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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Energy Efficiency: Transaction vs. Consultative Approach

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been tasked with managing the energy portfolio for a building. Your company may be a manufacturer, hospital, school or commercial real estate property. Regardless of your specific operation, the common thread is that you likely have a very small operating budget, minimal staff, and host of ongoing issues that land on your desk.

You want to be proactive; planning for future issues before they arise, but the resources you are given forces you to be reactive.

As I meet with clients in varying industries, I continually hear this same narrative. To add insult to injury, many of these managers express the challenge of juggling additional responsibilities outside their defined position. Obviously, this further strains their budget, time, and personnel.

Building Construction

This struggle sets the stage for two opposed energy management methods, transaction versus consultative.

A transaction sale can be categorized by solutions that are specific to equipment failure or end of life. You would see this for example with an old boiler or HVAC unit. After decades of operation, they simply stop working. This requires the consumer to engage in a point of sale transaction.

Usually, the replacement comes with a premium cost because of the urgency. In many cases, this could easily erase whatever capital budget you had planned to use for energy efficient upgrades.

Contrary to a reactive transaction is a more proactive consultative approach. We can simplify this with two specific examples.

In the first example, your energy advisor can help you address the unique pain points your facility must deal with. A common one I often come across are issues with facility lighting. It may surprise you to learn that with older lighting technology, you will experience over time lumen degradation. This is a fancy way to say your fixtures aren’t emitting as brightly today as they did when first installed.

(A simple solution for this is to install an LED fixture. Prices for LED solutions have come down dramatically and have become more economical. The life of an LED fixtures last substantively longer than outmoded CFL solutions.)

The second example is the purest form of energy consultation. In this instance, your energy advisor would work alongside you to draft a comprehensive energy management plan. This includes identifying all existing pain points, categorizing remaining equipment life, and producing an analysis on potential retrofit costs and payback periods. This latter portion should factor available incentives and rebates as well as creative or alternative financing mechanisms.

This enables you to prepare, well into the future, for all contingencies and eventualities. You can include capital improvement projects in annual budgets, factor in the energy savings, and ultimately avoid untimely failures that can dramatically disrupt production.

For many dealing with complex energy issues, transaction selling has become the norm. Emerging resources in the market can help you better plan, prepare and manage energy portfolios. Leveraging an advisor can enable you to develop a more structured approach and avoid the roller coaster that has been your energy management strategy to date.

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Four Steps to Reducing Inefficiency in Your Building

Is your facility as energy efficient as it could be? How does your energy rates compare to current market conditions? Do you have equipment and systems needlessly using energy when off-cycle? These are more difficult questions to answer than most would think. Many clients I work with are wearing multiple hats each day. I am confident you are too. It’s extremely challenging for them to keep up on prevailing technologies or fluctuating rates while trying to juggle production schedules and personnel.

An essential tenant of the EPCO philosophy to energy management is having a comprehensive plan to guide you. Your energy plan should be a holistic approach to the energy consumption of your facility.  Utilizing a long-term lens, EPCO designs a plan that factors each component comprising your specific energy fingerprint. This includes how you use energy, when it’s consumed, and most importantly, where you can save without disruption to your operation. As great as this may sound, the next logical question is, how do I create this plan?

EPCO has simplified the process into an easily digestible four-step approach.

  1. Identify your pain points – Work alongside your energy advisor to understand, from your perspective, the energy-related issues you are facing. This could be as a simple as utility billing errors or ineffective lighting to more complex issues such as process cooling / heating and heat reclamation.
  2. Perform an ASHARAE Level Audit – A facility Audit is a great step towards realizing your simple payback. Whether it is an LED upgrade, automated controls, or mechanical equipment retrofit, an audit provides the facilities baseline data needed to understand your opportunities.
  3. Prioritize the Data – Following the audit, review the data to determine where the most substantial and relative savings exist. Cross reference the pain points you first identified with each proposed solution. Calculate what the capital costs are in relation to energy savings. And be sure to leverage incentive and financing opportunities.
  4. Draft and Execute Your Plan – Once you have determined the value and importance of each solution, your energy advisor can work with you to implement each identified energy savings opportunity. Start with the highest prospective paybacks so you can reinvest those savings into more energy intensive projects.

A carefully crafted energy plan will empower you with the ability to more seamlessly manage your energy portfolio. Whether you move forward immediately with each measure, or wait for a more opportune time, you will be better informed and prepared.

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