Aquicore Resource Library
Energy Management for
Commercial Real Estate
Rae Honore, PE
Senior Building Systems Engineer
Senior Building Systems Engineer
Senior Building Systems Engineer
Building Systems Engineer
Building Systems Engineer
A property’s energy consumption affects your tenants, your bottom-line, and the environment – which means energy efficiency should be a priority for any commercial real estate professional. With a serious commitment to energy management, you can increase operational efficiency, cut costs, and make progress toward your organization’s sustainability goals.
A good energy management strategy brings together hardware, software, utility data, people, and processes to manage energy consumption across one or more buildings and drive efficiency and savings.
Whether you’re in the early stages of creating a strategy or a pro looking to brush up on the basics, this guide has you covered.
Before diving into the specifics of energy management, it is important to have a firm grasp on the basics. A thorough understanding of the basics and sharing a common language that everyone in commercial real estate can understand are key to operating your buildings efficiently and cost-effectively.
Understanding Building Energy Loads
For instance, do you understand the importance of your building’s peak load? Peak load is the highest amount of energy a building consumes over a set period of time. It’s used to determine a key part of your building’s energy bill, which makes it an essential aspect of any commercial energy management strategy. Similarly, your building’s base load, or the energy consumption that occurs when a building is unoccupied (usually at night), accounts for more than half of all electricity used in most commercial buildings, making it another important component of your energy bill.
Your building’s peak and base loads inform the load curve for your building. A load curve is a graph that visually displays energy consumption throughout a building over time. Load curves can help you identify areas of unusual or excess energy usage that need to be addressed in order to cut costs and improve efficiency. But you will need more than just utility bills to trend and visualize your building’s energy consumption patterns in this manner.
Reading Your Utility Bill
Understanding how your building uses energy will help you make sense of your energy bill. As a property manager or engineer, it’s important to take a close look at your bill and ensure you’re being charged correctly. Your bill may be inaccurate—or it could help you identify issues within your building. For example, an unexpectedly high bill might mean you’ve been charged erroneously by your utility provider, or it could indicate a problem that is causing your building systems or equipment to consume more energy than is necessary. Either way, you will need to investigate.
Factors that Impact Energy Consumption
Once you understand the basics and have an energy monitoring solution in place, you can identify and combat specific factors that may affect your building’s energy usage.
It should come as no surprise that weather has a significant impact on how buildings consume energy. When it’s hotter outside, you’ll probably want it to be cooler inside, and vice versa, increasing the demand upon your HVAC system. So much goes into how we utilize our energy but is it being consumed efficiently? How do you best respond to changes in the weather?
First, to properly respond to changing weather, make sure you consider the shoulder months. The transitory periods of early fall and late spring deserve our full attention just as much as the summer and winter months. Temperatures can vary wildly, and engineers may find themselves switching between heating and cooling on a daily or even hourly basis. The challenge of finding the right temperature, with the addition of tenants wanting to open windows more often, can result in significant energy loss for your building. These months are a great time to engage your tenants on energy costs, an investment that could mean a reduction in the amount of energy used so that you can focus your efforts on optimizing the building temperature.
Summer and winter months, on the other hand, provide different issues as far as energy consumption, with HVAC costs running much higher to combat the more extreme temperatures. If your tenants are already engaged during the shoulder months, they’ll likely be more willing to work with you during these peak seasons, increasing efficiency, savings, and satisfaction all around.
On top of the seasons, be sure to pay attention to holiday periods, too. What happens when a building is unoccupied for a few days as tenants are out celebrating Christmas or the Fourth of July? How do you save energy, optimizing an empty building for the weather surrounding the holidays? For one thing, be sure you’re cognizant of setting your temperatures forward as the holiday begins. Look for and solve energy drains, and check that your building is ready for tenants’ returns after the holiday has ended. And, like always, be sure to engage your tenants! A simple email notice asking that unused appliances be unplugged can go a long way.
You’re aware weather plays a big role in how we consume our energy. But did you know that weather normalization can make the difference in meeting your annual targets and advancing your bottom line? Weather normalization adjusts energy consumption or peak outcomes to what would have happened under normal weather conditions, essentially removing weather as a variable so that you can understand how your building is influenced by factors other than weather. The right software can completely automate this process, allowing you to see trends clearly in order to make the right choices to maximize savings and efficiency.
Another factor impacting energy consumption to keep in mind is the R-value, or measure of thermal resistance, of materials within your building. Often, changes in how your building is insulated could be the difference between an affordable or staggeringly costly utility bill.
Plug Load and Base Load
In the same vein, plug load, or the energy that is drawn by products or devices via ordinary AC plugs throughout your building, is another factor to consider. Encouraging tenants to power down or unplug unused electronics when they leave for the evening can help you achieve a lower base load during unoccupied hours. Installing more energy efficient equipment, such as LED lighting, can also help in this regard.
HVAC and Energy Efficiency
Of course, external factors are not the only components at play. With a deep understanding of your building’s HVAC system, you’ll be able to determine the best courses of action in order to spend the least amount of money, effectively optimizing your efficiency in order to cut costs and save energy. For instance, did you know an improperly calibrated thermostat can lead to losses as heating or cooling adjusts to an incorrect temperature? The fix is as simple as ensuring thermostats are properly calibrated; yet, like many others, it’s often overlooked.
When’s the last time you had a trained technician clean your coils? On top of making people feel unwell by lowering air quality, dirty coils force your system to work harder, reducing its efficiency in the long run. Timers and motion sensors can also help quell the overuse of energy by turning things off when they’re no longer in use. Needless to say, increasing efficiency doesn’t have to sit upon the shoulders of technology alone, either. Asking tenants to be conscious of their energy usage may go far in increasing efficiency, lightening the burden on both you and your system.
Another thing you can do to help increase efficiency is determine whether HVAC setbacks are right for your building. Ambient temperatures affect how fast your building reaches and maintains its target temperature so you already know your unit works harder the colder or hotter it is outside. While temperature setbacks may lower your building’s energy expenditures, they may also come at the cost of your tenants’ comfort if not implemented properly. Similarly, certain buildings may take longer to get back to an optimal temperature, making setbacks a complicated option. Ultimately, you have to be familiar with your building and tenants to make the cost- and energy-efficient decisions that are right for you.
Optimizing Energy Consumption
The Difference Between Energy Management Systems and Building Automation Systems
To get the most out of your HVAC and other critical building systems and equipment, it is important to understand how energy management systems and building automation systems work together and the difference between them. According to a recent study, 70% of building managers reported they already had an energy management system, when in reality they had a building automation system. These two systems serve very different purposes but can work together to achieve a highly efficient building.
Building automation systems, also known as building management systems, are powerful tools that automate the main controls of a building. Armed with a BMS, property teams can program a building to start up, heat or cool to a particular temperature, and shut down –- all from one central hub. However, the power of the BMS starts and ends with automation. This is because these systems do not store or trend historical data, meaning users can not rely on them for deeper insights into how and where electric, water, and gas resources are being consumed – even though the mechanical and lighting systems linked to a BMS can account for anywhere from 40-70% of a building’s energy consumption.
Accordingly, an energy management system (EMS), also sometimes referred to as energy management information systems (EMIS), can maximize the effectiveness of a BAS. Energy management systems provide detailed transparency into utility resource consumption, with the option to explore a potential problem before it happens. A good EMS is more than a dashboard. It provides you with in-depth analytics, real-time alerts and reports, in-software collaboration tools, and advanced customization options. The most sophisticated energy management systems even include rule-based fault detection and diagnostic functionalities to troubleshoot equipment. You use all of this information to set your building automation system to run most efficiently.
To really get the most out of a BAS, it is important to invest in a diverse array of smart meters and sensors to detect resource use and other relevant data points in real-time. The more access a BAS has to data, the better it can fine-tune resource allocation in the building throughout the day.
Common Energy Optimization Strategies
Here are a few ways you can use energy management systems to drive energy and cost savings at your buildings. Want to learn more about how Aquicore does it? Read more here.
Peak Demand Management
Analyzing your building’s load curve can help you identify tactics for persistently lowering your peak demand. The first step in managing and lowering peak demand is to understand your expected peak demand, which means establishing a baseline of historical performance for your building and having a grasp on your building’s scheduling and day-to-day operations. Once you have done this, ideally aided by an energy management system, you can start to identify patterns and potential issues. Staggering equipment startup times, or even retrofitting or replacing old or high-consuming equipment, can help you avoid unexpected spikes in consumption (and costly charges from your utility provider) that might occur as systems naturally experience operational drift over time.
Optimize Equipment Startup Times
When do you start up your building each morning? Depending on a number of factors, including lease hours, peak hours, the outside air temperature, and your building’s age and insulation, you could be getting it right each day – or you could be getting it wrong. Chances are, your building engineers err on the side of caution (and occupant comfort) and initiate your building’s startup sequence several hours before tenants are scheduled to arrive, with plenty of cushion to avoid incurring a high peak demand charge. But there’s a more scientific way to approach the daily startup sequence – and if you have the right energy management system in place, it can help. Optimizing your building’s daily startup times to account for all the factors listed above can go a long way to helping you reduce energy and spend over time.
Safeguard Against Unoccupied Runs
Overtime HVAC requests from tenants are part of the job, but what happens when you or someone on your team inadvertently forgets to return your building’s BMS to its regular configuration? (Answer: unexpected consumption and costs that can pile up quickly). An energy management system is both a check and a balance on your BMS, helping you easily pinpoint equipment running outside of its expected or usual schedule, saving you on your utility bill in the long run.
Key Building Data Sources and Collection Methods
Data is the foundation of any energy management strategy — and without it, everything you’ve learned thus far cannot be put into practice. In order to investigate any issues with your utility bill or to optimize energy consumption, you’ll need to gather data from a variety of sources. These can include main electric feed monitoring, submeters, circuit-level meters, interval data provided by your utility company, and yes, your utility bills. There are several ways to monitor a building’s utility consumption, and choosing the best method comes down to a portfolio’s specific needs.
Real-time data is the first weapon in your arsenal to identify and prevent drift, unscheduled equipment runs, and a host of other issues that cause spikes in consumption. Historical and interval data also have a critical part to play in calculating a building’s baseline and helping you predict future performance. You can learn a lot from what has already happened. Accessing historical data will enable you to create a baseline upon which to compare the present, helping your team understand how your building is running and helping you reach success in your energy management journey. Modern energy management software is able to synthesize historical consumption data with real-time data, empowering teams to make effective choices about how to improve your building operations.
Data also unlocks another essential process for buildings investing in efficiency: measurement and verification. Frequently abbreviated M&V, measurement, and verification is a process for quantifying the precise impact on energy use of a conservation measure. It puts numbers to a difficult-to-quantify process and makes it easy to calculate the economic impact of an investment.
Get our comprehensive digital toolkit for CRE professionals to assess your operations and ensure your buildings are energy efficient.
Performance optimization is the practice of using data to improve building operations. But executing on an effective performance optimization strategy doesn’t just happen overnight; the best owners and operators know that certain fundamentals (ranging from how your data is stored to how your property teams work together) must be in place for a strategy to succeed.
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