Understanding ASHRAE Level Audits

DSC_7446 (2)EPCO performs energy audits, or energy assessments, for commercial businesses throughout Ohio. Depending on geographic region, there may be utility incentives to cover the cost of the audit. Not all energy audits are made equal, and it is essential to understand the various levels of audits available. The primary goals of an energy audit are to determine how the building energy systems are performing, how improvements can be made to enhance that performance, and how those improvements will affect the owner in both financial and non-financial factors.

Energy audits vary in depth and complexity, depending on a variety of factors including building energy systems configurations, project parameters, and the capabilities the energy auditor can provide. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has defined three levels of audits that energy providers perform, which I will explain in greater detail.

ASHRAE Level 1 – Walk Through Analysis / Preliminary Audit

The ASHRAE Level-1 audit is the starting point for building energy optimization. This audit involves a review of the facility’s utility bills and operating data, a brief walk-through of the building and basic interviews with on-site operating personnel. This audit is intended to identify areas for potential energy improvements, understand the building configuration, and define the type and nature of energy systems. Your energy advisor should give you a short report detailing findings from the audit, which should identify an array of efficiency opportunities. Typically this report does not include detailed recommendations for improvement, with the exception of very visible operational and project flaws.

The ASHRAE Level-1 audit should help the energy team at a business establish a baseline for measuring energy improvements, and also give them an idea of how their building performs in relation to similar businesses. A common example can be found among many school systems. Often, they will have comprehensive controls in place for systems such as process cooling or heating. But, after years of evolving use, those control set points need to be recalibrated to align with existing facility use.

ASHRAE Level 2 – Energy Survey and Analysis

The ASHRAE Level-2 assessment builds upon the findings of Level-1, and evaluates the building energy systems in detail to define potential energy efficiency improvements. This should include the lighting, ventilation, building envelope, heating, and air conditioning (HVAC), domestic hot water (DHW), compressed air and process cooling or heating. This audit starts with a detailed energy cost and consumption analysis. Then, the assessment should evaluate air quality, lighting, humidity, temperature, ventilation, and other conditions that could influence energy performance or comfort of facility occupants. ASHRAE Level-2 should include in-depth discussions with the building management, ownership, and occupants to examine potential problem areas, and determine their goals for increasing energy efficiency.

Your energy advisor should provide you with a clear and concise report that includes a briefing to the building owner and management team, explaining a variety of Energy Efficiency Measures (EEMs) including operational changes, no-cost and low-cost measures, system controls and building automation modifications, and potential fiscal upgrades. The findings of this audit should also include performance metrics, as well as a method for the building owner to determine the next steps in proceeding with implementation of the plan. Anybody that hasn’t actively been involved with energy efficiency nor have an energy portfolio, we may put under the Level-2 umbrella. Very likely there is a cost associated with this audit, but depending on your geographic location, rebates may cover a good portion of it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a mid-size regional medical facility that asked us to complete an in-depth analysis regarding replacement of their existing HVAC system in exchange for a more efficient solution. Due to the complexity of the system and unique operation of the facility, equipment metering and engineering was required to identify the appropriate solution for the building’s needs. This required a cost, but the majority was covered through local utility incentives.

ASHRAE Level 3 – Detailed Analysis of Capital Intensive Modifications

The ASHRAE Level-3 audit is a very in-depth and detailed energy assessment. This audit involves data collection over the course of weeks or even months. Data loggers will monitor temperatures of affective space, lighting levels, pumps and motors operation, switching behavior, and other factors. This audit requires an intensive facility-wide assessment. We try to steer our clients away from this audit if at all possible, due to its high cost and length of time required. We would only perform this audit in specific situations. One such example would be businesses governed by strict regulations that mandate this level of reporting on an annual or semi-annual basis.

Conclusion

A carefully crafted energy plan will empower your business with the ability to more seamlessly manage your energy portfolio. At EPCO, we design a plan that factors each component of your specific energy fingerprint, including how you use energy, when it’s consumed, and most importantly, where you can save without disruption to your operation.  Whether you move forward immediately with each measure, or wait for a more opportune time, you will be better informed and prepared. For more information on energy planning, contact eauerbach@energyplanners.com or 216.559.4103

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4 Essential Tips to Prepare for the Next Recession

2016 is off to a rocky start and some economists are predicting a recession. Over the first two weeks of the year, the markets are trading down over eight percent. Chinese stocks have dropped more than 20 percent and have entered into bear-market territory. As the second-largest economy behind the United States, a slump of this nature will have an indisputable effect. Regardless of the direct fiscal impact to the U.S., the volatility in China will continue to send ripples through the global economy.recession-blog-photo

The dramatic decline in oil prices will also play a large role in the instability of the US economy. The price per barrel has dropped below $30; a 12-year low. The past year has seen prices plummet nearly 39 percent and almost 17 percent in just the past month. This has certainly been met with glee by consumers, as the price at the pump has dropped below an average of two dollars nationwide. However, the players on the world stage aren’t nearly as elated. China’s woes have further exasperated the market while oil producing states, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, have seen dramatic declines in profits. Many smaller fracking and energy companies in the U.S. may be forced to shut down as well.

Furthermore, the fiscal policy of the Federal Reserve has amplified volatility. Continued tightening of monetary policy will reinforce the dollar’s strength and weaken U.S. exports. In turn, this could negatively impact the manufacturing sector, which represents over 12 percent of the U.S. GDP, and nearly nine percent of total employment (in 2013). Many news outlets have cited a December Citi Research report projecting the likelihood of a recession in 2016 at 65 percent, the highest odds in several years.

As the economy continues to foster uncertainty and instability, I am advising many of my clients to begin taking steps to protect themselves against a potential recession by years end. Here are four industry tips to get you started.

1. Evaluate Existing Contracts
•  Review in detail all your current and proposed equipment maintenance and service contracts. Be sure all maintenance and service agreements have significant returns on investment. Don’t simply allow contracts to roll over; instead negotiate for the best terms possible.
•  Evaluate your gas and electric generation contracts. Be knowledgeable on the current state of the market. It is extremely likely there has been a dramatic shift in market conditions since your last contract. Review with your energy advisor if you are uncertain on prevailing market value or contract terms.

2. Modify Behaviors: Little Changes Can Cause Big Savings
•  Turn off ancillary office machines and lighting when not in use.
•  Shut down non-essential equipment during down-time in production.
•  Evaluate facility energy systems to remove vampire power in standby mode.

3. Institute Controls and Energy Management Systems
•  Install a comprehensive controls platform and dashboard to enable you to monitor and manage your energy systems from one devise.
•  Mount sensors when possible to ensure systems such as lighting aren’t in perpetual use.
• Incorporate variable frequency drives (VFDs) on mechanical equipment to control the speed and energy output of motors.

4. Create a New Income Stream-Take advantage of the suite of utility rebates, tax incentives and financing structures that will increase your energy portfolio’s return on investment.
• Enroll in the “RIGHT” demand response program that will compensate you for curtailing energy usage at times when the grid is overly taxed.
• Talk to your advisor about maximizing energy related tax deductions (EPAct 179D) and capitalizing on accelerated depreciation.
• Take advantage of the many financing solutions available that provide immediate net savings for energy related projects. These are offered by many traditional banking institutions, Port Authorities, PACE financing agencies, and in the form of Energy Service Agreements (ESAs) by reputable energy planning companies.

The markets and the economy are cyclical. It is inevitable that we will have downturns and recessionary periods. We cannot predict what the next recession may look like, but we can take steps to lessen its effect. Working with an energy advisor, instituting long term energy management plans, and making low-to-no-cost investments, will better protect your business, resources and most importantly your wallet.

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