As I mentioned in last month’s column, energy conservation is one of the four pillars of the electrical contractor’s energy services business. The other three pillars are energy efficiency, energy production and energy quality. This column discusses the various aspects of energy conservation, and future columns will address the other three pillars.
What is energy conservation?
Energy conservation reduces a facility’s overall energy use and recurring energy expenses. Employed conservation strategies eliminate unnecessary energy use by modifying occupants’ behavior and installing and using manual and automatic energy controls. Energy conservation should be the starting point for reducing a facility’s energy use because it typically is the easiest, least-expensive approach to improving building energy efficiency. It also usually has the shortest payback period on any investment made.
Energy conservation also is often considered the “greenest” approach to reducing energy use because each watt-hour of energy that is not used at the facility eliminates the fossil or nuclear fuel needed to produce that watt-hour. It also eliminates all of the associated losses and waste associated with producing and delivering that saved watt-hour of energy needed from a conventional power plant and the grid.
Occupant behavioral modification may seem to be beyond the electrical contractor’s ordinary scope of services, but it really isn’t. It involves raising occupants’ awareness of their effect on building energy use and the environment that occurs when they leave lights on in unoccupied rooms, fail to turn out lights when there is ample sunlight entering the room, leave computers and peripherals on overnight, fail to purchase energy-efficient appliances and equipment when available, and participate in other wasteful behaviors. The electrical contractor can help the owner by analyzing a facility’s energy use and occupant behavior to develop a program for raising awareness and eliminating waste.
The extent to which occupants change their energy-use patterns often depends on how easy it is for them to comply. Over the years, existing building space layouts often change with tenant turnover, the reconfiguration of open office and production spaces, the addition of new walls and equipment, and other physical changes. Those in charge often change things without altering lighting or switching schemes, making it difficult for occupants to effectively control energy use.
The electrical contractor can assist the owner by mapping out how lighting is currently controlled in the facility and suggesting changes that would make it easier for occupants to control the lighting. For instance, if lighting in an open area is controlled from a panelboard, the process could be as simple as ensuring all of the breakers are marked properly and a graphic next to the panelboard tells occupants which breaker controls which area.
Addition of automatic controls
Building energy efficiency also can be greatly enhanced by incorporating automatic lighting controls throughout the building. Many building owners and occupants may not be aware of the wide range of lighting controls that are available today that are both easy and inexpensive to install in existing buildings. Most existing commercial buildings were built when energy was cheap, before energy codes were adopted and before economical lighting control retrofit technologies were available.
Not long ago, adding lighting controls often meant expensive electronics, extensive rewiring of lighting systems, and line-voltage control circuits that needed to be run in raceway. Today, control of lighting can be accomplished using a variety of technologies that will allow additional switches and control points without totally rewiring the existing building. With minimum installation time and impact on the customer’s operations, these technologies can be used to implement control schemes as simple as adding occupancy sensors or as sophisticated as daylight control schemes.
Energy conservation should be the first step in improving the energy efficiency of your customer’s existing building. Customer recommendations could come from a preliminary walk-through energy audit where you observe how the facility and energy is being used. Simple upgrades, such as the installation of wireless occupancy sensors in enclosed offices and other spaces, can be quick and inexpensive energy-saving solutions. With some training, the electrical contractor’s service department can perform this work on a scheduled basis with the customer. Energy conservation work can then lead to further energy improvements and savings for the customer through the other pillars, which usually require more work and greater investment.
This article is the result of a research project, “Energy Roadmap: Electrical Contractor’s Guide for Expanding Into the Emerging Energy Market,” sponsored by ELECTRI International Inc. (EI). Thanks to EI for its support.
GLAVINICH is director of Architectural Engineering & Construction Programs and an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 and firstname.lastname@example.org.