Broadly speaking, an energy audit is the inspection, survey and analysis of energy use in a building, process or system. The purpose is to find energy conservation measures that, once implemented, will reduce energy costs.

“It is a data-gathering activity and an analysis of a facility’s energy costs and consumption. An energy audit will also offer a plan that a facility manager can implement to achieve desired energy management goals,” said Melissa Golden, electrical contractor segment manager for Schneider Electric North American Operating Division, Palatine, Ill.

Electrical contractors (ECs) offering energy audits can help building owners and managers control energy costs, reduce consumption, and comply with energy-efficiency legislation and mandates.

According to Eaton Corp., Moon Township, Pa., an EC that performs an energy audit must be able to gather historical energy-usage data and analyze it, study the building and its operational characteristics, identify potential modifications and/or operational changes that will reduce energy use and/or its cost, perform engineering and economic analyses of the potential modifications, prioritize and allocate resources to accomplish energy conservation opportunities, and provide the customer with a complete report.

“An energy audit must address all energy systems from technological, corporate cultural, and operational and maintenance perspectives,” said Jerry Spaulding, energy solutions business unit manager for Eaton Corp.

Any facility or building can benefit from an energy audit.

“Older buildings that have not had any retrofit work at all might, however, benefit the most,” said Bob Freshman, marketing manager, Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Little Neck, N.Y. The No. 1 benefit, of course, is cost savings. “The whole goal, after all, is to discover where a building or facility can save energy and what needs to be done to attain those savings.”

Other benefits, Golden said, include a better understanding of energy consumption, establishing goals and benchmarks, and having actionable information.

“There’s also the satisfaction of lowering the building’s environmental impact,” Golden said.

But what’s driving this movement?

“The No. 1 driver of the demand for energy audits is reduced operating costs,” Freshman said.

Some other drivers include utility incentives and legislation that support increased energy efficiency in buildings.One of the most important legislative drivers is the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provides substantial tax credits for more energy-efficient buildings.

“The tax credits, now extended to the end of 2013, are designed to offset the costs of deploying new energy-efficient technologies,” Freshman said.

Another driver, and opportunity for ECs, is that, per law, all federal buildings must decrease energy consumption by 75 percent by the end of 2015.

“Energy audits will help identify where the potential savings lie that will enable building operators to comply with the mandate,” Freshman said.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System provides guidelines for successful energy-consumption reductions, and federal and municipal programs may offer rebates or subsidies for energy-efficient projects, Golden said. In addition, Spaulding said, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, along with discussions regarding cap and trade, have created an extreme hyperawareness around energy and natural resources, such as natural gas, water, thermal energy, and alternative-and renewable-energy sources.

“In beginning to comply with federal, state or local mandates, or to take advantage of utility incentives, or even to attain third-party energy efficiency certification, such as LEED, the building owner’s initial and general request is for an energy audit,” Spaulding said.

How can ECs get involved?

“Electrical contractors that want to expand their offerings to include energy audits need to be aware of the market [and] its potential legislative drivers and identify those customers that could benefit from the service,” Spaulding said.

When correctly positioned in the market, the EC can partner with an energy solutions provider that will help perform the actual audit.

“The contractor can leverage its knowledge of energy audits and energy-conservation solutions to create demand in the market. But first the company must determine if it wants to be a contractor that can strategically add value to customers by helping them with their energy needs,” Spaulding said.

There are very simple tools to help contractors perform lighting energy audits and gather necessary data, Freshman said. The data is analyzed to improve lighting efficiency.

“Performing lighting energy audits helps make the contractor a partner to the building owner when the company makes recommendations for lighting solutions and demonstrates a tangible return on investment,” he said.

A successful EC will know the critical factors for performing energy audits, such as measuring energy usage, fixing the basics, automating where appropriate, and ensuring that the enterprise system is monitored and controlled.

Look in February for more on performing energy audits.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.