Month: January, 2015
What the Energy Efficiency World Can Learn from Winter Storm Juno
As I awaited the ‘historic’ blizzard in my central New Jersey apartment, I went over my preparedness checklist in my head. Car tucked away from the street, check; all of my electronics charged, check; enough food, water, and flashlights for a few days of “roughing it,” check, check, check. The hours ticked by. “Any minute now”, I thought.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning. My anticipation quickly turned into disappointment. I had prepared for a blizzard, and although I probably should have been relieved that the conditions were not dire, I was honestly let down. Where was all the snow?! I had studied the weather reports, watched public transit as it was preemptively shut down, and heard our Mayor De Blasio declare it “one of the largest storms in the city’s history.” So what gives?
It turns out that despite huge strides in recent years, weather is still one of the most difficult things to predict. Forecasting the weather involves taking into account variables such as temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, clouds, precipitation, and that’s just the beginning. Throw in ground temperatures, sea temperatures, ocean currents, sea ice, and the effects of climate change, and the weather models still tax our best super computers and meteorologists.
This notion of unpredictability is also applicable to the field of energy efficiency. Take my day-to-day work where I spend my days analyzing the energy data of buildings. I have all of this great data, from physical building attributes to energy consumption to completed energy-saving retrofits. With this I can create very useful predictions and models, but occasionally the actual energy usage at a building charts its own course.
Just like in meteorology, there are outside factors that contribute to the unpredictability of energy models. Retrofits are installed by real people, equipment is run by real people and these buildings are occupied by, you guessed it, real people. Simply put, there is no energy model that accounts for all aspects of human behavior.
Luckily, unlike meteorologists, we do not have to sit back and just observe as the storm unfolds (or doesn’t….sigh). While we might not be able to predict the unpredictable in buildings, we can monitor it and respond with corrective action in real time. It is a sad fact that even the best energy efficiency projects can fall victim to “energy creep,” where retrofits show savings for the first few months, then slowly creep back to their pre-retrofit inefficiencies. Thankfully, with the advent of smart meters, sensors, and the “internet of things” we can see when this is happening in time to fix it.
This proactive technology is the equivalent of a meteorologist being able to bend Mother Nature to their will. While this ability might sound like complete and utter magic in the world of weather forecasting, for buildings it just requires care, diligence and the experience of knowing what to do when the building veers off course. It is magic we do every day.
As someone who would like to believe she is relatively aware of what it means to conserve and be energy efficient, my experience at Bright Power, albeit brief, has shown me that there is still plenty to learn. Growing up with an extremely practical father who worked as an electrician, I was constantly reminded, if not scolded, for turning on unnecessary lights, or leaving lights on when I left the room. I was taught that LED’s not only save energy, but significantly reduce the electric bill. I was taught to recycle and to consume responsibly, but I was never exposed to the deeper knowledge base that serves as a framework for this entire industry. In other words, being “green” is a little more complicated than the choosing between paper or plastic that most assume it to be.
As an outsider looking in, the question isn’t what does a company like Bright Power do, it’s where do I start? There’s a procurement group that strategizes on how and when to buy energy. There’s a team of developers who build software that consumes energy-related data and a team of analysts that actually digests it. Their insights aid our teams of engineers (yes, that’s three teams of engineers) who get their hands dirty designing solutions and overseeing their implementation.
I’d say the most important revelation I’ve had since starting here is that there is no endpoint in energy efficiency. A project isn’t done after the energy audit is completed or even after a major steam balancing effort. Our analysts need to re-enter the equation by tracking building performance after a project is completed because sticking around and making sure these measures work is the only way to truly manage energy.
Here I thought energy efficiency was about putting up solar panels or getting certifications. It’s a bustling environment full of people who collectively build the energy management experience.
I’ve learned a lot about the industry in my short time here, but one thing is revealing itself rather quickly: energy efficiency is an industry that never sleeps and that’s because it can’t. Bright Power’s long-term approach has shown me that in order to really be effective and cutting edge in energy efficiency, you have to be in it for the long haul.
It’s time to start getting your buildings ready to look and feel good…for the rest of their lives.
I don’t know about you but every January I tell myself things are going to be different this year. The new year inspires us to set goals for healthy living, financial success and lasting relationships. In fact, there is an entire industry of resources and technologies focused on making our goals easily attainable. Running your building is no different.
We look at thousands of buildings across the country each year and hear the same problems. Even worse, we see the same short-term solutions implemented year after year. If tenants are complaining about their apartment being too cold, crank up the boiler. If the hallway lights are dim and they keep burning out, replace them with the same light bulb. Every year we end up paying more and more for electricity, gas and water because the approach to energy management just isn’t evolving anywhere near as quickly as consumption is growing. However our dependency on energy, and the price we pay for it continues to climb.
Just because your building was built in the 1900’s doesn’t mean you have to operate it that way. Energy was less expensive when these buildings were built and conservation was not a goal or a necessity. Times have changed! This year, it’s time to bring your building into the 21st Century. There are simple ways to start managing energy that will help you provide your tenants with a healthier space to live and work, reduce your operating expenses and keep happy tenants in your building for years to come.
The first step is to measure your usage. Whether you are trying to lose weight or earn more money, knowing where you stand is crucial to success. This will also help you understand how your building uses energy and where you should focus your time, money and effort. This is a fundamental metric that is imperative to evaluating and recognizing your success.
Now it’s time to make some changes! But like any resolution, start small and build up throughout the year. Here’s a simple change that can produce big results: upgrade your lights. Most of the buildings we see still have incandescent lighting, which is the same technology that Thomas Edison invented…in the 1800s. Even fluorescent lamps are outdated; you can typically achieve a 40%-50% energy reduction by switching to LEDs. By leapfrogging straight to LEDs, you can quickly reduce operating costs, maintenance costs and will usually increase light levels, making your building safer.
Lastly, and here is the most important part, you have to watch the results – good or bad! Proper energy management can’t be done by installing new devices alone because set it and forget it doesn’t work. You think losing ten pounds is tough until you realize what you have to do to keep it off. Your building’s energy health is as much a journey that needs monitoring as your own.
To bring your building into the 21st Century, the most important advice to follow is to be strategic. Working with a personal trainer is effective because it means having a long-term plan and someone who can hold you accountable. Set goals for your building or your portfolio and work with a strategic partner that will help you achieve what you set out to do. You don’t need to stick to old tactics just because your building is old. New, strategic approaches to operating will help create healthier, more profitable and longer-lasting buildings. So let your building’s six pack fly free this summer. Start now to make 2015 the year you finally see results, because with buildings, it’s beach season all year long!