate of improvement is weakening each year. This best practices guide outlines 2020’s top energy conservation techniques you can implement without shelling out a lot of money.

How Much Energy Do Commercial Buildings Use

According to the US Department of Energy, America’s commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 40 percent of national energy use. At the same time, the latest Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) highlights 17 percent of this electricity consumption represents lighting.

Commercial buildings emit over a third of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector of the economy. This is why decision-makers must find creative solutions that will help substantially reduce energy consumption and costs.

Next to payroll, energy bills tend to constitute the second-largest business expense in any commercial facility; but through energy conservation efforts, companies can not only offset energy bills and meet their sustainability goals but significantly contribute to the preservation of the environment.

Energy Use by Building Type

Commercial buildings include a variety of building types like offices, schools, public utility buildings, hospitals, malls, restaurants, and office space. Collectively, they consume $60 Billion on energy per year as per the program of Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy costs take up a huge chunk of the business expense, but the potential for savings here is immense. When we can properly identify a building’s energy use profile, energy-efficient measures can be implemented which will lead to a 10-30 percent reduction in energy use.

Here are the five most common building types that consumed about half of the energy used by all commercial buildings based on a study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  •  Office: Office buildings take up 14 percent of the total energy consumed by commercial buildings. Examples are professional and government offices, and banks.
  •  Retail: Retail buildings take up 15 percent of the total energy consumption. Examples are malls and stores, car dealerships, dry cleaners, and gas stations.
  •  Education: Educational buildings take up 10 percent of the total energy consumption. Examples are elementary, middle, and high school, and colleges.
  •  Healthcare: Healthcare buildings take up 8 percent of the total energy consumption. Examples are hospitals and medical offices.
  •  Lodging: Lodging takes up 6 percent of the total energy consumption. Examples are hotels, dormitories, and nursing homes.

Commercial Energy Conservation Techniques

The need to optimize and conserve resources is driven by transformative technologies that increase the building functionality and appeal to occupants. Buildings are a major energy consumer that will benefit from energy efficiency improvements as a cost-effective strategy.

Apart from minimizing their operating costs and upgrading their overall profile, they can also work their way towards reducing their energy, carbon, and environmental footprint.

Here are twenty ways to conserve energy in commercial buildings:

Tip #1 Smart Scheduling

Create a system that even if occupants override it, it will always go back to its normal scheduling. Operators can integrate the schedule for when occupants use energy, computers, and the heating/cooling system with calendars.

The system will remind employees to use energy during the lower peak times of the day. The system can also schedule their workstation to switch to hibernate mode after working hours and during weekends, and adjust office temperature depending on the season which can reduce power use by up to 10 percent.

Tip #2. Audit Energy Bills

Large commercial entities can employ energy consultants or specialized software to have an audit completed for energy and utility costs. This comprehensive cost study will help companies identify areas to trim down energy needs. Often they will be given a roadmap that maximizes the return on investment before deciding to commit capital to energy-related upgrades. 

Going energy-efficient is, after all, both a technical and financial decision for businesses. Some consultants and utility companies will require no upfront cost, so it may be important to give them a call to take advantage of this service.

Tip #3. Use Energy-Efficient Lighting

After heating and cooling, lighting takes up the third biggest energy consumption. This is why outfitting the building with energy-efficient lighting can help you reduce your energy use by 25 to 80 percent. 

One way to do this is to switch to LED lighting and by installing sensors in infrequently used spaces. Building operators can also use daylight controllers to keep light levels constant within the building without causing inconvenience to the building’s occupants.

Tip #4. Motivate and Educate Tenants

Most employees prefer to work for environmentally-minded companies. This makes energy consumption and reduction not just the responsibility of employers but also the responsibility of the employee as well. By involving the employees in energy conservation efforts, companies can save up to 10 percent of their annual energy use.

These are things you as decision-makers can do to get your tenants involved in energy-saving strategies:

  • Educate your employees regarding energy-saving features of certain equipment like air conditioners, printers, and microwaves.
  • Explain how to notify management of a problem with any office equipment so a solution can be immediately enacted.
  • Cultivate an energy-efficient culture in your company by having an open dialogue with your employees about ways to reduce energy use.
  •  Encourage your employees to come up with innovative ways to reduce energy use.

Tip #5. Energy-Efficient Landscaping

The landscaping around your building can help to clean the air and keep the building cool. You can do this by planting shady trees strategically to block winds and provide shade on summer days. Strategically placed vegetation helps reduce heating and cooling costs because it can help combat summer heat and chilly winter winds.

Tip #6. Learn the Building’s Energy Profile

Understanding the energy use of your building is important to save money on utility bills. There are several tools that you can incorporate into building management to boost your energy efficiency and measure your consumption. 

This is a cheaper alternative for companies who don’t have the luxury of retrofitting their building from the ground up. For instance, you can install smart thermostats or hire technicians to monitor consumption. You can also receive benchmarking as a way to see where you can make the greatest improvements in energy efficiency. 

Tip #7 Install Solar Panels

One of the goals of becoming energy-efficient is to reduce the building’s negative impact on the environment. A significant way to do this is to rethink not only how energy is consumed but the source of our energy. Often this ends with the realization that solar energy is a worthwhile investment.

Initially, the upfront costs of installing solar panels may be discouraging; however, solar energy can work to significantly reduce operational costs, making the initial overhead expense recoverable within a few years:

  • Solar panels require less maintenance.
  • Solar energy is a free and renewable energy source, so you will only have to invest in technologies that let you harness and convert it
  • You can sell excess solar energy back to the grid
  • You can use federal tax credits like the Solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC) which gives buildings a 26 percent federal tax credit for solar PV systems installed at the business in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.

Tip #8. Implement a Demand Response Program

A demand response program is one way for commercial businesses to lower their energy consumption and generate income out of it. It works by paying participants to reduce electricity usage during times when supply is low and demand is high on the grid.

Rising fees can be offset by sending power back to the grid during periods of high demand and get rewarded for it. Depending on your business size, type, and location, revenues for participation can be as high as $200,000 per year or more.

Tip #9. Improve the Building’s Insulation

A building should be as airtight as possible to prevent heat loss through windows and the roof at a rate of up to 26 percent. Insulation can become less effective as it becomes more compact, and the outside envelope of your building might not be able to meet heating and cooling needs. To improve insulation, you can::

  • Add fans to recirculate warm air to decrease heating costs.
  • Increase the roof’s R-value by using high-performance insulation and non-traditional wall systems that offer additional insulation.
  • Replace old windows with new ones that can be opened to take advantage of temperate weather which will help improve overall indoor air quality.
  • Replace doors to avoid air leaks in existing buildings.

Tip #10. Reduce Energy Drain and Waste

Power factor fees are operational costs that could be reduced significantly by improving how equipment like AC units and IT servers run – thereby decreasing the creation of wasted energy or reactive power. 

Reactive power costs money when the energy is not consumed regularly, so it is important to identify your utilities’ specific power factor requirements so you can maintain the required power factor and not see additional charges on your monthly bills. For companies that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this information can save a lot of money.

Another way to reduce energy waste is to replace old equipment with newer, energy-efficient models and to turn off computers and other tools when they’re not being used.

Tip #11. Implement a Continuous Monitoring Solution

The integration of the Internet of Things or IoT in building management systems is being increasingly used to manage energy efficiency. This technological innovation allows companies to operate their buildings at the highest possible level of energy efficiency. A building that uses continuous monitoring can reduce annual energy expenditures by 10 to 15 percent while increasing productivity and improving operating costs. 

Using sensors and actuators to not only track and identify inefficiencies but to also collect information and provide advanced analysis for in-depth predictive modeling, decision-makers can focus their attention on the areas that represent the greatest possible energy savings. 

H3: Tip #12. Invest in Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats can adjust and manage room temperature responsibly and automatically. When used correctly and audited regularly, they will reflect the best possible setting for the intended use of the heating and cooling equipment. Using programmable thermostats typically results in a 10 percent savings on heating and cooling bills.

Tip #13. Make Use of Sunlight

Using the most energy-efficiency lighting will still consume power, so it is good practice to take advantage of natural light during the day. Open the shades to let the sunshine in and get the lighting that occupants need for dark areas. This will save significant kilowatt-hours of energy use. Just remember to do this in consideration of the season and temperature.

Tip #14. Gain Advanced Analytics

Using applications, you can gain advanced analytics. You can use applications that collect and analyze data from various systems and facilities in your building. This data can help building operators to gain actionable insights. 

Analytical data is a key factor in understanding how a business consumes energy and is used to accurately predict the value of your energy bills for the coming months using historical records of energy consumption.

Compared to traditional analytics, big data analytics provides advanced techniques such as statistical modeling, mining, and visualization of data that you can use to adjust inefficient systems. It reveals new insights into system performance and aggregates the data in a single pane for reading ease.

Tip #15. Manage Water with Smart Fixtures

Water consumption should be properly managed as it is prone to wastage and excess. Here are some things you can do to save your business money on its water bill:

  • Install automatic water-saving faucets, showerheads, and urinals.
  • Install tankless water heaters in areas that don’t use a lot of hot water.
  • Upgrade to water-efficient plumbing fixtures.
  • Collect rainwater and recycle greywater.
  • Use a variable frequency drive to adjust the water flow to meet actual demand, and control the frequency of the electricity supplied to pumping equipment.
  • Address any water leaks.

Tip #16. Use Tax Breaks and Other Incentives

There’s a lot to gain from taking advantage of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) with energy-efficient systems and equipment. You can also enjoy many state and local tax incentives and rebates from public utility companies for investing in your business’s energy efficiency. 

Here are the ways to receive tax breaks and incentive for commercial buildings:

  • Installing solar panels for solar energy use.
  • Using energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.
  • Purchasing and Using energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

Tip #17. Use Newer Energy Star Certified Appliances

Equipment in poor condition, that breaks down frequently and requires frequent commercial repair, can draw unnecessary power which costs money. By doing some research and looking for high-performance, energy-efficient systems, and equipment you can save money on energy bills.

Purchasing Energy Star certified products will help you save up to 30 percent on your energy bills. These products also allow you to avoid a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, helping you reach sustainability goals. These products evolve quickly, so it is important to stay informed about new developments.

Tip #18. Meet and Work Remotely

Fewer occupants in buildings mean less energy consumed. This reduces energy costs because not as much lighting or cooling is needed.

Modern-day technologies make it possible for people across the world to meet and work together remotely. You can give presentations, make long-distance calls, meet face-to-face with clients, and have your workers securely connect to your business’ network with the use of VPN technology. This will not only allow the business to save money on energy but will also help employees to save on gas and transportation expenses. 

Tip #19. Retrofit Old Buildings

A retrofit involves modifications to existing commercial buildings to improve energy efficiency and decrease energy demand. A retrofit aims to also reduce or eliminate the possibility of damage from hazards like flooding, erosion, high winds, earthquakes, and others.

Refurbishing existing buildings presents an immense energy-saving opportunity for companies – up to 30 percent or more spread over several years. Not only does retrofitting upgrade the energy performance of the commercial building’s assets but it also adds value to the building itself. For older buildings, this can attract new tenants and regain the market edge.

Tip #20. Improve the Building Envelope

HVAC systems consume up to 20 percent of the energy in a building. This is why it is important to minimize unwanted heat and air exchange between the structure and its surroundings by improving the building envelope to make it more energy-efficient.

To accomplish a more energy-efficient building envelope, an energy audit should be conducted during every season. The seasonal energy audit will assess the building envelope using thermal imaging to detect trouble spots. Once, these trouble spots are detected the building can be improved reducing energy expenses and raising occupant comfort levels.

Benefits to Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings

There is a premium on well-built, energy-efficient buildings. An energy-efficient approach for both new and existing buildings has many benefits attached.

Energy-efficient commercial buildings are better performing than conventional commercial buildings by up to 70 percent. Their carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels are dramatically reduced. Occupants can observe better thermal comfort which leads to them becoming more productive at work.

The advantages commonly associated with an energy-efficient commercial building are: 

1. Operational Excellence

Building automation through wireless systems makes monitoring and building management easier and more accessible. Using different systems both inside and outside the building allows your building to communicate with city infrastructure paving the way for a smarter city.

2. Decreased Carbon Footprint

A holistic building energy solution can turn a building into a virtual power generator. This allows the building to shed electric load and return energy to the market for a profit commonly called a negawatt. 

Negawatts are units of energy saved and returned to the grid. This fundamentally reshapes the way you consume energy and makes the electric grid more robust and reliable. 

With more energy conservation, utility costs are reduced. Furthermore, by reducing the size of the building’s carbon footprint, you help the world become greener and healthier.

3. Sustainability

Additionally, by choosing to make your building smart and more energy-efficient, you improve the overall sustainability of the building. By adding IoT thermostats you can integrate older technology into buildings making the other technology work more efficiently (both for energy and equipment use) than ever before.

4. Return on Investment

Since energy-efficiency projects work to help save money on utility expenses as well as making the building a greener and sustainable, these improvements typically have a shorter return on investment period than other projects. 

For example, upgrading lighting from older forms to newer, more energy-efficient LED lighting can have an ROI of shorter than one year.

5. Reducing Global Warming

It is important to remember that many of the benefits of making your commercial building more energy efficient extend beyond your building. Often, the changes that you make in your building are looked at by customers, clients, and other building owners who decide to make changes for sustainability helping to improve the overall environment the world over.

These changes have helped to trigger a cultural shift toward a future where energy efficiency becomes the norm for newer infrastructure. Not only are buildings changing their own offices and structures for increased cost control and their own sustainability goals, but they are doing so for the populace at large, creating a better world for future generations. Looking to improve the energy efficiency of your buildings? EnerControl by ActiveBAS is an automated solution for energy management.